• Otter Views: Art in the Making

    The Ventana resort had been just a roadside blur during Big Sur transits over the years, so it was gratifying to drive onto the grounds Saturday and actually visit the place.

    The occasion was an open-to-the-public exhibit featuring a number of Central Coast artists associated with the resort’s gallery. Works in various media were displayed, and the artists were on hand to answer questions. Several even created work at the event.

    As one who buys his art from thrift stores, I wandered around the show in a happy daze of disorientation. Contributing to this were several immense sculptures that messed with one’s perspective, like the edibles Alice consumed in Wonderland.

    Among these were a gigantic Indian head coin, two Bixby Bridge replicas big enough to carry traffic, and a towering timber yardarm into which hammers, drills and other metal tools had been embedded. A gallery deck bore two heroic arm chairs suitable for Valhalla, one built of railroad spikes, the other of antlers.

    Further confounding the senses were bronze goats of varying sizes that grazed about the grounds. At one end of the courtyard, a life-size barbed wire archer took aim at passersby. Targeting also figured in two firearms sculptures – one made from dozens of rifle barrels; another from 45-caliber bullet casings.

    Elsewhere, vividly colored blown glass spheres as big as beach balls hung from trees and bobbed in the currents of a wishing well. Other glass forms stood inside the gallery, as did a set of exquisitely turned and balanced wooden bowls.

    Interspersed with these 3-D works were paintings and large format photographs of such beauty and inventiveness it was a joy to see them all in one place. Swirling kelp abstracts, atmospheric Big Sur landscapes and seascapes, and pinpoint-sharp images of breaching whales filled me with admiration.

    The processes that created most of these works happened off-stage and thus lingered someplace between mystery and magic to me. But three on-site demonstrators let Saturday’s gallery visitors see art in the making. As most artists work in fairly solitary situations, I felt it must have taken courage to do this. It was as if the Wizard of Oz had stepped out from behind the curtain to explain his fireball effect.

    One artist who also raises goats had set up a display of materials she uses in creating earth-tone paintings. On close inspection, the earth tones derived from earth itself – a gooey brown paint of mud, grit, and shredded straw. This she daubed on big wheat-colored canvases to create textured landscapes of startling originality in which goats from time to time cropped up.

    Another landscape painter used more conventional materials in her demonstration, but to no less startling effect. Standing on the gallery’s deck, she faced a canvas seemingly scaled to the heroic spike and antler chairs nearby and to the vast hillside beyond. I would have been terrified to ply even a single stroke, but she lit into that canvas with astonishing pace and vigor.

    Moving as briskly as a conductor’s baton during the allegro movement, her brush darted across the palette, picked up paint from various glistening blobs and creamed it all together in the middle. In a second or two, the desired hue would form, and the loaded brush would streak across the canvas at hummingbird speed.

    Beneath her flying brush, seemingly inarticulate squiggles, smears, loops and slashes of color resolved into shadows, trees, hillsides, a house, a meadow, a distant ridgeline, and a cloudy sky beyond. Even moving at her headlong tempo, the painting took a big chunk of the afternoon to complete.

    The sheer stamina required to do this prompted me to ask how long she could stand and paint at one go. “I can do eight hours,” she said, “but I usually work four hours at a time if I’m in my studio.” I began to understand why they’re called “works” of art.

    Out in the gallery courtyard, another demonstrating artist let physics do some of his labor. Attaching a wire to the tall timber yardarm enabled him to swing a metal bucket in pendulum-style arcs over a platform on which canvases had been laid. As the bucket circled and swung, a hole in the bottom released a thin stream of paint. Changing the color canisters inside the bucket and altering its orbit on successive passes produced multi-colored patterns of intricate, eye-pleasing complexity. Watching the arcs interweave and overlap, I imagined DNA helixes, Frank Ghery structural blueprints, or planets and electrons at play.

    Hungry after observing all that art, I ordered soup and French fries from the resort’s elegant restaurant and sat out on a terrace. Dense fog obscured the promised ocean view, but that was probably just as well. My brain was over-pixilated already.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 19, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views

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