Watercolor as a mistress

October 11, 2022 § Leave a comment

The Riv

George Washington Smith was Santa Barbara’s most influential architect back in the 1920s, the founding father of the California movement in Spanish Colonial Revival design. The irony was that Smith, when he moved to Montecito in 1917, saw himself as an artist. But after building the centrally located house and studio he’d designed for himself and his wife, friends and neighbors kept clamoring to have him create residences for them.

“I soon found that people were not really as eager to buy my paintings, which I was laboring over, as they were to have a whitewashed house like mine,” he once said. “So I put away my brushes and have not yet had a moment to take them up again.”

Now, a century later, Smith’s spiritual offspring are turning the tables back again, as a new group show features a dozen successful Santa Barbara architects who also paint or create other visual art. “ARTchitecture” is on display at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara.

“I’ve been an architecture junkie since I was a young lawyer living in Chicago, and a few decades running my gallery in San Francisco only encouraged that,” says Reynolds, who moved to Santa Barbara during the pandemic and opened the new art space on State Street last year. “Living here, I’ve arrived in architectural nirvana.” 

The idea for the exhibition came about through Reynolds’s casual conversations with Marc Appleton, the celebrated Santa Barbara architect who helped organize the show, and they reached out to peers to round out the curation. “There’s a natural affinity between architectural design and visual art that many of us feel,” says Appleton. “We decided it would be fun to see how many architects in town actually indulge their passion for watercolors.”

Quite a few, it turns out.

Anthony Grumbine, Jeff Shelton and Stephen Harby are among the well-known locals participating in “ARTchitecture,” along with Domiane Forte, Henry Lenny, John Margolis, Sean McArdle, Tom Meaney, Alexis Stypa and Qing Xue, who collectively contributed more than 75 works for the exhibit.

While the well-trained architects are all famous for designing homes, offices and/or public buildings around town, frequently employing beautiful architectural drawings to convey their vision, painting is a different matter entirely. Appleton jokes, “If I had to paint with the intention of making a living at selling my watercolors, I would be in the poor house.” However, Reynolds says the products of the architects’ art aspirations are anything but amateur hour. “Everything in the exhibition is frameable – they are fine art paintings that stand on their own,” Reynolds says.

Locals will recognize many of the scenes depicted in the watercolors, as a majority of the pieces focus on some of the most beloved buildings in town, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The landmark shows up in paintings by three different architect-artists, each revealing an individual perspective – not unlike how they might design a building from scratch, although without having to please anyone but themselves. 

Appleton says the focus required for watercolors is part of its appeal, perhaps even more so than the finished product. “You have to really look at the building or architectural scene and allow yourself to learn about what you’re seeing,” he said. “It becomes a way of remembering the experience that’s richer than a photograph.”

Harby, who has largely traded active design for a set of watercolor brushes and leading art-travel trips, goes even further. “The joy of experiencing spatial complexity, materials and light fueled my architecture career for a number of years,” he said. “Now, sitting in front of an astonishing and challenging building and trying to capture, and represent it, brings the same kind of thrill as creating it.” 

Appleton agrees. “Watercolor is an extremely seductive art form,” he says. “We have our profession of architecture, which is a commitment like a marriage. But then we have watercolor as a mistress.”

VIEW THE RIV’s 10-page spread

From architecture to art, via Paris

October 7, 2022 § 3 Comments

Michael Reardon | Pont Notre-Dame

I FIRST MET Michael Reardon when he was a regular with the Sunday Afternoon Watercolor Society, the gently mocking name a group of San Francisco architects gave themselves when they gathered in some scenic spot once a month with their watercolors. 

The Sunday Afternoon Watercolor Society visits Alta Plaza Park.

Michael Reardon | Bartholomew Park Winery

I’d seen one of Michael’s watercolors in a group exhibition of the California Art Club I hosted in 2009. I thought I didn’t much like watercolors, but I loved the abstraction of Michael’s vertical painting of a Sonoma winery.

So I invited myself to visit his studio and see more of Michael’s work. He was still working in architecture, having become a much sought-after architectural illustrator. But he painted watercolors on location quite often, too. He had a lot of beautiful work of various subjects, but no apparent theme for an exhibition. Then he pulled open a drawer of paintings he had done in Paris when he was awarded a three-month residency there to study some aspect of French architecture. He chose the historic fountains of Paris, and painted many of them in watercolor. He even wrote and published a book. We held his “Fountains of Paris” exhibition in 2011 at my San Francisco gallery. That’s when he and the other Sunday watercolorists painted in nearby Alta Plaza Park in the video above — and not long before Michael decided to graduate from architecture and give himself over entirely to painting and teaching.

I’ve thought since I got to Santa Barbara that this is another great architectural destination Michael might be moved to paint. That hasn’t happened yet, but the ARTchitecture exhibition provided an opportunity to introduce his work here. Demonstrating the wide appeal of his paintings, the first three claimed are going to Australia.

