Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A.R. Valentien

At the Wildling Art Museum. Shows through June

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

You hardly need an excuse to visit Los Olivos this time of year.
The hills are green, Lake Cachuma is full, and the poppy, lupin,
and ceanothus are all out. In case you need extra temptation,
though, the Wildling Art Museum is providing it: through June 11
its exhibition, Plant Portraits: The California Legacy of A.R.
, beckons. If you are anything like me, as you step
into the exhibit, a small, crass part of your brain will say
something like “boy, these would make great note cards” or
“wouldn’t these look nice hanging in my house?” (The gift shop does
carry both note cards and reproduction prints, each of which are
suitable for framing.) Not to worry. As you make your way among the
works, the freshness of the compositions, the delicate application
of the paint, and the sure handling of the subject matter will
engage that other, bigger part of your brain. You won’t have any
doubt that you are looking at art.

14-42_250x400bt_cactus_ol.jpgThere is something here for
everyone: gardeners; naturalists; environmentalists; historians;
locals; students; those who are impressed by fantastic watercolor,
or by a knock-out sense of design; and those who just like really,
really realistic art. The selection of plants is right on. Many are
familiar favorites for those living in this area, appearing like
old friends in their Sunday best. The rest are outstanding for
their visual impact, or for the virtuosity of their rendition.

The works will rotate during the exhibition, so you have reason
to visit more than once. From May 3 to 21, cacti and shrubs common
to desert regions will grace the walls. Given the artist’s
meticulous rendering of each spine and surface, these are sure to
delight. From May 24 to June 11, trees, ferns, plants, and shrubs
common to mountain and forest regions will appear. This section of
the show will feature some of the showier flowers; the California
Pitcher Plant alone will no doubt merit the trip. If you would like
a preview of some of the works, you can visit,
but keep in mind that the small, online images don’t even begin to
do the paintings justice.

The Wildling has done a wonderful job creating a context for the
works. A brochure offered as you go in gives background of the
artist and the paintings, while each work has its own wall label
that emphasizes the botanic interest of the subject. A handout for
children offers activities to engage the younger set (three of whom
were enthusiastically involved in the show while I was there). A
side room offers related books to peruse, and when you get tired of
being indoors, a nearby field, seeded thoroughly with wildflowers,
is appropriately coming into bloom.


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