Thursday, October 5, 2000
For more than 20 years, Seaside artist Johnny Apodaca has charted the physical and spiritual geography of Monterey County. It is not the picturesque Central Coast characterized by luminous waves lifting toward Pebble Beach''s Lone Cypress, but an earthy, vigorous territory, marked by elemental motion, vibrant colors and simple forms. For Apodaca, this landscape, so filled with drama and dark beauty, remains a kind of repository of our shared spiritual values.
"The coast has its own heroic drama, a dark edge of life and death," Apodaca says. "Like Robinson Jeffers, I''m interested in the life and death issues. The rhythm and drama of the coast is what I want to paint."
This gift of rendering the scope and complexity of area is just one reason Apodaca, 46, has begun attracting serious attention as an artist. He enjoyed a kind of underground reputation among his peers and a small company of buyers for roughly a decade; then in the mid-''80s he joined Gallery Seven, and in 1993 he had a show at Pacific Grove Art Center. This was followed by increased recognition and eventual representation at the Hauk Gallery in Pacific Grove and at Galerie Plein Aire in Carmel, where a one-man exhibit of his work opens Oct. 7.
Strictly speaking, Apodaca does not consider himself a plein air painter, or for that matter, a landscape painter. He is a member of cadre of Peninsula painters who call themselves "The Informalists" after their 1996 group exhibit, "Informal Views." His work is based largely on making connections between modernism and traditional plein air painting. Apodaca''s conceptual roots are closely tied to the Society of Six, a group of six California plein air painters formed in 1917, who combined aspects of traditional landscape painting with simple forms, vibrant colors and an emotional connection to their subject.
"These painters are my spiritual grandparents," Apodaca says. "It''s my responsibility to continue their work. It''s not about repeating and copying these artists, but adding to art history--to the story of the area."
With their lush colors and textural brushstrokes, painters such as August Gay, Selden Gile and Louis Segriest formed an idiom that became one of the visual calling cards of San Francisco Bay Area painters in the 1950s and ''60s and continues to impact painters such as Apodaca today. With their painting treks into the California landscape, the Society of Six took plein air painting and grafted it to an exploratory, rough-hewed quality that also characterizes Apodaca''s approach.
One of Apodaca''s favorite aphorisms is "travel light and travel far." When he ventures to painting sites--often deep in the Santa Lucia Mountains--he carries a minimum of gear and materials: oil paint squeezed into smaller tubes to cut weight, brushes and up to three compact painters boxes, called a "pochade."
"Because the light can change so quickly on the coast, you have to paint quickly," he says. "Instead of a pretty picture, you have to step aside and let nature paint the painting. Nature does not do it wrong."
Apodaca doesn''t need to find the most picturesque setting. He can find an engaging composition in most landscapes. All he needs is space and light and land. Apodaca''s artistic vision, he reminds visitors, is to start a painting by just keeping his eyes and mind open. "Pictorially, every artist paints their own composition. Mine is simple shades and design and bold colors."
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Apodaca was raised by parents who encouraged his artwork. He attended McNay Art Institute, where he studied abstract expressionism with Reginald Rowe, and at 17, he followed his older brother to California with the intention of attending Otis Arts Institute. Instead, Apodaca wound up at studying art at Pasadena City College, where the work of painters such as Mark Rothko began to distill through his imagination. A short time later he moved to the Monterey Peninsula.
Today, Apodaca works in a studio next to his comfortable, rustic, 1940s-era Seaside home. The house retains much of the original ''40s motifs and charm, but there are elements of Apodaca''s extravagant gestures throughout: A bedroom wall is painted purple, the floor, canary yellow. In the same room, paintbrushes serve as door handles on a chest of drawers. For Apodaca, the seamless effects that bond together the disparate elements of his work exists in his life as well. The entire house is somehow in keeping with his style of working, which is part formal construction and part painterly intuition.
In Apodaca''s studio, a succession of paintings are stacked like cards near a desk covered with tubes of oil and acrylic paint. Below a window that frames the back yard, shelves are filled with books and tools. There are brushes and cans and photographs and row after row of paintings. Three glinting copper mobiles turn slowly under a skylight. Below a mantling of vines, the front door is framed by red, purple, blue and orange paintbrushes nailed over the doorway. In the yard, Apodaca''s wife, Janelle, has created a lush oasis of exotic trees, vines and shrubs.
Apodaca paints mostly in the afternoons. Mornings are filled with obligations and work at Monterey Community Hospital, where he is an emergency room orderly. From his studio, he can look down Hilby Avenue, past the thicket of houses to the Monterey Bay. Everywhere, in all directions beneath the clear autumn skies, are space and light and land. And with these, for Johnny Apodaca, come possibilities.
Galerie Plein Aire in Carmel will have a reception for the artist on Oct. 7, 6-9pm.