Thursday, May 15, 2003
Photo: View From The Field: Eighty painters compete today and Friday in the festival''s plein air painting competiton.
The town of Carmel-by-the-Sea rolls out the carpet for itself this weekend with the tenth annual Carmel Art Festival. Most of the town''s 100 galleries will participate in some fashion as myriad events unfold during the four-day community event, May 15-18. In addition to exhibitions of painting and sculpture in the galleries, there will be a Plein Air Painting Competition, Silent Auction, Youth Art Show, a "Make Art Day" for kids, an outdoor sculpture show and a Quickdraw competition. The latter, a new event for this year''s festival, will pit the winners of the plein air competition, who will be announced Saturday, against each other on Sunday when they will have two hours to create a painting set within two blocks of Devendorf Park.
With the many receptions and attendant hoopla setting Carmel abuzz, the real focus is on the 80 invited painters who will go into the field Thursday and Friday, from Moss Landing to Point Lobos, to paint a picture en plein air for the competition. Of these, fewer than 20 are local artists, so there might be some fresh eyes to interpret the picturesque scenery so well known to so many. Noted Bay Area painter Terry St. John, Robert Poplack, assistant professor of art at Notre Dame College and curator of its art gallery, and artist Dennis Doheny will serve as jurors.
The two best places to view related plein air paintings by the local contingent are the Carmel Art Association and Galerie Plein Aire, both on Dolores between 5th and 6th. The pictures hanging in these galleries illustrate the exciting aspects of painting outdoors before the subject; quick brushwork, heightened color and a keen sense of natural light are the hallmarks seen in painting after painting.
Unfortunately, the pitfalls of plein air painting pop up frequently enough to give one pause. In picture after picture, the artist organizes landscape features into aesthetically pleasing arrangements, but the compositions are so familiar they become tired war-horses of plein air painting. The shorthand of quick application of paint and the cliche compositions obfuscate the artists'' attitude toward the subject and a sense of place.
Is it enough to make pretty pictures? Where is the artist in the process?
As modernism trickled across the North American continent during the early 20th century, and as more and more American painters imbibed firsthand the new ideas about Impressionist color and Cezanne-like simplifications of form, the California sensibility emerged. Local and visiting painters wandered throughout the Golden State, recording in their personal brand of modernism the back hills, rocky shores, eucalyptus groves, and mountain-rimmed valleys. As with their precedents, nature''s face became the structural underpinning of their color orchestrations.
Since then, California''s parched hills have been painted every shade of yellow and orange, her hills every blue and lavender, her live oaks every green. The golden light has lent itself to high-keyed color applied in impressionistic daubs, fauvist swatches and slabs of paint, and expressionistic slashes. After generations of painters, the "California landscape painting" has become a predictable arrangement of hills, rocks, and sea.
It is in this quagmire of the tried and true that today''s plein air painter must find personal expression.
At Galerie Plein Aire, members of "the Informalists" group venture forth across well-trodden artistic terrain. The superb color of Barry John Raybould and Jeff Daniel Smith is noteworthy, as well as the idiosyncratic brand of expressionism of Johnny Apodaca and the painterly hand of Gerard Martin. At the Carmel Art Association, Peggy Jelmini and Mark Farina command attention with their facility; their paintings seem to revel in the joy of creation.
In all these artists'' works there is an undeniable energy and deftness. But is that enough to go beyond the merely picturesque? What makes a painting transcend the specific place to exist as an artistic expression?
Corot and the Impressionists would frequently return daily to the locations where they painted, at the same time each day, to develop their pictures. The decision-making process of selecting and structuring forms, of creating nuanced color harmonies, of building an internal logic into the architecture of their paintings was only possible with repeated sessions. Their paintings live on because of this. With much plein air painting today, the art stops at "effect."
Relying on conventions--of subject, composition, color, and brushwork--artists frequently paint themselves out of the experience. Painting pleasing pictures of scenic places, plein air painters make art with the emotional and psychological impact of a happy face. Few try anything new; what is often missed is originality.
As viewers take in the plein air painting in the Carmel Art Festival this weekend, signs of individual, significant experience of nature should be sought in the many paintings on view. Sometimes an artist can achieve this easily and quickly, but often the result is a facile concoction of a hackneyed scene. The viewers'' adventure is in discovering the individual artist''s sense of place--when it exists.
For more information on the Carmel Art Festival, call 642-2503 or visit ww.carmelartfestival.org.