— Thomas Reynolds

Sandy Ostrau in Santa Barbara

April 2, 2022 § Leave a comment

Joanne Calitri: “The essence of paradise
Lynda Millner: “Painting paradise”

A second grand opening

March 18, 2022 § Leave a comment


When Thomas Reynolds moved his well-established gallery from its perch in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights, the gallery’s home for 25 years, it seemed an auspicious idea to set up shop and a new home in Santa Barbara. The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, situated in a spot just a few doors up from the Arlington Theater on State, enjoys a central location in close proximity to the city’s expanding Arts District, two blocks from the Museum of Art.

A year ago, the arrival of vaccinations was breeding widespread hope for a return to normal human behavior and old cultural habits. Alas, along came Delta and Omicron, delaying the comfort zone with visiting indoor galleries and businesses.

One year later, the Covid cobwebs are finally being dusted away and art-seekers are getting out more. For anyone who has put off checking out the space, it’s time to visit Reynolds’ current exhibition, 1 Yr in SB. Consider it a second grand opening, and an illuminating introduction to the focus of Reynolds’ work as a gallerist.

In short, the art is about and from California, mostly tapping Bay Area or Los Angeles scenes and landmarks as iconography. In terms of artistic approach, the work tends to live between the realms of abstraction and realism, each with its own code of conduct within that idiomatic “between” zone.

• General overview visions of California cities, romantic while cool, are presented by Mark Matsuno and Veerakeat Tongpaiboon, circling around the realism with separate visions. Matsuno’s aerial view of the winding and mostly dry Los Angeles River is the subject of A River Runs Through It, and Tunnel Vision offers a horizontal, symmetrical view of a vintage tunnel, with echoing arch patterns stretching into the distance. With his odes to San Francisco, including the action-blurred Market Street traffic hustle of Bike Lane in the gallery’s window, Tongpaiboon proves to be an exacting but fluid painter, with a rich palette and an idealized city as expressive playground.

• Sandy Ostrau, a UCSB graduate, delves deeper into abstract sensibilities than others in the show and enjoys laying on thick, palpable textures of paint. Figures appear in stages of prop-like ambiguity, as in Standing Together, but with an intimacy beyond their pictorial function. A lone, tilting semblance of a figure leans into a run in Morning Run, a centering device in the composition, divided by rectilinear color zones. Fields to Sea draws doubly on California connections, given its similarity to Northern-turned-Southern Californian Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series, a touchstone of the idea of natural abstraction.

• Art historical parallels take a different turn in Ken Auster’s infectious but also voyeristic, fly-on-the-wall paintings of restaurant life. He’s Coming With Your Soup invokes its story with the title, while the intriguing Merry Souls plots figures in a murky shaded foreground, with a glistening bar and mural in the background. Through discernibly contemporary, these rugged slice-of-life paintings also refer back to the immortal views of leisure and epicure captured by Manet and Renoir in the late 19th century.

• Also in the show are nudes, elegant and classicist in Stevan Shapona’s canvases, and in rougher impressions through Kim Frohsin’s ink-on-paper and mixed media visions. Gary Bukovnik lightens the sensory load with airy fine floral studies.

The gallery’s first anniversary party continues with a part two exhibition, Sandy Ostrau: Paradise Revisited, in April and May. Stop by. Masks are optional and the art is inviting.

It’s our anniversary

March 3, 2022 § 6 Comments

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, which relocated to 1331 State Street in Santa Barbara last year after 25 years in San Francisco, is celebrating its first anniversary with a pair of exhibitions.

1 Yr in SB, opening on First Thursday, March 3, and continuing to March 30, is a group exhibition of artists whose work the gallery has introduced in Santa Barbara during its first year.

Paradise Revisited, from April 2 to May 28, is a solo exhibition of paintings by UC Santa Barbara graduate Sandy Ostrau, who returns as one of California’s most admired and sought-after contemporary artists. While she was a student at UCSB, Ostrau also played on the fabled women’s soccer team and waitressed her way up and down State Street. Now working primarily from her studio at Sea Ranch, she captures the strong shapes and bold colors of the California coast and the denizens who live here. A first anniversary reception with Sandy Ostrau will be held on Saturday, April 2, from 3 to 5 p.m.

“We’re delighted to be in Santa Barbara,” says Thomas Reynolds. “Leaving San Francisco and our beloved Fillmore Street neighborhood, where we were so deeply engaged, has been tough. But we’ve felt fortunate to be a part of the excitement the new pedestrian promenade has brought to State Street. Santa Barbara is surely one of the few cities whose downtown has become much more vibrant and alive during the pandemic.”

Reynolds has been an active member of the steering committee working to establish Santa Barbara’s Arts District in the area centered on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of State Street. He says: “The new Arts District is binding together a remarkable concentration of cultural treasures: the museum, symphony, ballet and opera; the historic Arlington, Granada and New Vic theaters; the film festival; plus a great group of galleries, restaurants and shops. It’s the Funk Zone for grown-ups and locals.”

