Category Archives: California Impressionism

Baywood Artists Paint Point Reyes

Weekend visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California, have a treat in store for them. Through the end of this month, the exhibition of paintings by the Baywood Artists is on display at the Red Barn Classroom near the Visitor Center. Over 50 paintings of tule elk, pelicans, horseback riders, surf, fog, and the water and land of Point Reyes illustrate some iconic—and not so iconic—scenes.  The show is a benefit for the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, the primary nonprofit park partner organization created to raise awareness and funds for education, preservation, and resource protection of the National Seashore.

Point Reyes Poppies by Tim Soltesz.
Point Reyes Poppies by Tim Soltesz. Oil. 18 x 24. At Point Reyes Wild.

The show is a treat. From Tim Soltesz’ largish painting of fog rolling in to Christin Coy’s teeny views of the marshes, the works showcase the many aspects of Point Reyes.  While most of the works are oils, some are other media:  watercolor, pastels, graphite.  Something for every taste and price range.  And, even better, I hear the show is selling fairly well—nice to hear, because the sales benefit not only the artists but the land.

It’s this choice to use their artwork to support conservation efforts that so impresses me with Baywood Artists. Well, that and the high quality of their artwork!  For three years running they have chosen the Seashore as their focus.  You can see from the images that they spent a lot of time at Point Reyes painting.  Some of the works are from a mountain summit, which means the artists lugged their easels and paints and canvas up some trail to get those images!  It’s a dirty job, I know, but someone’s gotta do it, right?  All the better for us, the viewers, and the lucky people who take those paintings home.

Point Reyes Wild is on display weekends only through the end of September 2014 from noon to 5:00 p.m.


Then and Now: 100 Years of Plein Air Painting

The Irvine Museum has an interesting show up this summer:  Then and Now: 100 Years of Plein Air Painting.  It’s an exhibition of early California Impressionist paintings paired with contemporary plein air paintings.  Many of the paintings are from private collections.  The viewer can compare and contrast the techniques, the subject matter, or the sizes of the paintings.  The museum offers little commentary on the matter, which is refreshing, so the observations are entirely those of the viewer.  Here are mine:

  • The older paintings are often larger than the newer ones. 16 in. x 20 in., 20 in. x 30 in., or even larger, are not uncommon sizes for the California Impressionist paintings. The newer paintings are more frequently 12 in. x 16 in. or smaller.
  • The earlier paintings are often more carefully painted, with more precise strokes and harder edges than the newer ones. Many of the newer ones are very think paint applied very quickly—not slapdash, but also not carefully controlled. The influence of the intervening century of abstract painting, perhaps?
  • The color palettes of all of the painters are similar. Few if any blacks, no strikingly different color ranges such as illustrators might use. The individual pigments might be different now from a century ago, but the range of colors are similar. And in this show, mostly California colors and light.

While this is a nice exhibition, and an interesting conceit, it’s also true that none of these paintings represent the best work of the earlier artists, and probably not the contemporary painters, either. I don’t mean these aren’t good paintings—they are.  A couple of them are very good indeed (take special note of the Ken Auster painting of houses near the beach). But not every show can be full of masterpieces.

In fact, as I think about it, these are plein air paintings.  A plein air painting can only be worked on for a couple of hours during the day, or the light changes too much.  I suspect the larger early pieces were painted over a couple of days, at the same time each day. But they’re not studio pieces, which can be worked on for longer periods.

And maybe that’s part of the point of the show:  that plein air paintings can be nice, even very good—but they are rarely masterpieces.

Then and Now: 100 Years of Plein Air Painting runs through October 2, 2014.

Have you seen the show?  What did you think?  Do you like plein air painting?

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?