Tag Archives: art

Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

I finally got myself to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to paint last week. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for some time, and we got a relatively cool-ish day so I packed the car and drove the two-plus hours from my house. (Far nice than this weekend, which is another scorcher*.) As I drove up into the foothills on ever narrower roads, I kept thinking about the truth behind Sacramento’s big claim to fame: it really is just two hours from anywhere. The weekend before, I’d driven two hours to San Francisco.

A view of the "diggin's" at Malakoff Diggins SHP.
A view of the “diggin’s” at Malakoff Diggins SHP. The trees in the valley have grown since mining ended in about 1884.

Malakoff Diggins is the site of the largest hydraulic mine of the California gold rush. Huge water cannons were used to literally wash away the soil overburden and expose the gold beneath. It’s a terribly destructive process that washes away mountains, leaving badlands behind.

Today, Malakoff Diggins is recovering, sort of. The mining generally ended in California in 1884, after a legal battle with farmers downstream, where the sediment washed down from the mines changed the rivers and caused flooding**. In the intervening years trees have grown where there is soil. The valley floor is covered with marsh, even in this dry year. The mountains of course will never regrow; there will always be scars from what the humans did here.

But those scars are both fascinating and beautiful. I’ve long wanted to paint the scene, so I set up my easel in the shade of a Ponderosa pine. The air smelled of pine and manzanita. I sketched for a couple of hours. I didn’t intend to do a complete painting; I just wanted to record the colors for reference.

Benedict plein air painting at Malakoff Diggins
My set-up at Malakoff Diggins. I found a great spot right next to my car. How convenient is that?

Now, I’m back in the studio working on the painting. It will be 30 x 40. Here’s a shot of the underpainting, done with acrylic paint mixed with gesso. This is actually my favorite part, probably because I really can’t mess it up yet. The only down side to this is that I have to wait overnight to start the oils, because I need to let that gesso dry thoroughly, and I’m eager to work on this one. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Stephanie Benedict Malakoff Diggins Underpainting
The underpainting. 30″ x 40″. ©2013 Stephanie Benedict. The colors are darker than they ultimately will be, because I was focusing on the shadows within the trees here.

What hidden gem of a park is close to where you live?

*I talked to a friend who is actually is a weather forecaster in the Navy reserve. He thinks that the next few decades will be notable for NOT having a “normal” weather, but rather by increasingly chaotic weather patterns. He may be right–the system cannot stabilize while we keep pumping energy into it. I think that we all need to get used to this extra heat.

**But it’s still practiced in other places around the world.

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Richard Diebenkorn at the de Young

The de Young Museum in San Francisco is on a roll. In the past three years or so, the de Young has hosted some amazing art exhibitions, with still more in the queue. The latest in this string of must-see shows is Diebenkorn: the Berkeley Years 1953–1967. Richard Diebenkorn lived and taught in the Bay Area, where he influenced Wayne Thiebaud and worked with or knew Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Nathan Oliveira and others.

 

Richard Diebenkorn Figure on a Porch
Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959. Oil on canvas, 57 x 62 inches. Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Anonymous Donor Program of the American Federation of the Arts © 2013 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. My favorite piece in the show.

Now, I’m not much of a fan of Bay Area figurative art, or of mid-century modern art in general. Abstract art isn’t my thing. I tend to come down on the side of the Beautiful in art, not the challenging. Indeed, before we went into the Diebenkorn exhibit, my friend Steven and I meandered through a small collection of modern pieces in one of the museum’s other rooms—and I felt like I was in one of those New Yorker cartoons of a woman standing in front of a piece of modern art grumbling “I don’t understand this.” I’m sorry: casts of tire treads in clay and binder mounted on a wall? Never mind if Robert Rauschenberg did it—why is that art?

And yet… The Diebenkorn show really struck me. Some of his abstracts are clearly landscapes: he admitted as much himself. The figurative pieces from the late 1950s are harsh, gritty, sometimes ugly. There is a palpable sense of alienation in those pieces, as if they were actively pushing the viewer away. But if the alienation is palpable, so is the life force. The energy. The furious scrubbing and layering and scraping of the paint. This is not Bouguereau’s invisible brushstrokes, or Monet’s calm deployment of paint (I’m thinking of the water lilies here). This is more like Van Gogh’s frenetic brushwork, only released to make its own abstract way.

