The First Three Weeks of Reawakening: Art and the Natural Environment

Olympic Mountains painting

On Wednesday, July 29, Art Scene West’s premiere exhibition Reawakening...to the Beauty of the West Coast went live on both our website and Artsy.  After a Zoom reception for our artists, we began featuring works and hosting charity livestream artist talks on Instagram.  Our first Connoisseur article illustrated the ideas and intention we put forth for the exhibition as well as providing an overview of the show…  Now let us wander through the creative mindsets of our Reawakening artists.

Contrary to when Caspar David Friedrich or Thomas Cole were painting landscapes, it is a mark of modern times that our natural scenery may be marred with the footprints of man’s industry, unfortunately including plastic and other waste.  It is also a sign of the ubiquitousness of our species that we have encroached greatly upon the wild spaces and homes of the animals living there.  Luke Gumaelius and Rachel Rothberg’s (our first two featured artists) artistic practices seek to not let us forget our impact while at the same time celebrating the beauty of the natural environment and adaptability of the species we share the world with.

found trash sculptures of Morro Rock

Above: Luke Gumaelius, Bottled Moro and Morro’s Flotsam

Luke and Rachel’s talk was titled “Art and the Environment”, and occurred on Thursday, August 6th. During the first half of this event, our audience watched as Gumaelius walked on the sandy beaches of Montana de Oro State Park in Los Osos, California to collect plastic and other trash for his sculptures that comment on the state of the environment and the rising levels of ocean pollution. 

During the second half of our event, we heard from Rachel Rothberg and learned more about her large paintings of birds. Her painting, Great Blue Heron Rookery at Fairhaven Marine Park, superimposes the 2018 residential development proposal and the wastewater treatment blueprint on the Post Point Great Blue Heron Colony and in doing so, encourages the city of Bellingham, Washington to take action and create a protected area for these birds. Her other featured work, Merlin Hunting House Sparrows Above the Bellingham Herald depicts merlins who have been forced to create their nests in urban environments due to deforestation in surrounding areas illustrating the resilience and adaptability of wildlife.

Rachel Rothberg bird paintings

Above: Rachel Rothberg, Great Blue Heron Rookery at Fairhaven Marine Park and Merlin Hunting House Sparrows Above the Bellingham Herald

On the following Sunday we commenced our first full week of Live Artist Talks beginning with “Waterscapes of the West”.  One of the main subjects of beauty found on the West Coast is of course its beaches, coastline, and the Pacific itself.  Our second talk involved a trio of artists including Yuyao Hou, John Travis, and Lynn Flannagan, all of whom are captivated by the power of the ocean to inspire introspection in our lives.  

We first spoke with Yuyao Hou and learned more about her minimalistic waterscapes.  Yuyao speaks of her piece “Wander” and how she painted it as a beacon to find oneself during the initial confusion of COVID and the self-quarantine orders.  She explained that her work Wander is meant to emanate a certain sense of freedom and discovery in the hopes that we will maintain our adventurous spirit even after months of quarantining indoors.  Perhaps contemplation of a blue wave, or more simply just Being while in the presence of such a thing of beauty can help one find oneself and become centered. 

Blue abstract paintings of a wave and mountain

Above: Yuyao Hou, Wander and New Mountain

Painting of Blacks BeachAs a veteran surfer, John Travis would agree.  He shares his love of the Pacific’s waves through various impressionistic and abstract views of Southern California’s beaches. He draws most of his artistic inspiration from walking along the cliffs of Carlsbad and Del Mar, California. An experienced surfer as well, Travis is disheartened by the increasing water pollution rates and hopes that his artwork can raise awareness about global warming and other threats to the world’s oceans.  Travis’ wife Lynn Flannagan, also an artist, shares his love of exploring the coast, and we chose her painting of the coastal area of Torrey Pines to be included in the show.

Three paintings by Lynn Flannagan and John Travis

Above: Flannagan's Torrey Pines (left) and Purple Haze (right) and Travis' Rebirth (center)

Our third featured live talk was titled "A Breath of Fresh Air: Above and Below the Ocean" and showcased artists Darrel McPherson and Suzanne Tyler. Breath is a foundational part of life and something we often take for granted.  It is a known fact that the air we breathe can heal or harm us.  Beach air is full of purifying salt and negative ions and plants and trees produce oxygen, a necessity for life. 

