The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra


Our Own Back Yard


Nikki Basch Davis of Lafayefte participated in Desert Plein Air - a week-long paint out and competition sponsored by the La Quinta Foundation reported on in last month's article. A member of the Outsiders, she is used to finding beauty in the common place and gritty old towns that surround the Carquinez Strait. She was the only participant to find the La Quinta dump a worthy subject of one of her entries. Below are some of her thoughts on what she discovered.


Well, now that I have the reputation of the "painter of the city dumps" I can relax and not worry about my place in Southern California art history. The week down south was an interesting mixture of hard work, loneliness and exhilaration. The best part was the new friends I made - lots of experienced painters generously sharing their knowledge of the art world. My hosting family was loving and supportive including helping me choose my best paintings for the Grand Gala on Friday night at the Grand Hyatt Ballroom of Champions.

The first day at registration, the information they gave us seemed overwhelming. Things became clearer and easier to follow thanks to the large volunteer corps and staff that supports the La Quinta Foundation. We had several locations mapped out for us as painting sites. Personally, I was looking for the old funky towns, with the cars and long mid-day shadows. These were not the preferred subjects of the local art buyers, as I soon found out. The area is incredibly beautiful with tall, skinny palm trees set against rugged mountains that constantly change their color from blue to shades of violet and pink. The lush produce fields of the Coachella Valley are close by. Most of the time I felt that they were better expressed in nature than on my canvas. (left: N. B. Dairs, Hazy Slough (Oregon), oil on panel. 14 x 18 inches

I had a lot of time to think on the eight-hour drive home. I was most impressed and, frankly, envious to learn how much local encouragement, support and pampering the artists in Southern California get in their communities. Galleries, museums, collectors and the media, all contribute to the ability of these individuals to keep painting the landscapes around them. I haven't found the same level of support for local painters in our own back yard. There still seems to be a certain attitude among leaders in the arts that the grass is greener any where else but here. I don't believe that this is true. It's simply a matter of public education.

Northern California painters today are uniquely diverse in their styles yet there seemed to be little or no knowledge outside of the Bay Area of our Northern California art scene nor of the traditions that preceded it. Northern painters have been influenced by a rich mix of groups and schools of painting that made the Bay Area the art capitol of California from the Gold Rush through the mid 1900's.

Once again, the Bay area is experiencing a Renaissance in the arts with the development of many different styles that are rooted in Northern California art history from the Romantic Realists through the Tonalists, the California Decorative Style, Impressionists, Post Impressionists and the Bay Area Figurative School. A major task, though, is to make the public aware of their work. Bay Area galleries, museums and art centers have a vital role here since their approval and support will help to create a climate for public acceptance and appreciation. They need only look in their own back yards!

© Sarah Beserra, 2000

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Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in Northern California. You may contact Sarah at or (707) 645-7361

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