The show is set up more or less chronologically. The alienation passes, the paintings calm down—still abstractions, but less driven, less hemmed in. The works become explorations and contemplations, whether they are just a coffee cup on a table, a pair of pliers, or a woman sitting in a chair. The final pieces on the exhibition show the clear influence of Diebenkorn’s trip to the Soviet Union and of seeing the works of Matisse.

It’s a fascinating show. I learned a lot about art, about painting, about trusting the medium more. And now I want a studio where I can paint much larger works!

Diebenkorn: the Berkeley Years 1953–1967 runs through September 29, 2013. Highly recommended.

Have you seen the Diebenkorn show? Do you prefer abstract art over representational works? Why or why not?

 

Eureka: Northern California’s Golden Light

Eureka: Northern California's Golden Light
Eureka: Northern California’s Golden Light, an exhibition by the Greater Sacramento-Sierra Chapter of the California Art Club, opens July 12, 2013.

I’m happy to report that one of my paintings, Colusa Marsh (Snow on Snow Mountain) will be included in this exhibition.   This is the second exhibition of the Greater Sacramento-Sierra Chapter of the California Art Club.

The gallery is at the Three Stages at Folsom Lake College.  Since this flyer was published, the venue has been renamed the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College.  It’s a theatre complex in eastern Sacramento County intended to rival the Mondavi Center in U. C. Davis.  The gallery is tucked away in what appears to be an extra space next to one of the theatres.  Which means–it’s open very limited hours:  Tuesday-Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., plus an hour before every performance and during intermissions. Still, this show will be worth seeing, if I do say so myself!

Birds in Paintings, part 2

In a recent post, I posed the questions of why I don’t put birds into my paintings. Today, I answer that question.

I was a bird watcher long before I took up painting. I take my binoculars and camera with me when I paint outdoors, though birds can be a big distraction. So why not include them in the paintings?

In a word: verisimilitude. I’m not a wildlife painter. If I’m going to put birds into my landscape paintings, I want them to look like they belong there. I don’t mean the perspective of getting the foreshortening of the wings correct, though that’s important too. No, I mean getting the bird the right size in the scene. A friend suggested just putting in a dash for a flying bird. Well, ok, but I want the dash to be correct. Too big and the bird is too close. Too small and it’s just a dot. I want you, the viewer, to be able to tell turkey vulture from red-tailed hawk from great blue heron.

Here’s what I mean. These three birds are not the same:

Three raptors, a sketch by Stephanie Benedict
Three raptors. From top to bottom: turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk (more or less), golden eagle

Birds can tell a person a lot about the landscape, the ecosystem, the season. Birds move all the time. The presence if an osprey says something different about the territory than does the presence of a golden eagle. I want to be able to be accurate in my representations.

But all of that is just an excuse. So I guess my answer is: I’m workin’ in it.

Bloomtastic!

I’ll be at Maple Rock Gardens in Newcastle, California, Saturday afternoon, June 1, 2013, for Bloomtastic!, along with a few of my colleagues from High Hand Gallery. We’ll have a booth with artwork; I’m going to bring something to demonstrate while I’m there—probably my gouaches. They’re easier to transport, and I don’t want to confuse people with the plein air competition they’re going to have.

Yellow Lily, ©2013 Stephanie Benedict.
Yellow Lily, 8″ x 8″, oil on panel. ©2013 Stephanie Benedict.

I’ll also be bringing some of my floral paintings to share. Every spring, I find myself painting flowers. I don’t really plan it—it’s more of a compulsion. I wish all compulsions were this fun!

I’ve heard they’re expecting a lot of people for the event. I’ve been out to Maple Rock Gardens once, last summer. There are several types of gardens, a miniature train set, a greenhouse—it’s a pretty amazing place, actually. They’ve even got a Sunset Magazine test garden out there now.

I’ll be there in the afternoon, but the event is 9:00 to 4:00. If you are in the greater Sacramento/South Placer area and are interested in gardens—come on out!

Tickets are here, and directions here.