Thursday, February 3, 2011

Art review: California Impressionists captured optimistic moment in time

Red and Green,‭ ‬by Joseph‭ ‬Kleitsch.‭

By Jenifer M.‭ ‬Vogt

Glancing at the viewer,‭ ‬a woman shields her face from the sun.‭ ‬She stands in a garden resplendent with color.‭ ‬Red geraniums dance at her feet alongside the stone pathway where she stands.‭ ‬Alongside her,‭ ‬a woman kneels and tends to the garden.

Throughout the painting,‭ ‬titled‭ ‬Red and Green, by Joseph‭ ‬Kleitsch,‭ ‬patches of shade and bright sunlight compete for dominance.‭ ‬A moment in time is captured,‭ ‬resulting in questions:‭ ‬Who is this woman‭? ‬Who is she looking at‭?

The answers are irrelevant because she belongs to everyone.‭ ‬And her moment in time is equally familiar.‭

In another work,‭ ‬The Idle Hour‭ (‬1917‭) ‬by John Hubbard Rich,‭ ‬a woman reclines in a rocking chair.‭ ‬She gently fans herself with an elegant,‭ ‬Oriental-style fan.‭ ‬She appears at ease,‭ ‬but lost in thought.‭ ‬The room is awash in a hazy,‭ ‬sunlit glow that seems to match the subdued nature of her mood.

The ability to elegantly capture moments of quietude like these is so much a part of the appeal of the artists represented in‭ ‬California Impressionism:‭ ‬Paintings from‭ ‬the Irvine Museum,‭ ‬now on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art until April‭ ‬17.‭

The Idle Hour‭ (‬1917‭)‬,‭ ‬by John Hubbard Rich.

However seemingly banal,‭ ‬these are the fleeting moments in life that take our breath away,‭ ‬or require us to ponder.‭ ‬They do so because there’s an emotional connection between the subject and the artist.‭ ‬In some cases,‭ ‬as in the ones just mentioned,‭ ‬the subject is a person.‭ ‬In many other instances throughout this fine exhibit,‭ ‬the subject is nature.‭ ‬Either way,‭ ‬or whatever the work,‭ ‬a mood is evoked.

California Impressionism is a movement that combined distinctive aspects of European art with a distinctly American flavor.‭ ‬These painters emerged in the early part of the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬primarily in Southern California,‭ ‬as a result of the economic opportunity and migration that was made possible by a modernized transportation system between the East and the West.

Their style seems to have peaked around‭ ‬1915‭ ‬and by‭ ‬1930‭ ‬began to decline into obscurity,‭ ‬only to be rediscovered,‭ ‬and heralded,‭ ‬in more recent years as a significant niche in the history of American art.‭ ‬The California Impressionists,‭ ‬along with other painters throughout the country who had adopted this fluid,‭ ‬emotive style,‭ ‬were precursors to the global dominance of American.‭ ‬Though not founded in the United States,‭ ‬Impressionism paved the way for the looser brushwork and gestural painting that foreshadowed the abstract expressionist movement and solidified America’s reign as the center of the art world.

With their painterly significance in mind,‭ ‬it pays to look closely at the canvas in order to follow the artist’s brushwork because you are witnessing the birth of the fluidity and freedom that is one of the hallmarks of American art,‭ ‬and which could only have emerged in a society that had also victoriously rejected the imposed boundaries of a traditional European hierarchy.‭

Scrub Oak,‭ ‬by John Bond Francisco.

What you truly see here,‭ ‬in works such as‭ ‬Scrub Oak by John Bond Francisco,‭ ‬is a determined optimism that is born from sunshine,‭ ‬nature and the opportunity that had emerged from westward expansion.‭ ‬It was in this brief moment of time before the Great Depression that America blossomed and enthusiasm ran high.‭ ‬The sunlight breaks through the clouds and shines down on the land in a manner that is both peaceful and comforting.‭ ‬It seems to convey that everything will be all right.

These California artists,‭ ‬who were also known as the California‭ ‬plein-air painters,‭ ‬were discovering the natural landscape that the country had to offer and they were inspired by its sublime beauty.‭ ‬In the same way that a magnificent sunset can cause you to quickly gasp for air as you are overcome by the sheer beauty of it,‭ ‬these works invoke the same spiritual,‭ ‬though not necessarily‭ (‬if at all‭) ‬religious,‭ ‬sense of wonder.

Two works capture the beauty of nature with glimpses of artistic modernity.‭ ‬In‭ ‬Eucalyptus Grove,‭ ‬by George Spangenberg,‭ ‬the artist has gone into the trees to portray an interesting angle that reduces a landscape into a composition where color,‭ ‬line and light move forward and the viewer is drawn right into the canvas.‭

Los Angeles Harbor,‭ ‬by Donna Schuster.

In the second,‭ ‬Los Angeles Harbor by Donna Schuster,‭ ‬discernible shapes hasten towards abstraction.‭ ‬The clearly defined lines of the three boats in the foreground are framed by less distinctly shaped boats behind them and more ambiguous objects,‭ ‬supposedly buildings,‭ ‬in the far distance.

Here again,‭ ‬line,‭ ‬color and light form an interesting interplay that makes the composition more significant than the scene being portrayed.‭ ‬The bold brushwork provides an additional testament to the importance of the light to the entire scene.

Light is,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬the central character in all of these works.‭ ‬Both the abundance of light,‭ ‬or the lack thereof,‭ ‬send subliminal messages to the viewer because the light is allegorical to the deeper emotional content of the work,‭ ‬which summons the fleeting moments in time that are being portrayed.

Southern California Coast,‭ ‬by George Gardner Symons.‭

When you view a work such as‭ ‬Southern California Coast by George Gardner Symons,‭ ‬you are transported to that moment in time when the artist stood in front of his easel admiring the scene.‭ ‬You smell the ocean and you feel the glaring sunshine that is depicted in the brilliant white peaks of the breaking waves that you can hear crashing against the rocks and sand.‭ ‬For those few moments that you stand before this work,‭ ‬you feel what the artist felt as much as you see what he saw.

Ultimately,‭ ‬that is the great blessing bestowed on us by the California Impressionists and the cornerstone for the success of this exhibit:‭ ‬these paintings provide a brief respite,‭ ‬a moment that is both inspiring and comforting.‭ ‬This is a moment often referred to as‭ ‬grace‭ ‬and it is,‭ ‬more often than not,‭ ‬inspired by the beauty of nature.

Jenifer‭ ‬Mangione Vogt is a marketing communications professional and resident of‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬She’s been enamored with painting for‭ ‬most of her life.‭ ‬She studied art history and‭ ‬received her B.A.‭ ‬from Purchase College.

California Impressionism:‭ ‬Paintings from the Irvine Museum‭ ‬is on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art until April‭ ‬17.‭ ‬Hours for this exhibition are Tuesday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Wednesday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬9‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Thursday and Friday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬Saturday from‭ ‬12‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬and Sunday from‭ ‬12‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬until‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Admission is‭ ‬$14‭ ‬for adults,‭ ‬$12‭ ‬for seniors,‭ ‬and‭ ‬$6‭ ‬for students.‭ ‬For more information call‭ ‬561-392-2500,‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

Eucalyptus Grove, by George Spangenberg.

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