There’s something special about a good studio visit. Seeing the way an artist lives and works, and noticing all the ways these two planes of existence intersect and inform one another, is the kind of experience that gives the viewer access not only to the creative process but also to the unique worldview of that person. This weekend, the Santa Barbara Studio Artists association makes this intimate adventure, ordinarily the privilege of dealers and collectors, available to the rest of us. As a preview of the event, I toured three of the participating artists’ studios and was uniformly delighted by the interest, both aesthetic and architectural, of the sites, and the authenticity of the visions represented by each of the three artists I met.
Jamee Aubrey paints outdoors and in a solarium studio on the grounds of her home on East Victoria Street. Aubrey grew up in Santa Barbara and attended Marymount, and she remembers how exciting it was for her as a child when she would turn the corner and see the Santa Barbara Mission, an icon that she has now painted many times. “I’m always trying to do it from a different standpoint,” Aubrey says, “looking for a way to get back to that feeling of surprise and delight.” This vivid description of her work as expressing a desire for movement is echoed in the saying that’s painted on a board over the doorway to where she paints—“Enjoy the journey.” More traditional plein air landscapes that hang around her studio are joined by some of her experiments, including lots of elegant figure drawings, some dramatically colorful goldfish, and a series of landscapes that include elements of the built environment, such as power lines, telephone poles, wires, and the undersides of piers. Aubrey and her partner, John, love to go on the SCAPE painting trips to the Channel Islands, where they feast on unlimited doses of nature and relax into a routine uninterrupted by phones or other electronic media.
Fran Scorzelli is the board president of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists association, and he’s an abstract painter living and working in a dramatic duplex loft space on West Gutierrez Street. Scorzelli has been in the Zoco Lofts since they were built in 1994, and he thrives on the energy of meeting visitors and showing them his work. His paintings are colorful abstractions, and they radiate the high degree of involvement that the artist brings to them. After seeing some early canvases Scorzelli painted in an extremely painstaking pointillist style, it’s easy to imagine the hours of meditation and visual problem-solving that go into creating the vast and complex sensory world of his current work. Citing Josef Albers’s 1963 text Interaction of Color as a seminal influence, Scorzelli describes his work as an attempt to achieve a balance between giving his audience what they want from him—amazing colors—and denying them the too-easy pleasure of resolving his abstractions into specific references and images. “I am trying to get somewhere that’s beyond thought,” he said, gesturing toward the many stacked and vibrant canvases that pack his light-filled painting room.
Erin Williams paints in front of one of the world’s greatest views. Floor-to-ceiling windows in her Mesa home afford 270 degrees or more of exposure to the Channel Islands and the majestic ocean in which they appear to float. Communing with dolphins and whales is as easy for Williams as looking up from her painting table, and the delicious air and relaxing sense of freedom one associates with cruising the high seas is only as far away as her deck at the top of the bluff. Her work, which suggests a post-modern Georgia O’Keefe, emanates from her yoga practice and Buddhist path, a process she likens to “emerging” out of the muck of reality into purity and blossoming like a lotus flower. Her subjects come mostly from the weekly Farmers Market, and their fragile beauty keeps Williams mindful of the brilliant evanescence of all life. Standing with her and admiring the crisp lines and vivid compositions of her work against the deep blue background of the sea, it’s easy to imagine that higher consciousness can be accessed through close attention to nature and a selfless devotion to one’s craft.
The 9th Annual Open Studio Tour takes place this Saturday, August 28, and Sunday, August 29. For tickets, tour maps, and information, call 280-9178, or visit santabarbarastudioartists.com/tour.