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‘OnSite’ Exhibit at Occidental Center for the Arts

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‘OnSite’ Exhibit at Occidental Center for the Arts


“St. Philips Church Termite Wrap” by Bill Taylor

By Steve Fowler, Board President, Occidental Center for the Arts

Three landscape artists, who see the terrain of Western Sonoma County in radically different ways, will be showing their paintings at O.C.A. for two months, starting Jan. 20, 2017. It has been my privilege to help produce this exhibition, and to preview the work of Dave Gordon, Charles Beck and William Taylor. I look forward to the conversations these paintings will have with each other when hung together in the one room Art Center Gallery!

“Estero Horizon” by Dave Gordon“Why do you paint?” I asked Charles Beck, as we stood in his studio on Joy Road, surrounded by his monumental panoramas of hill, coast, forest and field – one was at least six feet square. “It comes from a need to respond to what I see,” he said. “I return to these places over and over, take photographs with an ordinary camera. I don’t do plein aire anymore. What I paint is a collective vision of a site.” 

A tall, trim 71 year old, with close-cropped gray hair, Beck hikes, bikes and kayaks whenever he can; it’s easy to believe he used to run a salmon boat out of Bodega Harbor. Beck rarely shows in galleries, depending on ArtTrails, Art at the Source and a loyal clientele to make his living. This exhibit is a chance to see Charles Beck’s work outside of his studio and get a taste of the grandeur and craft of his “response” to what he sees.

Like Beck, Dave Gordon is actively engaged with the Western Sonoma County scenery. “I really love it,” he says. I have no doubt he has hiked every public trail west of the Bohemian Highway, some many times. And like Beck, he makes his living as an artist, in his case as a muralist. “It’s a niche in the commercial art world,” he says, with a wry smile on his face, which has deep-set intense eyes. At 61, Gordon has done close to 60 murals, one as big as 8,400 square feet – a retaining wall on Ocean Park Boulevard just a few blocks from Richard Diebenkorn’s studio. 

I first met Dave when our upstart Art Center initiated a search for someone to replace the aging Harmony School mural on our street side wall. Dave got the commission and did an astonishing job, as anyone can see who comes into Occidental on Graton Road. During our first conversation Dave said his real love was painting landscapes and that he would like to show some of his work in our gallery. Well, Dave, three years later, the time has come.

“September Coastal Road” by Charles BeckRecently, Dave invited me to his studio, where several large pieces are in the process of being completed for the “OnSite” show. Compositionally the paintings are all similar; they are divided horizontally into two more or less equal parts, land/water and sky. “I’m concerned with the transition that happens at the horizon,” says Dave. “Somewhere in there I get a glimpse of infinity. I think about this work more than paint it,” he adds. Dave’s skies are spectacular, frequently sunsets, though at least one is violently stormy. But his handling of “land” is unique in my experience. He begins by laying down a coat of roofing-patch, heated and mixed with turpentine. When this substrate is overlaid with acrylic paint, “at just the right point,” fine cracks appear over the whole field, similar to the crazing which occurs on fine pottery. “The tar becomes a permanent obstacle,” says Gordon, “but I need that to go deeper into the work.” As you approach each painting the crazing sharpens the eye to attention, in contrast to the intentionally vague sky, forcing the eye to continually re-focus. Gradually the painting takes on a numinous quality, reminiscent of Richard Diebenkorn, whom Gordon deeply admires.

Dave Gordon and Charles Beck are familiar figures in our local art community; Bill Taylor is not. At 89, his fifty years of highly crafted work have remained largely unrecognized – that is, until art patron Charlie Pendergast brought him out of the shadows. Pendergast arranged a show for Bill at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in October. That show consisted of paintings done during Taylor’s 20 year stint as a graphic designer in Los Angeles, mostly of iconic buildings along Sunset Strip. Painting from the front seat of his car, Bill captured the bravado, humor, sleaze and sadness of that environment. But Bill is a Sonoma County native who has painted in the West County for decades – that is, when he was not contributing highly prized bird specimens to the Academy of Science in San Francisco. As Pendergast has written: “His many watercolors of the streets and buildings in Occidental…are unique and accomplished with extraordinary simplicity and elegance.” Locals will enjoy seeing scenes from Occidental’s past, as well as whimsical views of such town icons as The Union Hotel clock and its two churches.

I am personally very excited about this exhibition and can hardly wait for its opening on Jan. 20. If you would like to meet the three artists in person, come to our reception on Saturday, Jan. 21, 4:30 to 7:30.

The Occidental Center for the Arts is at the intersection of Graton Road and Bohemian Highway. More info: OccidentalCenterfortheArts.org.