The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra

Scott Burdick, Sarah in Catalina, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches


Carmel Makes My Day

by Sarah Beserra


In an event unique to the California art world, the Carmel Gallery Alliance comprised of dozens of for-profit galleries - bands together every year to present a week-long paint out and art sale, profits going not to the galleries, but to fund children's art programs. Last month, the Alliance once again hosted the Carmel Art Festival, now in its eighth year. Although the fest included sculpture in the park, a youth art show, countless demonstrations, special exhibits and receptions, the undisputed highlight of the event was the Plein Air Painting Competition. Some 75 plein air painters from all over the country came to town early in the week of May 14, 2001 to get their feet wet - and also their canvases - before the weekend competition. From the wetlands of Moss Landing to the shipyards of Monterey, the painters selected their favorite locations to memorialize on canvas. (right: Poster for the 2001 Carmel Art Festival, a painting by E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969), View of Monterey)


Hitting the Town

When I arrived in town on Thursday, I spotted a lone painter, installed in front of a perfect Carmel cottage, knocking out the beginnings of a scene. I felt like an intruder as I asked to take her picture, knowing the pressure she must be feeling as the clocked ticked away. That pressure reached a fever pitch on Thursday morning, as canvases were officially stamped. Artists had until 5 p.m that evening to complete a painting, frame it, name it and label it. The drill was the same on Friday.

The first person I saw when arriving in town was Teresa Onoda of Walnut Creek, who was rushing to buy a dress for her opening reception at Nancy Dodds Gallery, which had begun 15 minutes before. I volunteered to go with her, and after several stops, we settled on a two-piece turquoise number. Teresa had forgotten her checkbook so I paid for it - anything in the name of art. She insisted on taking me back to her painting-strewn hotel room to pay me back, although I knew she was good for it.


Warming the Bench

On Friday evening, I installed myself on the bench in front of the Carmel Art Association to see the action - wearied painters turning in their last canvas. I was impressed with one of the early painters, who showed up in sports coat and tie, bearing his finished and framed work. He wasn't typical, though. Others dragged in, paint smeared on their faces, with that "deer in the headlights" look, barely making it up the flagstone steps. All seemed relieved that the hard part was over. I saw Cyndra Bradford, a festival organizer, painter and owner of Galerie Plein Air. She decided to sit out the competition this year because of her other duties. Gallery dog, Jake, didn't miss a thing, as he trotted jauntily from gallery to gallery, sporting a rakish yellow scarf around his neck. I got quite an eyeful from the bench. Randy Sexton of San Francisco showed up with a painting of a big red truck, the paint still glistening. Richmond Woodson (Woody) and Johnny Apodaca, both local and members of the Informalists, wore Australian outback-type hats which were drooping from the sun and wind. Grace Charlotte Schleiser was all smiles as she traded war stories with other painters. Karl Dempwolf of Sherman Oaks, lurched up the stairs clutching a beauty - two figures silhouetted against a misty sky. As the sun was beginning to set, W. Jason Situ asked me to help him name his painting - a sensitive portrayal of Carmel beach, two long figures visible on the horizon. Before I could answer, a fellow painter took one look at it and said, "Three's a Crowd!" So I wrote that on the painting. I later saw a ribbon for Honorable Mention, hanging on the frame. (above: "Jake" of Galerie Plein Air - a savvy art collector)

Michael Dancer, sunburned from his week of painting, sat down next to me and regaled me with stories of local painters from years past. He lamented the lack of good schools in the United States that teach color, citing Ovanes Berberian as one of the best colorists around. Mary Lou Correia of Martinez had enough energy left after turning in her painting to head out to the Monterey Museum to gain inspiration from the works of local heroes - William Ritschel and E. Charlton Fortune. Kevin Short of Capistrano showed up with a dramatic scene of the suspension bridge on Highway One. I couldn't figure out where he must have been standing to capture that view. Silvio Silvestri asked me to help him select one of two paintings he had completed that day for his entry. When I got to his van he had two colorful beauties lined up in the back. I selected a flower-filled canvas and was pleased to see the next morning that one of his works had won an Honorable Mention.


Ribbons Galore

By the next morning morning, Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum and painters Jack Cassinetto and
Gil Dellinger had selected the winners, who were awarded over $20,000 in prizes. Jove Wang walked away with First Place with his painting of a boat in dry dock. Ken Auster, Laguna Beach, won Second Place with an urbanscape - Spaghetti Hill. He has won other awards and I was curious about his training which was listed in the book as California State University at Long Beach. He said he got the bulk of his training by running a graphic design business and designing a clothing line, including tee shirts for the surfing industry. He said the discipline involved in meeting deadlines gave him the skill he needed to paint plein air. The next day I stopped by Gallery Americana, who represents him, where the walls were crowded with Auster paintings. The Gallery Director told me that the more they put up, the more they would sell.

Barry John Raybould, from neighboring Pacific Grove walked away with Third Place. His winning seascape was reminiscent of Early California Impressionist Guy Rose's work after he returned from studying in France. Raybould spends a good deal of time painting in Europe, as well.

Honorable Mentions went to: Scott Prior, Jacobus Baas, Michael Dancer, Brian Blood, Jeffrey Horn, William Hook, Camille Przewodek, Randall Sexton, Kevin Short, Silvio Silvestri, W. Jason Situ, Phil Starke, Kate Starling and Alexander Zimin, Best Local went to Edward Norton Ward, Best on Canvas and Board - Gregory Hull, Best on Paper - Roianne Hart, People's Choice - Brian Blood, Best Emerging Artist was Glen Davis.

Applications for next year's show are now available at:

© Sarah Beserra, 2001

Read more of The Plein Air Scene by Sarah Beserra in Resource Library Magazine

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

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