My first brush with art

March 4, 2018 § 1 Comment

segrest_persimmons

Sarah Segrest | Persimmons

SARAH SEGREST TAUGHT 7th grade English and Holmes County French. She was the first touch of culture that came into my young life as a country kid growing up in the backwoods, and my first brush with art.

At the rear of her room she had a display space for her flower arrangements, usually featuring camellias in the winter from her garden. She was an artist, and an ever-changing show of her paintings lined the walls. Plus, she had an air conditioner when no one else did — no small attraction in our farm town in the heart and the heat of the Florida Panhandle.

Mrs. Segrest was just the right combination of nurturing and challenging for 7th graders, no longer in elementary school but not quite teenagers yet. When I got to 9th grade and had her again for French class, her elevated aesthetic sensibilities became ever more obvious. French! With a southern accent.

By the time I had graduated a few times and had an opportunity to try out my French in France, I had also moved to Chicago, far from home. As I got more interested in art, I wanted something real to go along with my posters. I thought of Mrs. Segrest, and wrote her a letter asking if I could visit on my next trip back home and possibly acquire one of her paintings.

And so I did. She and Dr. Segrest lived in a secluded 10-acre woodland just south of town that was thick with hundreds of camellia bushes. Their home was filled with her paintings. I especially liked a still life of watermelons she had just finished.

“Well, you may not want to pay what my teacher says it’s worth,” she warned me: $100.

watermelon

Sarah Segrest | Sliced Watermelon

It was my first original oil, and the subject matter made it a perfect way to remember her and home. I had also been attracted to a earlier painting of persimmons — especially after she said that another favorite teacher, Mrs. Gavin, who taught 10th grade biology, had brought her those persimmons. As I wrote the check and claimed my prize, Mrs. Segrest took the canvasboard with the persimmon painting on it and tucked it unnoticeably inside the back of the framed watermelon painting. “Dr. Segrest doesn’t like me to give them away,” she whispered.

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Mrs. Segrest with one of her paintings.

A few years later, as the art bug was taking hold, I went to see Mrs. Segrest again on another trip back home and asked if I might buy my mother one of her paintings as a Christmas gift. She suggested an oval of roses. After mother died, I reclaimed it for myself — and now it reminds me of them both.

Segrest-roses

My mother with Sarah Segrest | Roses

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An honest opinion

December 15, 2014 § 4 Comments

My pal Judson Orrick, a lawyer, was moved to begin painting. One day his friend the artist Joe McFadden came by his law office. As Judson tells the story:

“I represented Joe in a dispute with a gallery owner who wasn’t paying him. Joe came by my office, which is festooned with examples from my abstract expressionist period. Big canvasses. Lots of bright squiggles and whathaveyou’s. Everyone who comes in compliments my rare talent. Joe said nothing. So I said to him: Everyone compliments my artwork, Joe, but yours is the single opinion that matters to me. Honestly, what do you think?”

“It’s dreadful,” he said. “Truly horrible. A waste of paint and canvas. I know orangutans working with dung who have shown more promise. Seriously, it’s bad. You should stop.”

Then he turned up his palms, cocked his head, smiled and shrugged. “You asked.”

Read more: “I really, really liked that guy

‘Okay, you win’

May 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hayes Keeler stopped to visit Marc Jacobs' Christmas swan in 2007.

Hayes Keeler stopped to visit Marc Jacobs’ Christmas swan in 2007.

ONE OF OUR strongest supporters — and one of our neighborhood’s truly good guys — was laid to rest the other day. Hayes Keeler was a lawyer turned investment advisor who lived nearby. Over the years, he’d stop by on his neighborhood rounds, always ready to joust, tickled that another lawyer had turned gallery owner. Even as Parkinson’s Disease took its toll, he remained amazingly upbeat.

His friend Tim Smith gave the eulogy at what was billed as the “Celebration of the Life of Hayes Keeler” on May 3, just down the hill at the beautiful little Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin.

