FOOTSTEPS: With all due respect to the valet community in Santa Barbara, whom I revere, I relish the fact that our wonderful 1st Thursdays have people walking again. Those dynamic young valets make a tremendous difference, wheeling about with alacrity in other people’s Teslas. Without them, who among those that live at the end of long drives or up narrow lanes would dare, lavishly, to entertain? Yet there’s something about the sight of familiar figures caught in candid mid-distance as they negotiate the sun-kissed early evening on the blocks around State Street between Sola and Canon Perdido streets that makes the heart glad. Santa Barbara’s cultural heart has many chambers, and some of them, to the delight of cosmopolitan flaneurs from all over, are best approached on foot.
On May 2, I began my personal circuit training in the northeast quadrant, at the Architectural Foundation in the historic Acheson House on the corner of Garden and East Victoria streets. The featured artist there through May 31 is Tom Post. Post is both a structural architect and a longtime artist whose work encompasses several media, from photography, printmaking, and collage to the abstract oil paintings that make up this particular show. Used to producing work in series, and with an architect’s feeling for process and give-and-take, Post constantly reevaluates these images as he works on them, sometimes reversing, inverting, or reorienting them before settling on the final formulation that clicks for exhibition. In works such as “Pirouette” and “Slow Twist,” Post marries the hazy post-impressionist atmospherics of Whistler and Turner to the 21st-century appetite for bold abstraction. His highly intuitive, painterly method yields remarkably visceral results.
NOR’EASTER: Even amid the myriad other regionalists, Andrew Wyeth has always exuded a certain stubbornness of identification with upstate New York and Maine. Of course this has made his work extraordinarily popular worldwide, but it has also resulted in the misperception that he is a provincial painter, particularly in relation to the more sophisticated, European-leaning sympathies of representational and landscape painting on the West Coast. That’s all the more reason to celebrate the season’s most significant gallery show, the current exhibition Andrew Wyeth at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery. The opening on 1st Thursday, May 2, was jammed with Santa Barbara artists and patrons, and the mood was ebullient. Not only is Wyeth — or should I say the Wyeths, as both Andrew’s father, N. C. Wyeth, and his son, Jamie Wyeth, are also represented — a blue-chip American artist of the first rank, he’s also capable of setting a roomful of aesthetes abuzz. In retrospect, and upon viewing the splendid mix of drawings and watercolors on display, there’s precious little to explain about Wyeth’s unprecedented popularity. Sure, the scandals helped to engage the popular press, but none of this would ever have happened had Wyeth not possessed an uncanny knack for phrasing the details of light and shape in northeastern landscapes in a vocabulary of the purest, most lyrical abstraction. Look at any of his delicious verticals or horizontals — the many weather-beaten boards and crags of his landscapes and figures — and try to imagine a more formidable statement about line and volume coming from such contemporaries as Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Barnett Newman. Wyeth reestablished something that, deep down, we all knew — you don’t need to be abstract to reach the sublime. Nature does it for you.
WALL TO WALL: Over at the Jane Deering Gallery on East Canon Perdido Street, Nathan Hayden has been perpetrating another of his mind-bending wall drawings. For anyone who saw what he did in his collaboration with partner Hannah Vainstein last fall at the Arts Fund, this is a can’t-miss. And for those who did not, well, get over there. Thrilling contemporary art abounds in this city.