Thursday, November 20, 2003
Painting is visual poetry, summoning ideas through the sensation of sight. Expressing the ineffable, a painter manipulates materials, embraces the dynamics of form, space and surface, and creates a non-verbal dialogue with the viewer. Something essential to life is revealed as all the painterly marks work their magic on the viewer''s senses.
Johnny Apodaca: Colorfields, an exhibition now at the Lisa Coscino Gallery in Pacific Grove, presents both small plein air studies and the large paintings based on them, all versions of Apodaca''s visual poetry.
The show affords the opportunity to consider paintings that work on several levels. Like the poet''s themes nestled between the lines, some of Apodaca''s paintings have subtleties underlying the exuberant paint handling and high-keyed color. The subject matter--Monterey County''s landscape--is born not of description, but comes from the artist''s simpatico with place. His broad vistas pulsate with life-color, his coastal hills are like virile shoulders, the clefts and folds of his hills are intimate and sensual. His solitary oaks are more than sentinels; they become triumphant survivors.
Other paintings on display are not so much about locale as they are about the artist painting. The strongest of these are those where the artist retains the fewest references to his source, and the brushwork, texture, and happy accidents of splatters and drips live as their own raucous party of analogous and complementary colors.
"The original intention of the paintings was to use the small plein air paintings as the source of information for large paintings done in the studio," says Apodaca. "The large scale enabled me to deal with the art of painting, not just capturing a scene outdoors. The big ones are not pretty pictures, but deal with the bigger issues of painting."
Imagine the painter standing before his easel along the Big Sur coast, painting the muscular hills as they tumble down to the sea. The light is changing and the wind kicks up. The painter picks up his pace, lest he lose the highlights here, the deep blue shadow there. He works the forms on the canvas in a type of shorthand that eschews detail for the general effect; an oak is divided into a violet shady side and an orange light side. A trail becomes a swath of creamy ochre applied with a quick brush, the snarled groundcover becomes a sequence of daubs and jabs. But the sun continues its march across the sky ending the session; neither shape nor shadow is as it was when the first compositional line appeared on the canvas.
This type of painter''s shorthand, a personal encoding of "tree," "cliff," "hill," "barn," "rock," etc., is utilized in these hurry-up sessions. What is captured in paint is the light, color, vista, weather and its interaction with the landforms. What is not captured is the minutiae that fills the eye, in person, and lends personality to a spot--gnarled fingers of wild sage quivering in the breeze, a bird alighted for rest, the grip of underbrush on rocks, the weathered surface of an oak. Rapid painting won''t capture these things, but the color selection en plein air does capture the veracity of light. The artist can''t invent the specific relationship of tones and values found in nature, so the plein air sessions produce colors not possible under an incandescent light bulb.
What one encounters, then, in Apodaca''s large studio vehicles based on the plein air shorthand is nature twice removed, with the artist standing in the middle.
"I like the controlled environment of the studio," says Apodaca, "I''ve done 30 years outside, I''ve really paid my dues. I''ve absorbed the colors, forms and light of the region. I know it like the back of my hand. The controlled environment allows me to relax and focus on painting, just flow with it."
One outdoor study of two oaks on a rise, lighted from the side, Apodaca has transformed in his studio into a monumental surge of growth from the bowels of the earth. In this work, Apodaca arched the rise even more, accentuating the upward movement of not just forms, but feeling. He lowered the horizon line, making the central trees even more monumental. The late afternoon glow that gently envelops the trees in the small painting has become a blast, not striking forms as much as emanating from them. The studio environment has allowed him to work up this tempest of paint.
"I use a range of brush sizes, some quite wide. I get into the big paintings with my whole body, broad gestures with my arm, a flick of the wrist, full body movement," says Apodaca. "I like the relationship of the viewer to the big paintings, it makes you confront the image in a more direct way. You''re pulled in because of the scale."
Johnny Apodaca''s show continues until Dec. 6 at the Lisa Coscino Gallery, along with Escape, color photography by Bobbi Bennett; and a Day of the Dead exhibit by Self Help Graphics. 646-1939.