“He was tough,” Smith said, “challenging, probing, engaging and professorial. I always had to be sure I knew what I was talking about, even if I thought it was obvious. After he continued to challenge me and I continued to squirm, he would suddenly smile and say, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Okay, you win.’ ”

Sandy Ostrau’s expanding vision

June 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Natural Spaces | Sandy Ostrau

Natural Spaces | Sandy Ostrau

By PAUL KARLSTROM

About two years ago I fortuitously encountered some of the colorful and lushly painted landscapes of Sandy Ostrau. To a one they had a distinctive sense of their creator’s personal vision and evident grasp of the principles of modernist art. The best examples were the most reductive in composition and details, minimalist works that were as much about the structure as the look of nature. I was greatly attracted to the abstract qualities Ostrau was beginning to explore within the plein air framework.

Building upon that foundation, Ostrau next did a series of landscapes that pushed further to pure abstraction, plein air representation all but abandoned. As the landscape flattens, shapes and color become the subject. Some of the works suggest landscape; in one, for example, a peach-colored sandy beach dominates the composition with its narrow band of dark blue sea in the distance surmounted by a somewhat wider horizontal lighter blue sky — a minimalist composition defined by three horizontal lines.

Now Ostrau has carried her evolving treatment still further, introducing the figure into an otherwise abstract pictorial formulation. The human presence, nestled in Ostrau’s abstract environment, serves to animate the composition. Figuration embraces abstraction in what I can only describe as an authoritative and resolute integration of visual forms, as successful as almost anything I have lately seen. I look forward to the next iteration of Sandy Ostrau’s artistic journey as she moves toward ever greater expressive vigor.

Paul J. Karlstrom was formerly the West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. © June 2013 by Paul J. Karlstrom.

REVIEW: “Drawing on a Rich Bay Area Legacy

Bass | Sandy Ostrau

Bass | Sandy Ostrau

What I’ve learned

January 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

An old friend — a prominent and prosperous lawyer — passed through town a few weeks ago. We had dinner at The Big Four on Nob Hill. I wrote to thank him for a pleasant evening and asked the great man how he would sum up what he had learned in his long and successful life about what really matters, and what advice he could offer.

His reply, in its entirety:

What really matters: Family and friends.
What have I learned: Didn’t take enough risks.
What advice do I have: Take them.

For Terry Miura, a new path

September 2, 2004 § Leave a comment

Sentinels | Terry Miura

Terry Miura, who moved from Brooklyn and now lives near Sacramento, departs from his earlier paintings of urban cityscapes in these painterly evocations of a nearly pure landscape, encroached upon only slightly by humans.

Avoiding the pitfalls of contemporary impressionism, which too often comes off as sweet and sugary, Miura follows a path more akin to the tonalism of early California painters such as Xavier Martinez and Giuseppe Cadenasso. Using earth colors and a structure based on light and dark tonal variations, he gives us subtle and emotive scenes of foothill vistas and Napa Valley roads.

Evidence of human habitation is limited in Miura’s landscapes, faint reminders of transitory dwellers on the land. A barn sits under a romantic twilight sky, a footpath unfolds ribbonlike over rolling green foothills, a road sign and telephone poles flank a highway. Nature itself is the main subject here as Miura concentrates on the atmospheric effects of light and air on the landscape.

Miura is sensitive to the changes in light as he moves from place to place, giving us a bleak and arid sky over I-5, capturing the ironically lovely rosiness of smoggy Pasadena and the misty blue air surrounding a river oak. He is especially adept at conveying the mysterious beauty of Napa at nightfall in a magical scene of a foggy Highway 29 lined with looming eucalyptus trees at dusk. It’s a gem.

— VICTORIA DALKEY, The Sacramento Bee

Sweeping up the heart

January 13, 2004 § Leave a comment

Portrait of William, 1939 | Mac Harshberger

Our friend William had 88 good years and was in the hospital for only a few days at the end. He died peacefully, in his sleep, at about 7 in the morning, as we held his hands. He just stopped breathing.

We said goodbye for the last time. Then we walked back down the hill to his house, a block and a half away, near the park where he played as a child. We went into the back, into his garden room, with its burnt orange walls, and lit a fire.

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