Nearly 60 views of Malibu created by members of the California Art Club are featured in this exhibition, which explores not only the city’s picturesque scenery but also the enduring California plein air landscape tradition.
by Michael Zakian
Driving west on Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles, at a spot just five miles from the beach at Santa Monica, one encounters a sign that reads: “Malibu: 27 Miles of Scenic Beauty.” Over the course of the last year, 51 artist-members of the California Art Club made the journey to Malibu to capture those scenic wonders on canvas. The nearly 60 resulting landscape paintings—of both charming coastal views and more novel subjects and perspectives—are currently featured in the exhibition “On Location in Malibu 2006: Paintings by the California Art Club,” on view until September 3 at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, California.
Located at a point on the coast where the Santa Monica Mountains descend into the sea, with surrounding hillsides offering panoramic views looking east toward Los Angeles and west toward Santa Barbara, Malibu has long been a source of inspiration for landscape painters. Although the original California landscape-painting tradition has its roots in the French Impressionist plein air movement of the 19th century, over the past several decades there has been a resurgence of interest in contemporary realism in landscape painting. Today’s plein air artists openly acknowledge a debt to their predecessors while actively seeking to revive the time-honored craftsmanship, dedication to nature, and values of traditional art. This movement has been largely spearheaded by the members of the California Art Club, who see themselves as making unique contributions to the tradition of realist art while offering novel subjects, individual perspectives, and exciting views of their sunny state.
The diversity of work showcased in “On Location in Malibu 2006” attests to this evolution of the California landscape tradition and shows the vitality of landscape painting at the beginning of the 21st century. The artists participating in the exhibition used unique approaches and techniques to capture the scene, street, or sign that would, to them, exemplify what it means to be in Malibu.
|Welcome to Malibu
by Michael Obermeyer,
2006, oil, 18 x 24.
All artwork this article
collection the artist.
Michael Obermeyer, an artist from Laguna Beach, did this by painting the Pacific Coast Highway in his work Welcome to Malibu. Hugging the coast and running from one end of the community to the other, this main thoroughfare through Malibu sits between the Santa Monica Mountains and the shimmering Pacific Ocean. To locals, it’s “Main Street”: a practical way to get from home to work, shopping, and school. To visitors, it is a trail of wonders offering new and startling vistas around each bend. Obermeyer captured both of these aspects by using a compositional landscape formula that harks back to the 17th century—dark masses of trees framing a view into the distance—to show both enduring nature and modern development. Capturing the subtle glow of cool, late-afternoon light, his painting conveys a sense of both the timeless and the contemporary.
by John Budicin, 2006,
oil, 14 x 24.
Malibu prides itself on maintaining a rural environment and limiting development. Yet over the decades numerous homes have been constructed along the beaches and across the hillsides. John Budicin, an artist from southern California, explored this interplay of houses and land in his painting Got Sunglasses? Capturing the light of the scene with rare sensitivity, the work depicts a view across rolling hills dotted with private homes.
Before becoming a landscape painter, Budicin worked in advertising, designing bold, graphic displays. Once he began to paint, his aesthetic vision shifted toward smaller-scale, more intimate scenes. Although Budicin took classes from other artists when he began to paint, his real education came from nature. The artist recalls perfecting his skills by painting “hundreds of 6" x 8"s.” Rather than attempting to render these scenes in a particular style, Budicin let nature dictate the final result. “I was always trying to get the feeling of what I was seeing,” he says. In Got Sunglasses? we see how the artist employs masterful brushwork and subtle variations in a limited palette to create a sense of glaring sunlight. The sunshine is what has drawn people to California for more than a century. It also has the ability to turn studio artists into plein air painters.
|Let the Skies Pour
by Cathey Cadieux, 2005,
oil, 30 x 36.
Cathey Cadieux was born in Oklahoma and first studied art at the American Academy of Art, in Chicago, and later at the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco. Because each of these regions is known for its inclement weather, Cadieux never considered working outdoors and pursued a career as a figure and portrait painter. This changed when she moved to Southern California, where she discovered the California Art Institute, in Westlake Village. Teachers such as Neal Boyle encouraged her to work outside and paint landscapes on location. Cadieux found that the outdoors offered a welcome relief from the isolation of the studio, and she soon embraced plein air painting as a lifestyle. Today, she often goes on camping excursions up the coast, painting along the way. Cadieux’s Let the Skies Pour Down Righteousness captures a specific historic moment. It was painted during the wildfires of October 2005, which burned large parts of adjacent Ventura County. Smoke filled the skies in Malibu for days, and when the artist drove past one of her favorite sites—Leo Carrillo State Beach—she saw the dramatic, compelling sunset pictured in this work. Racing against time, she set up her easel and captured the light falling through the smoky clouds. To her, the awe-inspiring image seemed religious and inspired the biblical title. Cadieux’s painting reminds us that the serene beauty of Malibu exists within a continual threat of natural disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, and devastating coastal storms.
by Alexey Steele,
2006, oil, 72 x 48.
Alexey Steele, who was born in the Ukraine and studied art in Moscow, maintains a love for the majestic figure compositions of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. In his landscapes, he tries to capture that elaborate and stately sense of grandeur. For this exhibition, he chose Point Dume, one of the most prominent natural landmarks in Malibu, as his subject of inspiration. This spit of land juts out into the ocean, creating a memorable profile. Offering headlands, cliffs, rocky coves, and secluded beaches, the land mass is complex. In his large studio canvas, Glowing Cliff, Steele focused on the soaring height of the cliffs, which he painted from studies rendered on location.
