When I became an artist

February 2, 2017 § 1 Comment

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Marion Seawell | Metamorphosis (1989)

FIRST PERSON | MARION SEAWELL

When I was 19 years old, I was a waitress at Deetjen’s in Big Sur, California. A year later, I lived with the Fasset family, who built Nepenthe, and Lolly Fasset and I dug the clay and baked the adobe bricks that surround their magnificent terrace.

I was confident I was a superb artist, and I drew countless pictures of horses. One day I was trimming my long hair and asked a visitor from Los Angeles — an art teacher — if he would trim an inch off the back while I held my hand mirror. He was not shy about letting me know my carefully shaded pencil drawings of horses did not add up to much in the real world. He lifted up a long handful of my hair and — whack — cut it off at my neck. As I gaped in horror, he proceeded to cut off all of my long hair. Then he said I needed bangs and snipped some more. I was in a state of shock.

The blow to the self-esteem of my sensitive (left) side was devastating. From that moment on, I was transformed into a short-haired Bohemian. I wore togas, sandals and belts of yarn. I didn’t draw a horse for years — in fact, I did no artwork at all except for learning to weave wild things. That was when I really began to learn about art.

Christo’s ‘Running Fence’ 40 years later

November 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

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In 1976, Running Fence was installed over 24.5 miles of Northern California farmland.

THE HAMLET OF Valley Ford hasn’t changed much in the last four decades. There’s more traffic, of course: It’s located on scenic Highway 1, and Bodega Bay is just 8 miles to the west. But Dinucci’s Italian Dinners is still there, serving the family-style meals that made its initial reputation more than a century ago.

Running Fence came through Valley Ford.

Running Fence crossed Highway 1 in Valley Ford.

Local ranchers still come to the Valley Ford Market for coffee and the latest talk on lamb prices and government regulation. And the land itself seems immutable: The rolling pastures broken by eucalyptus windbreaks — speckled with fat sheep and sleek cattle — present a prospect as timeless as the nearby Pacific Ocean.

But something happened here 40 years ago that changed everything. A discreet monument marking that event stands at the Valley Ford post office, a single, corroded metal pole 18 feet high, with a small commemorative plaque at its base. It was at this spot that Running Fence came through, completed on September 10, 1976.

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STILL MORE:
Smithsonian Magazine: “Christo’s California Dreamin’
The Wall Street Journal: “A California Dream Come True
Christo’s Archives

VIDEO: In Valley Ford, the post office is also a museum of Christo’s work.

Paul Wonner and the ‘Femme au Coq’

November 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Paul Wonner | Still Life with “Femme au Coq”

By MATT GONZALEZ

For several years in the early 1950s, Paul Wonner returned to a subject matter in his art making practice: the painting of a still life with femme au coq, translated from the French as woman with rooster. Anyone familiar with modern European painting would recognize the motif as it was explored by many artists, including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. The trope presents the rooster as a symbol of sexuality, virility and fertility.  Paired with the woman, it exalts romantic love and the heterosexual coupling traditionally associated with marriage.

It is curious that Wonner would find the subject matter interesting enough to return to it over the years — at least four known times in a four- to five-year period — while he was a student at U.C. Berkeley. Of course, painters often return to the same landscape, or paint a subject’s portrait repeatedly, but the painting of a subject that is so allegorical and laden with symbolism is not as common. It suggests Wonner was intrigued by or wrestling with its meaning in connection with his own life and art.

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Searching for the Pyramid of Cats

September 20, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Marion Seawell | Pyramid of Cats (1971)

AN EMAIL ARRIVES:

I am looking for a print of Pyramid of Cats by Marion Seawell. I have found you through a strange set of circumstances. Stranger still is that this story may sound a bit familiar.

My grandfather had a print of Pyramid of Cats hanging in his home for as long as I can remember. He used to teach me how to draw those cats, and partially due to his influence I became an artist and gallery curator. When I think of my grandfather, this is the image I see. When he died, my uncle threw away most of grandpa’s stuff and the poster was lost. I was crushed, but at least my parents still had many of my grandfather’s things, so we still had some good sentimental family heirlooms.

However, I’ve never stopped looking for that poster. The only thing is, I had no idea who the artist was, what the title was, if it was an original drawing or a poster. Nothing. So no matter how I searched, I never found anything.

