The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra

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


Canvasing Catalina

by Sarah Beserra


Twenty-seven Signature Members of the Plein Air Painters of America returned to Catalina island in November [2001] to paint their hearts out for a week despite uncertainty in the skies and high alerts on the ground. Avalon Harbor was a blur of red, white and blue flags as painters from 13 states weighted down with easels, frames and luggage disembarked from the catamarans. The addition of eight outstanding Guest Artists enhanced both the quality and diversity of the show which opened at the Casino on Saturday night for a select group of patrons. They included some major names in the art world: Bill Anton, Arizona, Bye Bitney, Montana, Tom Browning, Oregon, John Cosby, Laguna Beach, Gerald Fritzler, Colorado, Connie Morse, Colorado, Bonnie Posselli, Utah, Mian Situ, San Dimas, and Skip Whitcomb, Colorado. Pastel artist Gil Dellinger, Stockton, and oil painter Peggi Kroll-Roberts, Angel's Camp, had been invited but were unable to participate this year.

The paintings were more diverse this year, both in style and subject matter as painters looked for something new to express at the 16th Annual Show. Figurative works, still lifes, and nocturnals joined familiar scenes of the harbor and the Casino. Not unexpectedly, the crowd seemed thinner this year, but many of the painters reported healthy sales. (left: John Buducin paints Avalon harbor)

Saturday morning on the boardwalk was where the action was. Triathletes did their thing at one end and the painters took over the other. With their week's work already turned in, the painters were relaxed and approachable, chatting with the public as they knocked out one last painting. Kenn Backhaus, Arizona, set his easel up on the green median between the beach and the shops. He danced with his easel, first forward then backward, his brush poised vertically as if conducting an orchestra. Two hours later he had finished a small street scene which was bought by a museum director at the Sunday show.

On the waterfront we chatted with Matt Smith, Jean LeGassick, Ron Rencher and Mary DeLoyht Arendt whose husband was at the Casino helping to hang the show. Peter Adams, president of the California Art Club cut a dashing figure, sporting a plumed hat as he painted a perfect palm tree in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Ernie's Hamburger Stand just behind him. Two little boys asked guest artist Tom Browning to include them in his waterfront scene. A few minutes later they giggled as they picked themselves out in the picture, standing in front of Big Olafs ice cream store.

Frank La Lumia, Santa Fe, who has painted in watercolor in past shows, was using oil this year and focused on a figure alongside an adobe kiosk. Mian Situ chose a spot facing the old Arcade with the help of daughters Lisa and Helen who with their mother were assisting him with his equipment. Situ broke into the art scene in a big way just six years ago when he sent a photo of one of his paintings to the Oil Painters of America. He won the Gold Medal and a check for $10,000.

Raleigh Kinney was completing a pencil sketch on which he was going to apply watercolors. "The drawing gives me everything I need to complete a painting or to paint a new one," he told me. He and his wife, who manages his career, travel to over 30 art shows each year. Stan Sampson is the only PAPA painter who lives full time on the island. He presented a picturesque sight - bushy white whiskers and a funny hat. "Fifteen or twenty years ago we couldn't pay people to paint outside with us," he said. Sampson won "Best of Show" at Catalina 2001 in September.

I had to look twice when I saw Kevin Macpherson on Saturday, surrounded by the usual crowd. Wife Wanda was holding a huge umbrella over his head to protect him from the sun and shade the canvas. She stood there for at least two hours, umbrella hoisted. I was reminded of the photograph of Picasso shading wife Francoise Gilot with a huge Tibetan parasol as they walked along the beach. Now that's love!

The prosaic mixed with the sublime at the Casino show which included oils and watercolors, some studio works and some of out-of area pieces. Minnesota painter Brian Stewart's painting, "The Throne," a painting of a toilet in a small room, was the most unusual painting in the show. I thought of the urinal Marcel Duchamp entered in the Dada show years ago and the riot it caused. Far from causing a riot, Stewart's piece was snapped up right away by a savvy buyer. "It was painted at the boat shed up in Falls Canyon on Catalina," Stewart said. "I did it around 4 to 6 p.m. with artificial light that I put in the room myself to give it that warm glow. I painted it to make the point to collectors and other artists that anything can be beautiful. Sometimes the subject matter is just an excuse to apply paint beautifully or show the effects of light, as Matt Smith so often does with paintings of just rocks. I also strongly feel that artists nowadays don't stretch themselves far enough in terms of trying interesting subject matter," he said.

PAPA Signature Member Marlin Linville, Texas, passed away recently after a long illness. A painted portrait of Linville and a written tribute were on display in the Casino Ballroom along with the paintings on Saturday night. Kenn Backhaus stepped down as president after a year of service and George Strickland, Colorado, was chosen to lead PAPA for the coming year.

The annual Catalina show is currently the only opportunity PAPA painters have to show as a group, although we understand that other shows are planned for the future. Organized and produced by SAPAP, the Society for the Advancement of Plein Air Painting, the Catalina show is a pricey endeavor. Tickets to the Saturday evening buffet and first showing of the paintings are $190 per couple plus another $10 apiece at the door the next morning to see the new paintings; plus ferries, lodging and meals. There is, however, a one-hour window for the public to see the paintings, free-of-charge, from 9-10 p.m. Saturday night.

© Sarah Beserra, 2001

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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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