Monthly Archives: June 2012

Russian Gulch State Park to remain open!

My email recently delivered some great news: thanks in large part to the Mendocino Area Parks Association, Russian Gulch State Park will remain open!

Russian Gulch ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on board, 6" x 8"
Russian Gulch ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on board, 6″ x 8″

Russian Gulch is one of my favorite state parks along the Mendocino coast. It’s located just north of the village of Caspar, and south of Fort Bragg. I’ve painted there a number of times, mostly without much success—the colors are subtle and, at the time, were beyond my grasp.

Why live in California if you can’t visit the parks?

The closure of California’s state parks is, to my mind, a travesty. I think people here don’t appreciate what they have—open space where they can visit, camp, walk (even paint!), get away from the city’s noise and concrete. I lived in Massachusetts for several years and, while I love New England, I also realized that there are very few parks there. Even the coast there is typically private property. California’s parks, by contrast, may be crowded on holiday weekends, but they also offer places where nature can thrive and people can remember what the land was like before the asphalt took it over.

I know we have budget problems in this state. I welcome a discussion of the role of government. But do we have to pit parks against support for the frail elderly or against schools? We need them all. When parks started charging entrance fees under the name of “user fees,” I didn’t like them because, if you can’t afford the user fee, you are also excluded from that public space. But compared to permanent closure, that $5 or $10 entrance fee seems like a small price to pay. For once the parks are closed, the next step is selling the property.

Hurray for the people saving some of the parks!

So I’m really glad that several of the parks have been removed from the closure list, to be operated by non-profits or other groups. Here’s what you can do to help:


Stockton Art League National Juried Show

I’m very excited that one of my paintings, The Lighthousekeeper’s House, has been accepted into the 57th Stockton Art League National Juried Show. As a special treat, the show will hang at the Haggin Museum in Stockton. The Haggin is one of Northern California’s hidden treasures, and I’m honored to have a piece shown there. The show runs from July 5 to September 2, 2012.  The opening reception is July 5, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  I hope you can join me there.

The Lighthousekeeper's House by Stephanie Benedict
The Lighthousekeeper’s House ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on canvas, 400 mm by 1000 mm

The Lighthousekeeper’s House is one of a series of works I’m doing at California’s endangered State Parks.  This one is Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse State Park, in Mendocino. I will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this painting to keep California state parks open.

The Haggin Museum is located at 1201 N. Pershing Ave. Stockton. Their phone number is (209) 940-6300.  The museum is typically open in the afternoons until 5:00, and first and third Thursdays until 9:00. Admission is $8. For directions, and to see the show online (after July 5), please visit the Haggin Museum’s website.

Redemption Value

You’d never think of plastic bottles as the basis for an art exhibition, would you? Water bottles, bleach bottles, soda bottles—all those bottles you know you ought to put into the recycling (and perhaps you do). Well, think again.

Redemption Garden: a Lakeside Artists Open Studio Collaboration, now on view at the SMUD Gallery in Sacramento, is a fascinating and surprising flower garden made of old plastic bottles, painted and then split open and recombined to make flowers. Lots of flowers. About 2,000 flowers. The Open Studio “planted” their flowers on panels grouped by color, and the result is a rainbow effect from red and orange to purple.

Redemption Garden by Open Studio Artists at Lakeside
Redemption Garden panels at the SMUD Gallery in Sacramento. Photographed by permission, by Stephanie Benedict

And it’s surprisingly delightful. I say “surprisingly” because plastic is not my favorite medium—but this exhibition really is a treat. The garden panels are hung in series for the viewer to stroll by, but I wanted to immerse myself in the colors. The panels are not monochromes, but very sophisticated and subtle shadings of color, accented with complements or analogous colors.

And the SMUD Gallery’s open, airy space is the perfect venue for this collaborative art exhibition. It’s actually the lobby of the SMUD customer service center, a venue used for display of public art.

The artists are members of a group called Open Studio: “a community of artists of all types and ages who create together,” as they say on their blog. The work was originally part of an Easter display at a local church, and has been enhanced and enlarged for the new space. At the opening reception, they were encouraging visitors to make their own flowers. While yours truly did not, it was fun to watch others try.

Raw Materials for the Redemption Garden
Painted plastic bottles to turn into flowers. Photo by Stephanie Benedict
An example flower made from painted plastic bottles
An example flower made from old plastic bottles. Photo by Stephanie Benedict

Redemption Garden: a Lakeside Artists Open Studio Collaboration runs through July 31, 2012, at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, 6301 S Street, Sacramento. Gallery hours are Monday–F, 8:00–5:00. The SMUD Art Gallery is a partnership between SMUD and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

I may never look at a plastic bottle the same way again! What about you?

Why Collect Art?

Update: added link to the letter.

