Thursday, June 3, 2004
The Pacific Grove Art Center does a heroic job of mounting
four new shows almost every month. Their opening receptions
are always cheek-to-jowl, and that’s not just because of the
generous buffet spread—even when the shows are of uneven
quality, they’re always thoughtfully conceived and presented,
leaving viewers with something to ponder on the
This Friday, one of the center’s more compelling shows in quite a while should entice any remaining opening-night newbies. In the main gallery, According to Sam will showcase more than four dozen watercolors by the late Sam Colburn, selected mainly from the artist’s estate. A popular Peninsula figure and one of the founders of the Carmel Art Association, Colburn lived and painted here for more than 55 years, until his death in 1993. A member of the “inner circle” of mid-century Bohemian intellectuals including John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Ed Weston and Ansel Adams, Colburn is perhaps best remembered locally for his burly-figured Cannery Row scenes, or his swirling, brightly-colored impressions of the Salinas Hills. His strong sense of form and color focused attention on essential elements, and he was lauded on a national level for combining an abstract sensibility with American Scene representationalism.
Colburn’s lifestyle couldn’t be farther from that of Sister Anne Marie Blakemore, the Carmelite nun whose poured paintings and collages will be displayed in the next room. But the two artists exhibit a similar exuberant use of color, the same emphasis on essence and form.
Sister Anne Marie studied art in Europe, Provincetown and New York before entering the Carmelite Order in 1959. She has lived since then as a contemplative, her days spent in prayer and solitude at the Carmelite monastery just south of Rio Road, but maintains an art studio in the cloister’s basement where she spends much of her free time.
Trained in abstract technique, she put aside her paintbrush 20 years ago and began squeezing first paint, then ink, out of pastry bags directly onto large sheets of wet paper, letting the colors run where they will. Her creative method has a spiritual basis: it’s about putting the ego aside and allowing God to guide the colors.
She then tears the paper into pieces, which she pastes back
together in a different order, just as we in the world, she
says, need to work at putting the different aspects of our
lives back together to find peace and community. Sister Anne
Marie is that rare being whose struggle to actualize spiritual
values dictates both her lifestyle (as a contemplative) and
her artwork—her paintings are innocent, joyous, and wildly
colorful. Although not “religious art,” they are deeply of the
Moving from color to black-and-white, Havana is a one-man show by Richard Pitnick, the former Weekly staff photographer who continues to write about art for the newspaper. The images on display came out of a 10-day assignment in Cuba in early 2003 for Black and White Magazine, where he serves as senior contributing editor.
Although each photograph is certainly strong enough to stand alone as a work of art, they work better together, as a documentary story of Pitnick’s daily trips around Cuba’s capital city in search of truths about its people and culture.
“This was my first trip to Cuba, and I found [Havana] a very sophisticated, European city,” Pitnick relates. “What surprised me most was the Afro-Cuban presence in the culture, which I wasn’t expecting, and the degree to which the city is fairly vibrant culturally. There’s a perception that Castro has a lockdown on the culture, but it’s all very present.”
Every day, Pitnick says, he’d grab his camera and start walking the city streets “without preconception of what I would photograph or how.” His fascination with the layers of historical influence in this 400-year-old city emerge in his detailed photographs of its architectural treasures; his interest in the many ethnicities that comprise its population give vibrancy to the faces of the people captured by his lens.
“I’ve always had an interest in the way art, architecture and iconography express different aspects of a country’s history and culture,” he says. “My purpose wasn’t to present a ‘true documentary of what life is like in Cuba.’ You can find poverty and oppression in any country. It was to present a broader picture of Cuban culture, within the context of more than 400 years of overlapping histories.”
While insisting that he “was and remains politically neutral” about the country, Pitnick adds that he never felt “hassled or pressured” as he wandered through Havana’s Old City taking pictures.
“There are two worlds,” he says philosophically. “The people-to-people world, and the political world that overlays it, and the two don’t always quite mesh. This trip reaffirmed for me the cliché, which is a basic truth—people are people.”
The PG Art Center’s June show, which includes Feminine Qualities, oil washes on canvas by Vanila Helm, opens Friday, June 4, with a reception from 7-9pm. 568 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, 375-2208.