California is a haunting network of landscapes—the High Sierras, crisp dry deserts, fertile fields and vineyards, and 1,000 miles of spectacular coastline. Gorgeous glimpses of these quintessentially California places are on display now through Sept. 10 at the Santa Cruz Art League in a show that frankly surpasses expectations.
For almost nine decades, the Art League has hosted a California Landscape Exhibition of the best work of artists from all over the Golden State. Out of 350 entries, 60 were chosen for the current show of dazzling original work. Entered from all over the state, the artwork is handsomely mounted and given generous spacing—kudos to Keelin Sabel for an exceptional hanging of the show. Moving through the various rooms, savoring the show, I found many standouts in a sea of memorable paintings.
Jeff Ishikawa’s moody view of the fog-drenched coast—an honorable mention winner—reminded me just how excruciatingly difficult it is to master watercolors. Another honorable mention, a square format view of Tilden Jewel Lake by Bay Area painter Judith Corning, offered proof that it is quite possible to make an original composition of a time-honored subject. From regional master Charles Prentiss comes the second-prize-winning view of the Coast Ranges clad in early morning colors, a dramatic orchestration of velvety purple shadows and gleaming gold-green peaks. Such a confident piece reminds me that not only can Prentiss paint the land, he also obviously loves what he paints. Judy Miller’s sensitive interpretation of China Cove won third prize.
Fresh, new imaginings of the landscape are abundant in the show, such as Santa Cruz artist Abigail Stryker’s tall vertical slice of the Santa Lucia Mountains in closely knitted terraces and textures. Mesmerizing. Ed Penniman’s lavish view of the tide rolling in under a towering cloud bank offers a consummate variation on a well-trod artistic trope. The ambitious 40 x 40″ slice of the coast road at Davenport by Barbara Lawrence is particularly appealing. With a savvy nod toward Diebenkorn, her work shows a skilled eye and an authentic engagement with a charismatic moment of our north coast.
The show is packed with a diversity of technique, composition, subject, and originality. Carolyn Lord’s tiny painting of dusk on the shore feels immediate, yet quiet and uncompromising—a Morandi painted in California. Wayne Adachi’s glimpse of the UCSC Arboretum, with deepening afternoon shadows and impressionistic masses of plants and trees, is another especially lovely painting, selected—as was the entire show—by juror Frank Galuszka, UCSC Professor of Art Emeritus, himself an award-winning international painter.
Some works display their origins in photographic images, while others clearly emerged from plein air observation, such as the haunting portrait of the cliffs and cove of Davenport’s Panther Beach by Scotts Valley painter Barbara Schweikert. Others embrace abstraction in their quest to see deeper into their subjects, like Margaret Rinkovsky’s vibrant incoming waves and Christine Crozier’s dramatic reflections on the Russian River.
The show’s first prize went to Watsonville’s Michael Mote. His robust Rocky Coast explores distant blue cliffs, softened by evening fog, seen across a muscular foreground of rocky tidepools. An exceptional painting in a field of exceptional work. Congratulations to all of those involved at the Santa Cruz Art League. Don’t miss this museum-quality gathering of original artwork well beyond what you currently have on your iPhone.
The 87th Statewide California Landscape Exhibition at the Santa Cruz Art League through Sept. 10. SCAL hours: First Friday, Sept. 1, open noon to 9 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays. 526 Broadway, Santa Cruz. scal.org.