Painting California’s Central Coast

To paint California’s Central Coast in the open air is to aspire to a higher order of being, for such is the native chemistry of the place. But there is no guarantee that just because one has trekked to distant shores, paint box, and brushes in hand, that one will, therefore, be visited by the Muse.

The notion that nature will disclose to the casual observer her inner splendor, in virtue of his having abandoned television for a week, invested in art supplies and an airline ticket, blithely to pay tribute at the shrine of the great out-of-doors is, unfortunately, an illusion. That one can be in the presence of sublime beauty and simply not recognize it, is one of the painful ironies of the human predicament. What is best does not always fit with what is easiest, even so with this business of painting in the open air, for it can begin badly.

Burdened by the baggage of life we may find ourselves frankly distracted by a thousand little imperatives like so many pesky flies right there in the sanctuary of nature. In this all too ordinary state of mind, one might well reach for a cool drink and a magazine rather than to begin mucking about with oil on canvas.  “Why not just take a picture and get it over with?” It’s like culinary art: Beauty is on the Fork of the Beholder, isn’t it?

Contemporary excitements and effortless images at poolside provide a pleasurable novelty and entertain the time. By contrast the ‘old fashioned’ experience of marching to remote places, mixing color under the August sun, sitting on a mountain trail with the sent of sage and sound of a cicada to see and to paint the rolling land delivers a more enduring reward. Surely we have all had glimpses and intimations of a higher beauty that have stirred the deepest longings of the heart. To awaken the mental energy of one’s inner eye so as to look upon this splendor of form without interruption is to discover the rejuvenating character of genuine art. To learn more about Outsider Art, read this article. 

Long before any painting begins there is the “set up” involving props and supports and looking and drawing and mixing. All of this business is accompanied by a sometimes painful transition period during which a kind of blindness ensues while the senses begin to adjust to a different way of seeing. Then almost unexpectedly it happens, and who can say how it happens? Awakening to a fuller wakefulness, the eye becomes engaged with greater clarity and one feels new inner strength as if imbibing the fullness of nature’s deep calm. Soon the paint begins to fly and we are participating in the strenuous life of mirroring nature’s rhythmic movement in the language of art, just as (I imagine) a hang glider must participate in the life of winged creatures.

To be sure, there are qualities in painting that are not reducible to the mechanics of vision. In addition to mastering the technical means of manipulating the media there are these other issues in art, none of which can be easily taught, having to do not only with one’s attentiveness but with one’s intention. It might be easier to explain the interdependence of the human heart and lungs than to say just how one translates a coherent emotion into line, tone, color, shape, interval and the sense of solid bodies turning freely in the landscape that contains them.

The enigmatic quality of beauty in art has to do with capturing (or being captured by) and conveying that inner harmony we call grace. In saying so the word itself awakens echoes in the mind and we look again at the landscape before us with a new understanding and with a deeper pleasure. As a record of the attempt to locate the passage of Grace with oil on canvas, these paintings are offered as a way of looking at the world. In them, as in life, one can see both the transience of the fleeting moment and an image of eternity.

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