Fast forward 25+ years to this summer. My parents retired, packed up everything they owned and moved across the country. Only the moving truck never arrived. It was stolen, along with everything they owned. We were absolutely devastated — 70 years of collecting and memories gone. As I tried to help my parents pick up the pieces, I thought again of this poster.

So I went on Facebook and reached out to my cat lovers group and asked everyone if they could help me keep an eye out for it based on my foggy recollection of what it looked like 25+ years ago. Not only did someone find it within 10 minutes, but she found it in connection to an article written by one of your clients. Reading her story sounded so much like my situation it was a little strange; at one point I wondered if we had the same grandpa.

Her story was really inspiring and started out similar to mine. It also led me to you. So I wanted to reach out to you and see if you have one of these posters or know of someone who might be interested in selling.

EARLIER: “Pyramid of Cats

Jay to Bee

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

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IN 1951, just days before her scheduled lobotomy after years in a mental hospital, New Zealand author Janet Frame’s first collection of short stories unexpectedly won the Hubert Church Memorial Award, one of the country’s most prestigious honors. The procedure was cancelled, and Frame would go on to become one of the seminal authors of contemporary New Zealand literature.

During her time at the MacDowell artist’s colony in New Hampshire, Frame met painter William Theophilus Brown, and their friendship resulted in a whimsical and artistic correspondence that lasted until Frame’s death in 2004. A new book, Jay to Bee: Janet Frame’s Letters to William Theophilus Brown, captures their moving and enlightening correspondence.

MORE: “Jay to Bee

He painted what he saw

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

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By JEAN STERN
Executive Director, The Irvine Museum

I first met Ken Auster in 1998. Up to that time, I had been a lifelong collector of historic California paintings and had not really considered works by contemporary plein air painters for my collection.

One day in 1999, Robin Fuld and I were discussing the contemporary plein air art community and she took me to the Laguna Art Museum to show me two paintings by Ken Auster that were on display in the back stairwell. I was immediately struck by these remarkable paintings. They were wonderful works, full of light, color and movement. It was clear that this artist knew what he was doing, knew how to do it, and most importantly knew why to do it. This was no ordinary painter, this was truly a master.

A few days later, I visited Ken and Paulette in their studio in Laguna Canyon. There, I saw paintings of traffic jams! In addition to beautiful landscapes and beach scenes, Ken was intent on painting what he saw in everyday life, and for those of us who live in California, we do indeed know traffic jams.

While many self-described “Impressionists” were painting elegant scenes of ladies with parasols in a carriage on the Champs-Elysees — scenes from the past century they had never experienced — Ken painted the same concept, but as it appeared today. He painted people in cars trying to get home at the end of the day. He found beauty in a setting that most of us consider a predicament to be endured.

That day, I talked at length with Ken and he impressed me as a knowledgeable and deeply committed artist. He could talk about anything regarding art and he had a deep working knowledge of art history. Before I left, I purchased a striking painting entitled “Electric Avenue.” It shows Market Street in San Francisco during rush hour, with numerous cars and an electric trolley. He signed it, “To my friend Jean, 1999.”

Ken and I became friends and I saw him many times at the Crystal Cove Art Festivals, the Plein Air Painters of America Annuals, the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitationals and the Laguna Plein Air Painting events. I have presented him with several painting awards over the years, including Best in Show at the 2013 Maui Invitational.

He was a wonderful person, a brilliant man and a great artist. May he rest in peace.

MORE: The Palette from the Irvine Museum

A spirited send-off

April 13, 2016 § 1 Comment

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Ken Auster | The Pitz

IT TOOK PLACE in a church, but the first part of the remembrance of life weekend for painter Ken Auster was a decidedly irreverent affair — featuring a rock band, a ukelele interlude, and a freeform string of raucous tales from his fraternity brothers and surfing buddies.

One who’d shared a college ornithology class remembered the final exam, which showed only the legs of several birds and asked for their identity. Ken and his pal thought it was ridiculous and stood up to walk out.

“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted the professor. “You can’t just walk out. Who are you, anyway?” With that, Ken pulled up his pants leg and replied: “You tell me.”

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