When it comes to the “California Impressionism” exhibit currently on display at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, there’s good news and bad news.
I’ll dispense with the bad news first: When all is said and done, you won’t actually be in California. The good news is that, after you’ve perused the 50 paintings showcasing the beaches, deserts, mountains and seascapes of the coastal state, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a short, and sweet, visit there.
You’ll also feel a little like you’ve traveled back in time. The paintings, which come courtesy of the golden state’s Irvine Museum, were all painted during the American Impressionism period (1890-1930), which has long been associated with California and its stellar landscapes.
“The combination of the landscape and the intense lighting [in California] convinced people to become landscape painters,” Jean Stern says. As the executive director of the Irvine Museum—which is dedicated to the preservation and display of California art of this particular time period—and the curator of the exhibition, she should know.
My date had a few opinions about the exhibit, as well. “California has some of the most diverse terrain in the country,” he informed me as we peered at the dozens of gold-gilt-framed paintings dispersed throughout the museum’s ground floor. “Just saying the word ‘California’ makes me think of art,” he added. “You’ve got Hollywood, Humboldt, the redwoods—and then you’ve got Steinbeck with his Cannery Row.”
I agreed, and pointed out that one of the many things that struck me about the show was that, in most cases, the artists didn’t try and get too fancy with the titles of their works. Sensing, perhaps, that those looking at their paintings would want to know where the beauteous scenes were created, they stuck with the simple facts of where they were looking when they created their light-filled masterpieces.
For instance, now I know what “Southern California Coast,” “Laguna Eucalyptus,” “The Sierra Divide,” “Donner Lake,” “Eaton Canyon,” “Corona del Mar,” “The Bean Ranch,” “Summer Evening, Laguna,” “Verduga Canyon,” “Cove Near Carmel,” “Los Angeles Harbor,” and “La Jolla Shores” look like because, thanks to “California Impressionism,” I can picture them in my mind’s eye.
And even though I was well aware I wasn’t on a visit to a warmer climate, the paintings made me think I was. Maybe it was the way they were framed, or the landscape-rich nature of the exhibit itself, but many of the pieces caused me to feel as if I was inside looking out a window at the locales themselves. Some of the larger paintings, in fact, made it appear that you could walk right into the easel and, soon thereafter, feel a eucalyptus-scented breeze on your face.
“California Impressions” will be on display until Feb. 17, 2013, but those looking to get a peek before then should be aware the exhibit will be open during the Dec. 7 Art Walk. In addition to getting a free look at the show, attendees will be treated to “Impressions Improv,” a night of improvisation featuring the talents of local dancers such as Gabe Lukeris and Wyn Pottratz, musicians Burke Mulvaney and Ray Downey, and poets Jim and Anita Bertolino.
Since the performers will be improvising, there’s a good chance they might take requests. If you’re feeling the vibe, suggest somebody play the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and see what happens. It might not take you there, but you’ll be closer than ever before.
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