I'm Thankful for Today's Art Scene

I'm Thankful for Today's Art Scene

I just finished reading “The Last Paintings of Sara de Vos” by Dominic Smith and man-o-man am I happy. Aside from the fact that this is a very satisfying novel about Dutch painting practices of seventeenth century Amsterdam, I am praising my luck that I was born into the present era.

Back in the 1600s Dutch men had to paint their landscapes according to specifically crafted techniques, which succeeded in the development of master painters but hindered personal explorations. Women were restricted to painting indoor scenes, mainly still lifes, and only just beginning to be accepted into society’s art guilds. Artists were kicked out of the city’s Artist Guild if they sold art (even unsigned art) privately.

The presently exhibiting guest artists at PMA provide an excellent tour of exploration that illustrates the advances -- gifts really -- that present day society offers artists over that which was provided four centuries ago.

These three paintings (“Sacramento River” and two salt flat compositions) by Jim Caldwell are an example of how far representational landscape art has come. Not only do the color schemes celebrate the vibrant colors hidden within nature’s shadows and reflections, the author of these paintings has additionally designed from a perspective that in the 1600s would have been considered blasphemous. Back then no one was allowed to paint from the high and mighty viewpoint of God.

One of the premises of Dominic Smith’s book on the Dutch Golden Age is that artists were not appreciated for their personal stories. Selling art was of the upmost priority, for how else to feed one’s family and support the survival of the Guild? Therefor what the audience wanted to buy is what the artists had to create.

Today sales are relevant, but there is also a societal hope that explorative artists might reveal thought patterns of genius. The more far out and personal the thoughts, the more of a chance that the artist will hit the viewer in the gut with cutting edge insights. Paradoxically, when the artist doesn’t care at all about sales is often when the most highly respected art arrives.

In “Blue Two-Door” by Jon Gariepy, we see a ceramic sculpture of a lively energy force that has been stopped short and is now in slow decay. While Gariepy exhibits an excellent hand at the craft of sculpting ceramic form, he makes a personal statement with his choice to depict a derelict scene that tests the viewer’s sensibilities. By depicting the form of an aging loved one, he has invited his audience to travel beyond the superficial and general pleasure world and into the personal, somewhat fearful world. No one who sees this work wants to imagine themselves in such a decrepit condition… and yet, we can’t help but relate. How uncomfortably we each respond depends upon our personal experiences and sense of humor.

These details from “Serendipity” (top above) and “Connections” (below) by Patricia Qualls increases the present art era’s trip into the personal. Not only is the artist a female who can paint indoors or outdoors at her whim, Qualls is also a painter who has not been taught her craft through the manuals of previous masters. She is self-taught, bringing knowledge from her career in psychotherapy into her work, allowing for an expression that is intimate, intelligent, and sometimes explosive. She says she does not plan her designs ahead of time, but rather plays into the moment, building one immediate experience upon another. 

Thusly, it appears that another realm of difference between today’s art world and that of the 1600s is that women are allowed to have social, intellectual, and even political opinions.

Erika Meriaux is a figurative painter who is presently creating a series of works that reinterpret classic Greek myths with contemporary points of view. Not only does she incorporate sly humor into her social commentary, she also blasts her way into the political scene. 

Meriaux is Parisian born and while settling in America, infuses her work with a worldwide sensibility. Greek Gods no longer rule with trial and error over a small country, but have now become the fools or the saviors of the entire globe. Above is Daedalus encouraging his son Icarus to fly beyond their well-known and restrictive confines. Below is blind Orion with his innocent child-servant Cedalion leading him to the rising sun and hard-won insights.

These examples are just a few of the intriguing artworks exhibited at PMA during the winter. In addition to the landscapes by Jim Caldwell, expressive abstracts by Patricia Qualls, and narrative oil paintings by Erika Meriaux, ceramic sculptor Jon Gariepy is joined by eleven additional artists in the group show “Car Culture.” These painters and sculptors of many mediums display a diverse look at what “car” means in today’s fast moving world.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I am thanking my lucky stars that art diversity surrounds me at PMA. Who knows, if I study Meriaux’ interpretations of the Classic Greek Myths long enough I might even discover an answer to some of the world’s pressing questions. Or at least find the path that walks me bravely towards an authentic inner light.

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving I hope the generous of mind will consider the Peninsula Museum of Art when making their year end donations. The galleries and all events, other than specific fund raisers, are free to the public. PMA is a non-profit and donations are tax deductible.

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"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole.

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