Desert sunset landscape painting

Taking the time to meditate on a landscape in the open air is one of McPherson's gifts and he shares that with us through his paintings.  Almost all of McPherson’s works are rendered on the spot and outdoors, a method of painting more commonly known as en plein air. Reawakening featured his pieces, Evening Sonata (above left) and Valley of Clouds (shown on right). In both paintings, McPherson presents a romanticized view of nature and explores the feeling of being in a desert as the sun sets on the West Coast.

During the second half of our Live Artist Talk, we heard from artist/civil engineer Suzanne Tyler and explored the printmaking technique of linocuts. Tyler’s scientific background and keen eye for detail initially gravitated her to this very challenging, yet rewarding form of art-making.  Her pieces Exhale and Octopus illustrate that breath is paramount for life in all habitats.

Octopus and fish linocut

Above: Suzanne Tyler's Exhale and Octopus

Our next two featured artists take our initial concept of “Art and the Environment” and evolve it into “In Harmony with Nature and the Man-Made”.  On Sunday, August 16th, we heard from the fascinating, Judith Rayl and Milena Arango.  Both of these women utilize the convenience and ever improving technology of the modern smart phone to capture moments that might be missed with a planned professional setup, in Rayl’s case, or add to the weight of the outdoor installation moment for Arango.  Rayl dances with the intersection of man and nature and the beauty that is both intermingled, while Arango dances with her own creation in the wild exhibiting for us her inner depth and passions.

Coalesce reflection photograph by Rayl We featured two of Rayl’s works that are part of her Aqueate and Arboreal series.  Although Rayl only recently embarked on her career as a fine art photographer, her fresh visual perspectives on natural refractions and reflections are captivating and entirely unique. All of her photographs, such as the two featured in our exhibition, are raw, single-capture images.  She breaks fromThe Trees Speak for Me photograph tradition in the use of the square layout for her compositions.  Her work Coalesce (above left), as she explained during the Live Artist Talk, is a zoomed-in reflection of a striped dinghy floating above a still body of water.  Rayl's The Trees Speak for Me is seen here on the right. 

In contrast to Rayl’s capturing of the poesis of man and nature, Milena Arango boldly creates a visual symbol in nature to represent her thesis.  Arango hails from Colombia, a culture that is closer to their roots with the land than most of the U.S. In her interview, she shares her conceptual art project, Vestigium Tectona Grandis (VTG). As Arango explained, V represents the vestige the imprint of the plant, vientre ,veins, venus, vagina, versatile; T stands for Tectona, the scientific name of the tree, transformation, transition, time, transfer; and G of Grandis (Tectona Grandis) and from Garcia (her maternal surname) gracias (thanks), gratitude. The concept is elucidated by placing a large hand dyed cloth outdoors and photographing it in the surrounding environment.  Her VTG installations symbolically represent her umbilical cord attachment to her mother and the earth, her conversations with the universe, and her ever-changing relationship with earth and life.

Photographs of Arango's VTG project

Above: Milena Arango's Illuminada and 28 La Union, South Lake Tahoe VTG

To conclude the first three weeks of Live Artist Talks on Instagram, we heard from artists Yolanda Santa Cruz and Darrah Culp. During the first half of the event, we learned more about Santa Cruz’s Impressionist paintings of waterfalls and mountains in the Pacific Northwest. We also learned that Santa Cruz is Impressionistic painting of Bridal Veils fallspredominantly a graphic artist and poet, but uses painting as a way to encapsulate the feeling one gets when immersed in nature and its majestic mountainscapes. She states, “There is so much beauty that it is not enough to just write about it or to do some random art where it gets inspiration from nature, you need to actually portray it.”  Both of her featured works, Bridal Veils (seen on left) and Olympic Mountains (at top of article), are part of a larger series known as Colors of the Wind based on their emotive power and sensation of movement.

Darrah Culp spoke during the second half of this Live Artist Talk and explained more about her artistic process. She mentioned that, in many instances, she uses photographs as a reference before painting her landscapes. Both of her works, Columbia River Gorge and Cannon Beach, utilize a vibrant color palette and the latter, in particular, is a watercolor painting of Haystack rock on the Oregon coast.

All of our artists featured within the first three weeks of the exhibition contributed something unique and special to our show. Moreover, they provided our growing Instagram audience with engaging discussions and in doing so, helped us raise $210 for No Kid Hungry early on in our nine-week exhibition period.

Paintings of the Columbia River Gorge and Cannon Beach, Oregon

Above: Darrah Culp's Columbia River Gorge and Cannon Beach


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