The New York Times Magazine tells me they’re publishing my letter to the editor in the June 17, 2012, edition. (Woo hoo! One of my 15 minutes of fame!) I wrote in response to Adam Davidson’s article called “How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality.”  The piece discusses whether buying high-priced art is a good investment, how prices in that market are manipulated.  At the very end, Davidson says this:

As I talked to art advisers and economists, I kept thinking of my childhood in Westbeth, a subsidized housing complex for artists in Greenwich Village. Our neighbors, painters and sculptors among them, were decidedly not rich. To them, the very idea that art should make someone wealthy was laughable, even offensive. It makes me happy to think that this world of art-as-investment is a minuscule fraction of the art world overall. Most people who create, trade and own art do it for a much simpler reason. They just like it.

Regal by Stephanie Benedict
Regal. ©2012 Stephanie Benedict. 12 in. x 12 in. Oil on linen.

So I wrote a comment on the website, and they’re going to publish it in the magazine!  Here’s what I wrote (they’re publishing a slightly edited version):

For me the most important point in the piece is not that the 0.01% will pay stratospheric prices for a handful of artwork by dead artists–of which, of course, there will never be any more than there are now–but the very end of the article: most people create and purchase art because they like it. There is a vastly different art market out there from the one that Davidson describes: galleries featuring living, working artists in all sorts of mediums; art fairs; artists showing their work on line. People will plunk down $200 for a new phone or $700 for a tablet that lasts, what, 3 years? Or $20K for a car that might last 10? A thing of beauty is a joy forever: and it may only cost $300 or $3000. Collect art because you love it. And if it turns out to increase in value over time: you can tell people how insightful you were to get it!

Several other commenters had similar views. (Full disclosure:  I didn’t think up the comparison of art prices to car prices.  I got that from Robert Regis Dvorak’s Art of Selling Art.)

Adam Davidson is right:  if you’re part of the 0.01%, the economy has been great these past five years.  But for more commonly I see galleries struggling, artists chattering about whether or not they can raise their prices at all—or should they actually drop them, and whether that’s a mistake in the long run.  Arts organizations sponsor events in which they raffle off artwork; my local PBS station has a major fundraiser every year that’s an art auction, in which artists donate work and in return receive 5 minutes of air time, but no commission.  The local art museum also has an art auction every year, but at least they give the artist a portion of the sale price.

But those events serve to reinforce the idea that art should be a bargain.

So we have two extremes:  on the one hand, local arts organizations or non-profits can foster the impression artwork can and should be inexpensive (never mind that the artist has to make a living). On the other, the press going on and on about how a very few can pay enormous sums of money to purchase artwork.

Well, I stand by my statement.  Buy art because you love it. Realize that each piece of art is handmade and unique. Art isn’t a commodity or an investment vehicle.  It’s a form of communication, an expression of an emotion or an idea that moves you somehow. (Or doesn’t.  Don’t collect the pieces that don’t move you.)

What do you think? Why do you collect art—or why don’t you?

Edgar Payne: the Scenic Journey. Worth the trip

If you have a chance to see Edgar Payne: the Scenic Journey, I recommend it.

I’m not sure how many people outside of the painting community—and the representational, “traditional” painting community at that—know who Edgar Payne was.  Payne was an early 20th Century California Impressionist painter. He also wrote a book called “Composition of Outdoor Painting,” which today’s plein air painters often cite as one of the most important books available on painting.

The exhibit ran at the Crocker Art Musem in Sacramento in early 2012.  It’s at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through October 13, 2012,  and then to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa (December 2, 2012 to March 24, 2013).  Apparently it is the largest collection of Payne’s work to be exhibited ever, and the show is amazing.  I saw it three times, in part because I will never have another chance to see these works in person again, ever. And partly because, well, the paintings are amazing.

The only word for this show is–wow!  This show is one of the most vital and energetic I’ve ever seen.  By “energetic,” I mean the energy Payne put into his paintings.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that, for the energy of the works, the painter Payne most reminds me of is Vincent Van Gogh. Not the style or subject matter, but the life force that comes through the paintings.

For a painter, to be able to walk up to these paintings and look at the brushstrokes is priceless.  Lots of juicy paint, applied with small brushes in the early paintings, larger brushes in the later ones.  I could imagine how much paint was on Payne’s brush to get the paint strokes left on the canvas. I finally understood the command my instructors have hammered me with—“use more paint!”  Thank you, Mr. Payne.

My personal favorites were the seascapes and the boats.  Painting moving water is a challenge. A) the water is moving, b) the light is moving, and c) water is colorless—so what color do you paint it? Here we get to see how Payne did waves crashing onto rocks, water flowing back off the rocks as the waves retreated, reflections of boats on waves.  Waves breaking onto shore in the moonlight, or cresting by the bow of a boat under sail. Subtle broken color brushstrokes to show the movement of the water. (Compare them to the lake scenes, for example, which are more about reflections than waves.  Still broken color, but the strokes are all horizontal or vertical, to capture the still water’s reflections.)  They’re fabulous.

And for a painter like me, actually seeing the works teaches me more about Payne’s theory of composition than reading his book does.  I’ve tried several times to read the book.  Let’s just say he was a better painter than writer.

No mere art review can do this show justice.  I heard someone from the Crocker say that this show had been one of their most popular openings (since they reopened in October 2010, I think). Deservedly so! If you can get to it–go see it!

Have you seen Edgar Payne: the Scenic Journey?  What did you think?