One Love

Hank Pitcher: New Paintings

At Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery’s Cooper and
Vollmer Galleries. Shows through October 18.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Al_Merrick_and_Sorter.jpgPainters 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?