In the picture, color creates the light.
— Hans Hoffman
Until the invention of photography, it was only through the eye and artfulness of the artist that people could actually see what a distant land looked like. And no land came to life more quickly and romantically than the American West as depicted by artists like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.
Toward the end of the 19th century and following the migration of hundreds of thousands of people to California during the Gold Rush, a style of painting took root in California that sought to capture the glories of this new and exotic landscape. These artists wanted to capture California scenes — their impressions of them, anyway — as directly as possible, and so they painted outdoors, in the same time and place as the scenes they were depicting. En plein air, as the French would say, where nothing stood between the artist’s eye and the reality of the scene in view. Their pictures invariably celebrated the quality of the light in California, or rather, the many qualities of California sunlight as it played over a breathtaking and diverse landscape that included seashore and ocean, headlands and cliffs; mountains and meadows; and scenes of wildness tamed by artist, brush, paints and easel into idyllic illustrations and irresistible invitations to the new Eden. It’s hard to overstate the impact these paintings had on a curious world. They created in the popular imagination an image of California that remains to this day.
Opening on May 3, the next show in the Sturt Haaga Gallery will present an artfully curated collection of works about the California landscape by artists who investigate and depict that rare quality of light to be found only in California, the light that is the central but invisible character in plein air-style paintings both classic and contemporary. Entitled California Light, the exhibition will feature early 20th-century plein air artists and late-20th and early 21st century California artists who continue in their footsteps but bring a more modern sensibility to the search for the magic of light in California.
The exhibition runs through August 2. Gallery hours are 10am to 4pm Tuesdays through Sundays, closed Mondays.
right: 'Untitled (California Desert)' by Theodore Lukins, courtesy the Jonathan Art Foundation