Steele carefully selected his vantage point to produce a composition that ascends with the birds in flight. The view he chose makes viewers feel that they, too, are flying, suspended in midair. His colors reinforce that sense of magic and wonder. Using a palette that focuses on the complements of yellow-orange and violet, he produced a magical glow that is real but also fanciful and evocative.
Peter Adams, the president of the California Art Club, grew up in Los Angeles and often surfed off the world-famous Malibu beaches. He understands the subtleties of the waves—when they break, how they move—with a keen awareness earned from years of experience. He also knows that the sea can be both beautiful and threatening, often at the same time. In Force of Light, he creates this sense of uneasy contradiction by placing the viewer directly in the path of the wave, awaiting the thunderous crash of the rolling water.
|Force of Light
by Peter Adams, 2006,
oil, 30 x 40.
Adams studied art in the 1970s with a little-known Los Angeles artist, Theodore N. Lukits (1897–1992), who represented a link to the past traditions of European academic art. Lukits had trained at The Art Institute of Chicago in the early 20th century, working under American painters who had studied in the academies in France in the 19th century. From Lukits, Adams learned the demanding skills of academic drawing and painting. This expertise and mastery of classic composition is evident in Force of Light, which is theatrical, even operatic, in its sense of staging.
The colors are bright and vivid, with sharp yellows contrasting cool blues. Adams credits his color sense to Lukits, who taught students to use a set palette of high-key colors. Following his teacher, Adams continues to use a spectrum of pure hues and then mixes a series of pastel tints of each color, grading down to near white. The resulting colors resemble the keys of a piano. When the artist chooses a particular color, it is akin to selecting a certain musical note. In Force of Light, Adams depicts the crashing wave as a crescendo, interpreting a natural phenomenon through the language of Romantic art and music he has always admired.
|Seafoam in Moonlight
by David C. Gallup,
2006, oil, 22 x 28.
Although the ocean can be dramatic, it also has a quiet, restful beauty. David C. Gallup specializes in scenes of the Malibu coast in moonlight. These nocturnal compositions are dark in tonality but glow with a delicate inner light. Gallup studied illustration at the Otis Parsons Art Institute [now the Otis College of Art and Design, in Los Angeles] in the late 1980s. After graduating, he taught art but felt isolated from other artists. In 1999 he visited the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art to view the first “On Location in Malibu” exhibition, and the experience convinced him to become a full-time landscape painter. He joined the California Art Club and found himself part of an active circle of practicing artists. The camaraderie among the other painters created a truly supportive community that he found inspiring.
Gallup greatly admires Claude Monet, whose influence is evident in Seafoam in Moonlight. “Monet inspires us all to paint outdoors,” he says. Monet’s influence is seen in Gallup’s tendency to use a network of small brushstrokes to create a web of shimmering color. This technique allows the artist to capture the gentle but evocative glow of nocturnal light falling over sea and shore. The painting offers a quintessential image of transcendent serenity. Scenes like this are a reason why people move to Malibu.
|Calm, the Lagoon
by Marcia Burtt,
2006, oil, 16 x 12.
Another artist who is drawn to nature’s quiet places is Marcia Burtt. Burtt studied psychology in college and did not begin painting seriously until she was in her 40s. She took studio art classes at Santa Barbara City College but was more interested in an outdoor scene she spied through the classroom window. She chose to paint that view instead and has been committed to landscape painting ever since.
Burtt is one of the few artists in the exhibition who paint in acrylic. She likes the fluid, spontaneous quality of the medium. To begin, she quickly lays in large, loose areas of color to capture the major patterns of light and dark values, as well as warm and cool tones. Often the initial lay-in resembles an abstract painting. With time, she refines each shape, gradually bringing a three-dimensional image of the landscape to life on her canvas. Calm, the Lagoon captures Burtt’s deep concern for respecting and maintaining the pristine quality of our natural environment.
by Sergio Sanchez,
2006, oil, 11 x 14.
A member of the younger generation of the California Art Club, 30-year-old Sergio Sanchez began to study art seriously only seven years ago. Although he cites such modern sources as comic books and graffiti art among his influences, he has developed skills that are quite traditional. He is represented in this exhibition by Meditation Garden, a small canvas that captures the paradoxical intimacy and grand scale of Malibu’s Serra Retreat. Located high on a bluff within a small canyon, the site offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Intrigued by the way the warm light harmonized the entire scene, Sanchez focused on capturing the dazzle of the sunset. His palette of glowing colors conveys the spiritual and peaceful ambience of the Serra Retreat.
|Hot and Fast
by John Cosby, 2006,
oil, 24 x 32.
John Cosby, a resident of Laguna Beach, hadn’t been to Malibu in years and had never painted there before participating in this exhibition. When he arrived in Malibu, he spent most of the day painting the coast. But as he was driving home, he passed through the business district, which was filled with bustling activity. Entranced by the drama of headlights and store signs, Cosby pulled to the side of the road and did a quick study of the scene, which resulted in Hot and Fast. This view of Malibu’s unofficial “downtown” shows the community as active and alive. The artist’s painting features the large, free-standing sculpture that graces the top of a Mexican fast-food restaurant, a local landmark.
by Scott Prior, 2006,
oil, 24 x 48.
Another artist drawn to Malibu’s picturesque scenery is Scott Prior. This young painter was looking through a surfing magazine when he saw a photograph taken from a novel vantage point overlooking Pacific Coast Highway. Not wanting to copy the photograph, he spent hours on hillsides looking for the same location. Eventually he succeeded and painted The Bu, a view that captures the energy of Malibu’s commercial strip, with the famous Malibu Pier in the distance.
Michael Zakian is the director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, California.