Friday, February 26, 2010
The art we choose to put in our homes lives with us, inspires us, comforts us, and challenges us. As an art appraiser, I am constantly discovering the diversity of the art people choose to put in their homes. Some art collectors choose a cohesive collecting theme surrounding a particular style, genre, or subject. A recent art appraisal in Santa Barbara brought me to a collector fascinated by trees. Every artwork in his home, including photographs, paintings, and sculptures -- depicted the beauty of trees. Other art collectors compile works based on their personal or family ties to the artists, or because the pieces had been inherited from generation to generation. In each case, art collectors are intensely passionate and enthusiastic about the art with which they choose to live.
As an appraiser in Santa Barbara, many of the collections I encounter are that of Western and California art. The artists Lockwood DeForest, Douglass Parshall, Ray Strong, and Millard Sheets are among the artists I see over and over. What interests me about California art from this period that artists from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were interested in capturing the American landscape while also innovating modernist thought, aesthetics, and visual narratives. While paintings by some of my favorite California artists Belle Baranceanu, James Swinnerton, Milford Zornes, and Francis De Erdely cannot be classified as specifically modern -- their work has a modernist sensibility. Whether it composition, color, or style, these paintings and drawings explore notions of modernity unique to life in California and the West.
Early 20th century California landscape painting began as an offshoot of the European plein-air Impressionist style. Celebrating the natural, picturesque beauty of the American landscape, these artists had a recognizable style and palette. Beginning in the 1930s with the onset of the Great Depression, many artists began exploring different styles and media. No longer able to afford oil paint, artists like Milford Zornes, Hubert Buel, and Millard Sheets began using watercolors. The quick-drying quality of the medium required the artists to use quick, expressionist brushstrokes. Such a practice evolved into an entire movement of art in the United States. Implementing bolder colors and styles, the artists developed alternative methods of interpreting the natural world.
After the Great Depression many artists explored the American landscape from an alternative, modern approach. Milford Zornes’ Desert Rainstorm (now on exhibit at the Wildling Art Museum) represents a shift in artistic pursuits. Instead of attempting to capture pure realism, his paintings emphasize the striking form, color, and shape of an alternative American landscape. Almost entirely abstract, the flatness and simplicity is achieved by breaking down objects into their most basic shape and color.
Influenced by the movement of modern art happening in Europe, many artists began implementing a visual dialog connected to Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism. They were more interested exploring line and form, rebelling against the pastel palette of the California Impressionist tradition.
As an art appraiser, I am constantly investigating the ingredients of a truly great painting. For each collector, that is different. For some it is a tree and for others it is a single painting that captures the unworldly beauty of the American landscape, but is also the process of painting and its ability to transcend the natural world.
©2010 Alissa J. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. None of the contents or images in this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanic, photocopy, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of Anderson Shea Art Appraisals, and the appraiser’s signature.)