“If I buried a doubloon there, I’d want you to be able to find it.” So says Victor Schiro of his commitment to accuracy in landscape painting. Whether or not his works could guide a viewer to locate such a hypothetical hidden coin, Schiro’s paintings are no generic approximations of scene, but rather specific visual events conscientiously dramatized in paint. His current exhibit at the Delphine Gallery focuses on the stretch of oceanfront around Point Conception known as the Cojo Ranch since being deeded in 1837 to Anastico Carrillo by Governor Juan Batista Alvarado.
Schiro has taken a historical interest in the site, and a map of the original tract accompanies the exhibit. But the paintings in this suite are as much about the ocean as the land. Taken together, they form a record of the experience of approaching the sea, each view inviting a response specific to a phase of the encounter. This is a presentation of personal, ephemeral history, referenced almost ironically to the record of conquest and ownership.
In “Windmill Canyon,” the ocean is a distant smear, merging unpretentiously with the sky. In “View from Black Canyon (pictured above),” it is barely a line, punctuating the space between hills. “View from Point Conception” provides the overview-the full exhilaration of arrival. In all, the interaction of land, water, and sky is documented in constant motion.
No special devotee of plein air philosophy, Schiro is nevertheless an experienced outdoorsman, as evidenced by the lucid impressions of natural forces his paintings evoke. Rain obliterates the far curve of beachside cliffs in “Mt. Tranquillo from Conception Point” rendering it difficult not to find a certain absurdity in human-given names. In “Cojo Eucalyptus,” three wind-deformed trees lean like the replicated gestures of groping hands, the ocean a mere distant hint between them, its presence more felt than seen.
Schiro likens the experience of painting to a “mix of memory and brushstroke.” A fleeting atmosphere inhabits these paintings, borne of a painstaking attention to the character of light specific to time of day, a cinematic sense of composition, and an unflinching realization of challenging details: surf receding from a pebble-strewn beach, a color labyrinth of ground cover, and rocks on a cliff top. One senses, even in his smallest studies, Schiro’s effort to capture an instant of meeting between the outer world and the eye, and translate it into pigment. Such encounters do not last, but they leave eloquent tracks on Schiro’s canvases that may just outlast the disposition of property.