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery was founded in 1994 in San Francisco and became a fixture on Fillmore Street, presenting historic and contemporary California art and artists. Reynolds, a recovering lawyer, was also president of the neighborhood business association, chair of the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival, and editor and publisher of the local newspaper.

Art in the Garden

October 19, 2021 § Leave a comment

A redwood grove in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

IT WAS A PERFECT PAIRING: an afternoon touring the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and viewing an exhibition of paintings created by the garden’s first artist-in-residence. Organized by the art committee of Santa Barbara Newcomers — a group of recent arrivals — the afternoon began with an enlightening tour of the garden led by Education Director Scot Pipkin, who emphasized the garden’s focus on native California plants. Santa Barbara painter Libby Holland, the debut artist-in-residence, joined the tour and gave a talk about the paintings her residency inspired, which are now exhibited in the garden’s Conservation Center gallery.

In Charlotte’s web

September 21, 2021 § Leave a comment

Tea with Charlotte, July 2021


CHARLOTTE KARP was always enthusiastic and encouraging, and she let you love her back, too. No one could resist her warm embrace, but she pulled no punches once you got to know her. I got lucky the day she and my fellow Florida expat Swan Brown walked into the gallery and adopted me into their unlikely urban family.

Charlotte grew up on a Texas ranch, later was a first class flight attendant for Continental Airlines, then married and raised three children in Chicago. Along the way, her family bought a winter home in Florida that had been previously owned by Swan Brown, a noted landscape architect. She sought him out, and he agreed to help with the garden he’d planted, along with those in the grand Palm Beach estates he designed and superintended. They became fast friends. Later Swan and Jim Bolin, Swan’s partner after his married life ended in the early ’60s, bought a cabin at Lake Tahoe, where Jim liked to ski. Ultimately they moved down to San Francisco, and by then Charlotte and her family had moved here as well.

Then Charlotte’s husband left her for another woman — a very wealthy woman. Charlotte refused to be separated from her family, inviting the new wife in, and sometimes accepting invitations to travel extravagantly together. How she could embrace such a situation was miraculous. She would say simply, “I won’t break up my family.”

And she didn’t. Her daughter and two sons were beside her in her elegant flat on Washington Street, between Bloomers florist and the Swedenborgian Church, when she died yesterday morning, two days after beginning hospice care. Her daughter emailed: “Charlotte passed away peacefully this a.m. 9/20/21. She was so loved, lucid, grateful and unafraid.”

MORE: “A visit with ChaCha

Wear your good shoes

September 1, 2021 § Leave a comment

Folk art: a vintage shoeshine stand

THE FIRST THURSDAY art walk returns to downtown Santa Barbara on September 2, from 5 to 8 p.m., and the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, at 1331 State Street, is offering something special: a free shoeshine on a vintage shine stand. Master shine man Domingo Lopez — who manned the shine stand in the shoe department at Nordstrom in Santa Barbara for 26 years — will be present.

A visit with ChaCha

July 15, 2021 § 3 Comments

Charlotte Karp with roses and a Peggi Kroll Roberts butter painting.


ONE OF THE greatest pleasures of owning a gallery for all these years is meeting so many wonderful people. For the most part, the people moved to walk into an art gallery are a kind and interesting lot. Some are special. And that includes Charlotte Karp, a very fine watercolorist and collector.

Charlotte was an early encourager of my gallery in San Francisco. She lived in the neighborhood, and frequently stopped by after lunch on Fillmore Street with her friend Swan Brown, a Florida expat like me, and also an art enthusiast. They both became close friends — “like family, without the baggage,” as another neighbor and great friend said. We often had lunch, and celebrated many birthdays together.

On a recent return to our longtime neighborhood — my first since the pandemic and a move to Santa Barbara — I wrote to Charlotte to ask if I could come by for tea. Her ebullience is now reduced to a whisper, but she welcomed a visit. Her flat’s a short walk away, and I stopped as I passed Bloomers, everybody’s favorite florist, to get flowers. The shop was still closed to the public, but a sign in the window gave the email and phone number. So I called, and owner Patric Powell answered. I asked if I might get a handful of something nice to take to a friend up the street. “Just give me a minute,” he said. Soon he opened the door with an armful of beautiful pink roses and asked, “Will these do?” They certainly would. I handed him my credit card, but he refused it. “Welcome home,” he said.

MORE: “In Charlotte’s web

7 secrets of collecting art

March 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

Mac Harshberger | The Tennis Set (circa 1928)

Montecito Journal

There’s something new at 1331 State Street: the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, near the Arlington Theater. The gallery was founded in 1994 in San Francisco in the Pacific Heights neighborhood and was known for contemporary California art and artists. I met with Thomas Reynolds the other day and he shared some of his knowledge about how to become a collector on all sizes of budgets — or, as he calls it, “passing through the post-poster phase into the promised land of original art.” 

Read more: “A new gallery opens in Santa Barbara

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