In recent weeks I have been traveling to Big Sur to care for my elderly parents and marveling at the high number of tourists enjoying the winding drive and gorgeous views. I have also been amazed at how many of the travelers do not pull over and step out of their cars. As in art, the true sensory and aesthetic experience of that wild coast is not from the safety of a protective shell. To touch the soul of the coast (and the art world), the traveler must park his car by the side of the road, step full body out into the wind, carefully inch up to the edge, and breath in the rich aromas of chaparral and sea. A similar soul-touching possibility emerges to the art enthusiast when he/she engages actively at Open Studios events.
In order to achieve the visceral feeling that emotes from her oil “Coastal Views,” Ellen Howard stepped out of her car and onto the edge of the world. The expressive immediacy that can show up on canvas when a painter is working on site is popular for painters and art enthusiasts alike. Howard is a recent honoree (People’s Choice Award) at the Paint Out in Alameda. Howard and studio mate Kim Lordier (lower level east wing studios 4A and 4B respectively) are both plein air painters and new members of our studio community.
On November 12 & 13 we painters, sculptors, photographers, printers, and makers, are opening our studio doors for our Fall Open Studios Event. The viewer is invited to leave their worldly experience behind and walk into ours.
Visiting Open Studios is a great way to learn about people. When I was growing up near Carmel I had a feisty edge to my sense of the world. Instead of looking to present the beauty of the natural world, I wanted to portray the beauty of the “ugly” world, in my case probably a desire to tame it by portraying it. In college I learned about Impressionism, but also about Symbolism, Pop Art, Expressionism, and German Political Art. After decades of further art study, I’ve realized that there is no one real way to think about or create art, regardless of what critics might want me to think.
Our societies and cultures are in constant flux. We live and experience our worlds in different ways and the creative among us (young and old alike) can’t help but respond to these changes. Some artists respond by sticking to the same style year after year, creating in the repeat viewer a sense of security with the constancy of their work. Some choose nature as their theme, finding depth of meaning in the reflection on the surface of a clear pond or in the abrupt fall of a sea cliff peppered with sharp succulents. Others respond by changing art forms (representational to abstract to minimalism) and still more bring in new mediums and technology. Some of the visually creative, myself included, attempt to portray more directly the subtle psychological undercurrents of our ever evolving humanity.
Greta Stapf Waterman might be addressing the development of mankind with her clever painting “Monkeys.” She says of her piece: “I still remember the monkeys I saw in Africa (Chobe Game Preserve at the tip of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia) and how they played and jumped from tree to tree.” Waterman is a third new member to our complex. You will find her in studio 14 at the north end of the lower west wing.
While I continue to be attracted to what might be considered edgy art, I now understand more about the pull of the Carmel art mystic that eluded me as a young adult. While Big Sur, with its edges and winds, threatens to shoot us off the cliff into high energy excitement, Carmel lulls us into the safety of a luxuriant sleep. Carmel art is basically about the healing power of nature and beauty. Many of us crave this sense of secure respite when our aging bones ache and the world bombards us with repeated signs of dysfunction and terror here and abroad.
I am now seeing that many artists feel a need to sit in the beauty and then reproduce it, to share it with the world. One of the surest cures for illness is to help others, and it could be that many of the artists who put beauty at the forefront of their methods do it from a place of appreciating that special healing place of loving/awesome connection.
Above is a painting by new member Stephanie Chang, who can be found creating seascapes, landscapes, and still lifes in studio 15 (lower west wing). On a recent trip to Carmel she said she had “a chance to contemplate glistening sunlight reflected upon ocean waves.” Chang further explained that, “The cool breeze in Carmel washed up some foams on rocky shores. The result is this semi-abstract ‘Sunset in Carmel,’ which is a personal interpretation of an observed view of the luminous light and transparency effect of the flowing water.”
The marvelous thing about living a long life is we can live on the edge, fall off, heal, find beauty, share the beauty and live on the edge again, often repeatedly. Carolyn Shaw (east wing lower level studio 9) has experienced a long and rich life of painting representational landscapes using an opaque oil technique. Now, after an involved medical surgery and a solo art exhibition she tells me she is ready to change things up a bit. “I've been inspired by the title of our open studios exhibit and am trying my hand at some 'transparent' watercolors - it's been a long time, so I'm finding it a little tricky.” This is someone who has repeatedly embraced change in her life when many people would just stop and drop. This energy pulls the artist forward out of her protective shell into the soul deepening excitement of discovery.
Another of our artists who is working with the changing times is Teresa Hsu (upper level east wing studio 32). It is remarkable how subtle but significant change can be.
Painter Teresa Hsu explains about the above piece: "After nearly a year’s break from painting watercolor rocks, I am back in my element with renewed perspective and fresh eyes. Half way through the process of painting this rock painting, I found myself liking the complete white background. I suppose it’s because I feel the rocks themselves are already quite busy with pattern and textures. I want to keep it “clean” so that they would pop out on the paper rather than being muddled in between water and or sand.”
With Teresa’s Hsu’s comment I see what she’s talking about in relation to her work, but I also realize that many of the young people of today who create imagery about the edge also drop their backgrounds out into white. Commercials on TV do this as well. I am wondering what new deep sociological meaning lies behind this desire to mount/frame nature (or the edge) in stark, clean white light.
Meanwhile, back in the day-to-day world, a city-girl cousin of mine was lamenting the lack of stars in the night sky. I recommended that she drive along the Pacific Coast highway on a dark night, turn off onto a pitch black pull out, open her door, step out, and look up into the universe. She called me yesterday to say she was dumb struck by how the previously sparsely speckled sky opened up into billions of shining points of light, so many that it was difficult to see her familiar constellations.
Ahh. Stepping out. It’s the secret to opening doors of wonder. Welcome to Open Studios 2016, Saturday and Sunday, November 12 & 13, from 11:00 to 5:00. It’s all about cracking open one’s protective shell and venturing into the possibility of unknown creative worlds. The sky above your head is the limit.
“PAI on My Mind” contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PAI as a whole.