Santa Barbara: From Mike Davis to Louis Comfort Tiffany in one fell swoop (reading list update 4/9/11)

A curious juxtaposition, the books pictured above, and I am hopeful that with a description of Miki Garcia’s Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (CAF) exhibition Eating Apples in Paradise I can get you to understand. You will still need to visit Santa Barbara to see the show, but with what I have to tell you I guarantee that you’ll make the trip. On we go, in our little black Alpha convertible, cruising up Highway 101 to the enchanted paradise that is (or is it?) Santa Barbara.

Some of you will recall my posts about Sarah Cain’s exhibition, also at the CAF and also Charles Garabedian at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. More about these, plus a few things I discovered on the road, in a bit.

We began on that final day of the Frederick S. Wight painting show at Louis Stern on Melrose Ave. I have to be a little crabby here, Stern doesn’t archive every past exhibition on the website in a linkable form. They feature something called “Notable Past.” Okey dokey.

On the other hand, if when you visit you wander to the back room of the gallery I think you will be able to see see two or three Harry Bertoia sound sculptures that will make your heart beat faster and set your soul free. (Be polite and don’t touch. The nice people at the desk will be happy to do so for you.) With that I link you to the Louis Stern Fine Arts home page and let you go from there.

Quick research reveals that Artnet does, in fact archive past exhibitions of Louis Stern. Go here for fun and edification.

More detailed research and I find that Stern has archived a pdf of the 2005 publication Visions of California, a copy of which I picked up on my March 5 visit. Very worth checking out.

But, about those amazing paintings!! What better way to begin a trip up the coast than with California’s master of mystical representations of that very coast? You must remember how excited I was, I went nuts in that March 2 post Going out to all the painters, artists and mystics I know. I hardly ever am able to see Wight’s paintings, except online. Check back at the images. Glory comes across in the jpg, and that glory is also present in real life. What does not come across in the jpg is the humble-ness of these paintings, a quiet confidence that was very present when I was standing before them. Image of an Hour, with its palm fronds in the lower right corner and double suns and several planets describing an arc in the top third, does not in person feel spectacular and trippy. It feels bright, clear and matter of fact. Perhaps it is one person’s depiction of the reality of time – the sun moving across a sky, showing in several places; and the planets, which are in fact always present even when we are not able (because of that sun) to see them. This is a remarkable painting.Many such wonders were present in the show.

Keeping my aforementioned paradisaical Santa Barbara experience in mind, I tell you that our overnight stay at the Canary Hotel was indeed special. The hotel is in a newly reconditioned building just behind State Street, so we walked whereever we needed to go. Our room met my three dream requirements: we had a balcony with a view, were met with a bottle of wine and there were already extra pillows in place. Pretty sweet.

Onward and artward. I asked curator Miki Garcia a few questions, via email, after the opening:

GT: At the Opening Reception artist’s talk (for “Eating Apples in Paradise”) you spoke of bringing a fairly rigorous critique to what is a community based and focused exhibition. I understand that you invited the various artists to attend group meetings and to each propose and defend their ideas relating to your exhibition précis. Will you tell us a little about the process you used? And about the reactions from the artists? How did this process inform and perhaps challenge the practice of these artists?

MG: I wanted to find away to make a “local” artist show meaningful and relevant – as they can often seem as pandering to the community, which I absolutely wanted to avoid.  Instead, I thought about a theme that would be important and I thought about the kinds of conversations that should be and weren’t necessarily happening in a public form. From my standpoint, I was interested in the way our artist community addresses the idea of place – more specifically their home, Santa Barbara.  SB exists in a swirl of preconceived ideas – that of a paradise – so it was something I wanted to have our artists think about and use CAF as a conduit between them and our larger community.  I invited 12 artists of differing ages, stages in their careers, media to participate in four seminar style discussions. We assigned and they submitted various readings (Ed. note 4/9/11: Finally! Input the list, Geoff. See below, participating artists and curator Miki Garcia’s “Eating Apples in Paradise” reading list.) and the first two were discussions, the second two were workshop like where artists discussed their proposals/entries for the show.

“Style Matters: the case of Santa Barbara”, Hilda Blanco, submitted by Penelope Gottleib
“For Rent”, submitted by Steven Soria
“Santa Bruta”, Chris Meagher, submitted by Kimberly Hahn
Description of Santa Barbara submitted by Kimberly Hahn
“Welcome to the American Riviera Where Life Itself is a Fine Art” submitted by Kimberly Hahn
“Invasive Plant Species Increase Wildfire Risk”, submitted by Penelope Gottlieb
Excerpt from Santa Barbara by the Sea, Rochelle Bookspan, Ed.’
“A World Like Santa Barbara”, David Hickey
Excerpts from America, Jean Baudrillard
Excerpts from City of Quartz, Mike Davis
Excerpt from Californian Architecture in Santa Barbara, Philip Staats
“The Secret Side of Paradise”, Pico Iyer, submitted by Macduff Everton

I certainly was surprised by the content of the discussion and reactions to the readings. We kept it purposefully private and did not record it so as to have maximum openness. I can share with you that I learned a great deal about how ones age, background, ethnicity really shapes the way we even conceive of the world around us — this may be a cliche, but I guess I had this notion that all artists agree on the same things politically, socially, historically – and that was not the case here. Among the most controversial topics were the perpetuation of a Spanish (read: European) culture while downplaying the indigenous and Mexican influences in the city; the notion of who can critique the city and who cannot (insider/outsider) issues; and the question of artmaking outside the larger market centers.

