Group 1: The California Coast 1971-79

In 1971 when I was 15, I made a conscious choice to work in art.  Growing up with the influence of my father Syd who was an abstract painter (see: Syd may make my choice to be an artist seem obvious, but for me, at the time, it was based on the simple notion that I had some skill at drawing. The first work in the group presented, is a pencil drawing that I liked at the time. Somehow it gave me confidence.  I can say now, it had something to do with ordering elements using a certain focus and simplicity.    I had, like many artists’ children, been raised from infancy with painting and drawing. Going to art class in high school was the place where I distinguished parental encouragement from “objective” assessment.  Without my knowing it, my art teacher submitted a print I did to a national student art contest and it won. (Thank you, Mrs. Davis) That kind of cinched it for me, at least for the idea of really pursuing art. I was also involved in music. When I graduated in 74, I went up to Maine and did some small watercolors of trees in bright sunlight at a Baha’i retreat.   Somehow that moment, of painting light shimmering in the leaves, was a major marker, a kind of prediction of how light and transparency were important to me.  I painted my first shoreline watercolor, at Kittery, that summer as well.  After the summer was over I ran in to a surfing buddy, Stevie White, at Georgica Beach in East Hampton. He had just returned from traveling to India. He wanted to go to California and since he didn’t drive, or own a car, I volunteered.  I got to hear about his travels, hitch-hiking from Morocco to India, as we drove across the US. It was an unforgettable combination of words and images.

The California coast around Santa Barbara was an amazing experience for me. The first night we got in we stayed at Hank Pitcher’s house in Isla Vista. Hank was (is) a good painter with high craft, stylized and witty.  The next morning we went out to Devereaux Point to check the surf.  I absolutely fell in love with California then.  It was the scale of everything and the light. I had grown up on a west facing shoreline, on the Gulf of Mexico. I knew how afternoon light looked shining through waves, but California had such altitude and depth compared to the flatness, intimacy and shallowness of the Gulf. And it seemed even more golden.  I started painting, mostly still lives in our apartment on Picasso Street in Isla Vista. (Yes, two artists living on Picasso…. We called each other Braque and Picasso when we surfed. ”Nice tube, Braque.”)  We had a one bedroom, which contained 2 drum sets, many surfboards, and paintings all over the place. It was so 70s surf bohemian !

Eventually I started wandering out with notebooks and then with canvases, painting the places we surfed.  I loved the wilder places like Jalama, Point Conception and  Hollister Ranch.  Stevie attended the College of Creative Studies at UCSB and I worked in an avocado nursery in Santa Barbara.  Eventually I went to Creative Studies, one of the best things that ever happened to me.  It was founded by a literary man named Marvin Mudrick and had one of the advanced arts curricula in the country. With artists like John McCracken and Charles Garabedian teaching at the same time, the influences were serious and yet open.  The only “agenda” I ever heard from CCS officialdom was  that students were expected  “to learn how to think”.  With no programmatic dogma and the independence of its artist/teachers, one had  to figure things out for oneself. That experience served its graduates exceptionally well.

I don’t exactly know how I formulated the way I painted then. I tried to be strait forward, matching what I saw with what I could do technically. I was interested in learning, building a foundation. I drew constantly, in class and out. Growing up with Abstract Expressionism I felt I needed to go back and start again at the beginning, training in traditional mimetic skills. During this period I showed some of my notebooks to the artist James Brooks, who was a close family friend.  Jim was profoundly encouraging then. He said something like, ”it’s all right in there”. The notebook works were done with watercolor and I had the tendency to lay many layers on, often making the tones very rich. The images were seascapes, landscapes and still lives.  The coastal vistas had an effect on my well-being. I got a kind of energy from some places, I can’t quite explain.  Of all the kinds of techniques I have done in my life, I still work with watercolor. They are a kind of talisman. When I assess most of the physical qualities I have sought from painting and sculpture over the years, transparency has to be at the top.  Working with watercolor became a technical and aesthetic foundation.



Devereux Point, Isla Vista February 12, 1979 6 foot North swell Water 52 From cliffs – after surfing all day I had to come back just to see it again. Still glassy perfection but I only have enough energy left to lift a paint brush.

The Bombora, Isla Vista March 3, 1979 12:00 Can’t believe how placid it looks today after yesterday’s double overhead + mackers. 2 ft swell, no wind, water about 53