Hank Pitcher: New Paintings
At Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery’s Cooper and Vollmer Galleries. Shows through October 18.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Painters are all great in their own ways, but it’s just so easy to like Hank Pitcher best. He genuinely gets it, “it” being the ocean, the sky, sunlight, people, where we live, why we love it here, and plenty more. Every Pitcher canvas — from his life-sized heraldic vertical surfboards to his delicious horizontal landscapes no bigger than the side of a mailbox — comes packed with information and unified by the glorious simplicity of a successful creative choice. In his show, New Paintings, currently on display at Sullivan Goss’s contemporary space on Anapamu Street, Pitcher throws strike after strike. Taken as a whole, the show is what a lot of good art aspires to be: a gentle lesson in what matters.
Let’s start with the surfboards. There are six of them in the show, and they are all thrilling. Stood on end, the paintings effortlessly connect the transcendence of the sport to the official international modernist symbol of transcendence: the vertical stripe or “zip.” They aren’t abstract, but they don’t rely on realism for their punch either. Like surfing itself, Pitcher’s paintings of boards ride a wave-like form — the twisting, spilling edge where pop meets the grid.
Add to that their equally valid function as talismans — heraldry for a new era — and you get a dream marriage of high art and California culture. What’s more, absolutely no irony is necessary to appreciate this work. For that alone we owe you, Hank. But the landscapes and occasional sketches may be even better. How to choose between the clarity of the “Scorpion Bay” series and the uncanny sense of place and history that permeates the various versions of “New Years Eve”? Fortunately the choice is unnecessary, as the virtues of each — the Zen-like economies of the former, the sly descriptive commentary of the latter — are wholly compatible facets of Pitcher’s imagination.
The larger landscapes, like “Coreopsis at Point Conception” or “Late Summer at Leadbetter,” show Pitcher’s fluency in the idiom of contemporary plein air. They are also some of the most democratic paintings you’ll ever see, celebrating foreground, background, detail, and design with equal fidelity. Is it time to name this Santa Barbara resident as the heir to David Hockney’s title as the essential painter of Southern California?