The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra


(above: Scott Burdick, Sarah in Catalina, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches. Please click on image to enlarge it.)


Tasty and Bitter Fruit

by Sarah Beserra


Scrumptious, tasty, juicy. No, I'm not talking about a hamburger. I'm describing the paintings of S.C. Yuan, famed Monterey Peninsula painter, whose work is now appearing in a show at the Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz. A cornucopia of peaches, pears, grapefruits, tangerines and persimmons is presented to us in all their full-blown ripeness. The paintings belie the inner turmoil that plagued Yuan's life. Born in Hangchow, China in 1911, he lived and worked on the Monterey Peninsula from 1952 until his death by his own hand in 1974.

I had read the book -- S.C. Yuan, Carmel Art Association, 1994 - and seen one or two paintings by this genius at a Carmel gallery, but was not prepared for the pure lusciousness of the works. The show features still lifes, several landscapes and a large painting of his daughter Rae.

When viewing the paintings, it's hard to remember how tormented the artist was. The works are instantly recognizable as Yuan's. Perhaps it's the color, mixed with the precious "mud" that he made from palette scraping mixed with turpentine; or maybe it's his early training in China melded with Western sensibilities, but no one else's work looks like this.

The descriptions beside the paintings tell us that he spent little on his "canvases," painting on anything that would hold paint. He would never brush over paint, but would "throw" his washes directly on the painting surface. "Three Oranges and A Pear" is reminiscent of Cézanne - not realistic in the photographic sense, but capturing the essence of the fruit. A large painting - "Gladiolas" - dominates the wall as you enter. "Rose in a Glass Vase" is best viewed up close. It looks like he took tone of his wife's deep pink lipsticks and mashed it onto the canvas in a fit of pique. (left: S.C. Yuan, Teapot and Persimmons, n.d., oil on canvas)

Curator Kathleen Moody, in a pamphlet available at the show, writes, "Throughout his work, Yuan fused an Eastern elegance of economic line with the robust energy of Western abstraction. We see this abstraction not only in his bold, gestural brush strokes, but also in the surface rendering of the objects leaving out their light and shadow. He often treated the objects as abstracted shapes on which he intuitively placed his colors and textures, almost ignoring their sculptural qualities in real space. See the April-May, 2001 issue of The Plein Air Scene for more on Yuan.

Museum of Art and History: An Unstill Life: S.C. Yuan Paintings -706 Front St., Santa Cruz June 9-July 29, 2001. Still lifes by this early Monterey-area painter. (831) 429-1964. Show moves to Hartnell College Gallery, 156 Homestead Avenue, Salinas, CA, Sept.-Oct. (831) 755-6791.


Quick--Draw at High Noon

By Aleta Carpenter


Quick draw competitions continue to be controversial. Artists often feel they don't do their best work, bat they are real crowd pleasers. Read on to get a taste of this year's event.

The Southern California Coastal Region's infamous "June gloom" reared its misty gray head at the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational Quick Draw Event, July 13, 2001. The 50 painters invited to participate in this year's event delivered the results of their week-long effort to the Laguna Art Museum early that morning, then headed for the cliffs and beaches of Heisler Park to select the subjects they wished to capture between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon.

In sharp contrast to last year's bright, sunny morning, the overcast brought mixed reactions. "Oil painters can do this misty stuff," Mary DeLoyht-Arendt, Arizona, a third-year participant said, as she set up her watercolors. "Watercolorists need bright light to capture intense tones."

Matt Smith, Arizona, a neighboring oil painter, said, "The gray is okay, as long as it stays gray." If the sun were to come out, he admitted the need to resort to using artistic license, although, "Mine was revoked some time ago."

Minnesota painter Brian Stewart, who had the Lookout Reach all to himself, said, "It's more challenging painting in the gray light. Sunlit paintings sell better, but I prefer painting in the overcast." When completed, his painting, "Postcard from Laguna II," perfectly captured the subdued, misty quality of the morning, and he admitted, "This may be the best painting I've done all week," - an interesting observation, considering that many painters feel that a "quick-draw" does not generally result in their finer works.

William Scott Jennings had claimed another solitary site, where he balanced precariously on a promontory, painting the surf-pounded rocks. "I had to push two artists over the edge to get this spot," the Arizona painter said. Ignoring the crashing waves and colorful gardens, many painters used their peers as models. As John Budicin, San Bernardino, concentrated on his painting, Scott Burdick, painted Budicin. Saim Caglayan selected fellow painter Robin Hall, Capistrano, as his subject, and Anita Hampton, Los Osos, was Dan Gozeé's, West Hills, choice.

Gil Dellinger, Stockton, and Jeff Horn, Costa Mesa, set up at the base of the stairs accessing the beach area and focused their attention on "The Rockpile," a well-known (and much-painted) Laguna landmark. Down on the rocks, almost hidden by a massive boulder, an adventurous soul claimed his spot, oblivious to the seagulls and spray, while another brave artist perched in a clearing in the ice plant blanketing the bluff above.

Low tide exposed an expanse of beach, tempting several artists, including Angels Camp artists Ray Roberts and Peggi Kroll-Roberts. Kroll-Roberts focused on one of her favorite themes, children, painting two boys on the beach's rocks. A first-time participant, local artist Marc Whitney, who is best known for his scenes of unmade beds, responded, "I'm really enjoying this!" when asked how it felt to get out of the bedroom. "I may even do it again!" Jove Wang and W. Jason Situ joined Whitney in setting up their easels on the walkway winding along the cliff edge. (left: Brian Stewart shows Sarah Beserra his new work.)

Trees were popular subjects. Camille Przewodek, Petaluma, painted a stand of palm trees with her usual colorful flair, while local artist Carole Cooke was drawn to a gnarled, windswept tree on the edge of the bluff. Cooke's foam footrests gathered considerable attention, and possibly some envy from the footsore spectators who tromped the pathways, stairs, and beaches during the event. Neil Boyle's twisting Malaleuca tree resembled a maze in the painting he was striving to complete by competition's end.

Florida painter Morgan Samuel Price claimed the gazebo for her set-up, and dressed in immaculate white, immaculately rendered her depiction of the Point. Nevada artist Jean LeGassick's effort beautifully captured the misty mood of the day, while Tim Solliday, Altadena, and Albert Handell, Santa Fe, continued to wield their pastels as the competition drew to a close.

The vivid colors of the flowerbeds attracted New Mexico painter Frank LaLumia and Washington's Jim Lamb, whose vibrant red and orange calla lilies dominated his painting. Tom Zephrys' brilliant palette also belied the gloom of the morning. Zephrys finished framing his piece, ready to go by 11:30, and when asked how he'd completed his work so expeditiously, replied, "I'm a professional."

Experienced plein-air painter Ken Auster finished his pre-framed painting at contest end. "Last year was a nightmare," he said. "Framing a wet painting is just too difficult; I had paint all over everything." This year he solved that problem by framing his painting in advance, taping over the frame, and peeling off the tape when the painting was completed.

As the painters brought their labors to a close, the sun broke through, right on cue, at noon. The following evening, San Juan Capistrano painter Mark Kerckhoff's "Heisler Park" was declared the winner of a $1,000 prize.

© Sarah Beserra, 2001


Resource Library editor's note:

Read more of The Plein Air Scene by Sarah Beserra in Resource Library Magazine (1)

Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in California. Please see the website for The Plein Air Scene for email address and phone number.

Also see:

California Art History

California Artists: 19th-21st Century

California Impressionism

California Regionalism and California School of Painters

(1) This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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