GT: Tell me about the title “Eating Apples in Paradise” which has the follow up “12 local artists take a bite out of the proverbial apple exploring the realities and ambiguities of living in Santa Barbara.” Santa Barbara is a city whose Visitor’s Bureau website announces “Welcome to the American Riviera – where life itself is a fine art.”

MG: I think in a town (state even) where the overall psychological thinking (for instance there is a commercial here that proclaims, “aren’t we lucky to live here?”) is that Santa Barbara is a paradise and that all its citizens consider themselves lucky to live in the area as opposed to the traffic, pollution, gang-ridden, gas guzzling problems of other cities in the US.  This is a stance that is pretty broadly accepted by Santa Barbarans and the idea of having an exhibition that is asking artists/citizens to look behind, beyond this swath of utopia leads to discomfort, at the very least. The title and press release are meant to be cheeky – to tease our audience but also to think about the city in a more multi-dimensional framework.

GT: I also understand that the exhibition had great support from the Santa Barbara Visitors Bureau and I recognize from seeing the exhibition that you pulled together a group of artists who embody several of the varied communities within the city. How were the artists selected?

MG: As the Chief Curator, I personally invited the artists.  Both myself and my curatorial assistant are active members of our community – we both understand the issues as well as conduct several studio visits with artists on an ongoing basis.  The Santa Barbara Visitor’s Bureau is great as are other sources of support – the double-edged sword is that while we are busy critiquing the hidden issues in our city, we are also finding that indeed SB is a uniquely supportive community – so our intention was never to criticize or argue the visitors’ bureau’s claims about SB or boosterism that exists by the town fathers, but rather to add another layer of dialogue.

And yes, artists  are coming out of the woodwork thanking me for doing this show and asking me to do studio visits! I think CAF is a generative force, pushing artists to think in different ways.

Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Eating Apples in Paradise and Sarah Cain: Santa Barbara. Both run through May 1, 2010. I will have images and more soon.

Since I am still awake, and I did see another painting exhibition that I cannot forget I’ll grab some images, sharpen my keyboard and get to work.

Sullivan Goss is a necessary stop when in SB. Bookstore, coffee shop, gallery and source of much information. Right now, and through April 3 they have an exhibition titled 40 Days & 40 Nights – the Paintings of Lockwood de Forest. Just the name, Lockwood de Forest, lets you know that this is not contemporary work. Neat, though, and David and I spent an hour or so talking with nice Jeremy Tessmer and looking at paintings.

Lockwood de Forest, Wild Mustard Near Refugio, May 2, 1927

Lockwood de Forest, Wild Mustard Near Refugio, May 2, 1927

Lockwood de Forest, Moonlight Rising Behind the Front Range, n.d.

Lockwood de Forest, Moonlight Rising Behind the Front Range, n.d.

Lockwood de Forest: Full Orange Moon Over Water, Low In Horizon, Very Dark Nocturne - March 21, 1911

Lockwood de Forest: Full Orange Moon Over Water, Low In Horizon, Very Dark Nocturne - March 21, 1911

Briefly, de Forest lived from 1850 to 1932, had a successful career as a designer and painter in NY, partnered with one or another of the Tiffany’s, studied with Frederic Church, went deaf in his middle age, moved to Santa Barbara and retired from society in 1919. The eighty small paintings in this show were painted en plein aire, sometimes in the middle of the night, and depict scenes of Santa Barbara. Or what was Santa Barbara – it has changed dramatically.

These paintings are each around 9 3/4″ x 14,” which size fits into the hand made case de Forest carried around to various sites to do his painting. They are truly lovely paintings, and the more so when I imagine an aging man, deaf, walking out at night to sit or stand, and by the light of moon and stars paint a landscape. All at once he painted, these are not sketched out to be filled in at his leisure. Each was completed in a single sitting. He did this for years and years – these eighty are but a few of the hundreds of such paintings that he left us.

Something about a practice such as de Forest’s breaks my heart a little. Here, captured in paint, is an almost daily record of an artist’s view of his world. Expanding on this thought, here also are images from another time and of a place that is now gone. There are photographs from these times, and of course photographs are valuable as records, too. But painting captures not only the scene before the artist, but also what is within an artist. The hand shows, the development of an artist’s decision making. Do artists make work such as this today? Would it be worthwhile? Would it seem old fashioned? I would love to find out.

40 Days & 40 Nights at Sullivan Goss, through April 3.

I’ll talk with you again tomorrow!


P.S. A late addition with further information: Untitled, about abstraction and its difficulties

L de F: Stream at Beach Flowing Into Ocean Near Santa Barbara - Feb 2, 1913

L de F: Stream at Beach Flowing Into Ocean Near Santa Barbara - Feb 2, 1913

L de F: El Estero at Flood in Santa Barbara - 1903

L de F: El Estero at Flood in Santa Barbara - 1903

Lockwood de Forest: Full Moon and Running Creek - March 21, 2011

Lockwood de Forest: Full Moon and Running Creek - March 21, 2011

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