Since 1990, Montecito’s Easton Gallery has been one of the county’s most important curators of contemporary landscape art. Through May 10, in its 25th anniversary show, the gallery presents images of the remote Cuyama Valley.
The Cuyama region’s greatest blessing is its geographical isolation; almost everyone reading this newspaper has never been there. In an area the aggregate size of both the Santa Ynez and Lompoc valleys combined, the sparse human population — easily outnumbered by cattle — is measured in hundreds. The Sierra Madre range, which forms the valley’s southern perimeter, was the last Southern California home of the grizzly bear and the wild California condor. Today, the Cuyama Valley is an iconic California ranch landscape, encircled by wild mountains where two cowboys on horseback care for cattle over a rugged area stretching the same distance as that which separates Rincon’s waves from Santa Barbara’s courthouse. A few pocket-sized communities house several dozen people; the rest are spread out over far-flung farms and ranches.
Some of the best pieces in the gallery’s new show depict the town of New Cuyama: in particular the community’s roadhouse Burger Barn, which Rick Bury’s photo and Tom Henderson’s watercolor bring to life. Henderson’s watercolor of a truck careening around a blind highway curve in both lanes reminds us of a time before California’s highways were crowded.
Several of the Easton Gallery’s most distinguished artists, such as Marcia Burtt and Whitney Brooks Abbott, invite us into hidden canyons to see old, wind-whipped tin barns at the Walking R and Salisbury ranches. Elsewhere, Chris Chapman looks down into arroyos. We can almost see the owls’ nests in the eroded channel walls.
The show overall presents a beautiful view of the Cuyama Valley, its spaces, mountains, wildflowers, watercourses, ranches, and desultory communities. It’s a space in between — between mountain ranges, between counties, between people and wildlife, between ranches and farms, between yesterday and the day before yesterday.
Ellen Easton is celebrating her gallery’s quarter century in unblemished style by sharing more than two dozen contemporary landscape artists’ images of a remote land and distant time.
The Easton Gallery is located at 557 Hot Springs Road, Montecito. For info, call (805) 969-5781 or visit eastongallery.com.