Phoebe Brunner at her home in Santa Barbara (Oct. 1, 2015)
Paul Wellman

I can stare at a painting by Phoebe Brunner for days. She perfectly balances familiar vistas with a magical quality that inspires both my reverie and meditation. I call her paintings “landscapes of the mind.”

I also adore speaking with Phoebe — she’s so passionate about the environment, about Santa Barbara, about horses and dressage and yoga and…the list goes on forever. Her studio, though not open to the public, is one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever had the privilege of entering. The expressive and vibrant pieces she displays on the walls are windows to the vertiginous patterns traveled by her creative thought process.

Lately, concerns about the California drought are filtering into her work, and the newest paintings are a visual call for action. She’s currently preparing for a big solo show at Sullivan Goss Gallery, which also represents her locally, on April 7, 2016.

Until then, Phoebe’s beautiful website is a good place to start for an overview of her work. She is also represented by the Vault Gallery in Cambria and is showing a couple of pieces as part of the “Legacy and Loss: Images of the Santa Barbara Region”show at the Wilding Museum in Solvang.

Phoebe put down the brushes to answer the Proust Questionnaire.

Who do you most admire?

Every living woman artist and all those that have come before me. It takes courage, stamina, and blind faith to tap into and develop one’s inner vision and resources in a way that can somehow add meaning and clarity to our complicated lives.

Which historical figures do you most identify with?

I’d have to go with the American landscape painters of the 1800s, the Hudson River Valley school painters naturally, but more particularly the artists who were traveling to the American frontier, documenting and interpreting the powerful vistas and grandeur of the West. Albert Bierstadt’s gorgeous depiction of Yosemite and George Catlin’s exquisite paintings of the Plains Indians, for example. These artists, among many others, painting in less than ideal conditions, opened up the astounding natural beauty of our country to the American public in ways that were accessible and alluring.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Artists can have great social impact. I’ve been obsessed with re-interpreting the visual landscape of California, mainly the Central Coast, in a way that is hopefully fresh and inviting to the viewer. Now more than ever, with our pressing environmental issues, if my paintings can somehow influence any awareness to effect change and a greater sense of stewardship of our natural surroundings, I would consider that an acceptable accomplishment.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s hard to beat walking downstairs everyday to a big well-lit studio and having the time and freedom to wrestle with the elusive pursuit of meaningful beauty.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finishing a powerful painting that basically paints itself, standing back in awe and wondering, “Where did THIS come from?” It is a sublime gift as so many of the paintings are extremely challenging.

What is your greatest fear?

Living in pain and unable to move. Although more immediately, I’d say turning on the faucet and…nothing….

What is your greatest extravagance?

Well, I’ve been known to spend way too much money on horses.

What is your current state of mind?

It’s a gorgeous day here in Santa Barbara, like most, and we MIGHT get an El Nino. I’m going with that.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Honesty and acceptance. A sense of humor is always a plus as well as a passion for life.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Hard to name just one. Closed minded, sneaky, negative, mean-spirited people are not allowed in my world. Life is just too short.

What do you most value in friends?

Honesty and acceptance. Also, being there when you really need each other.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I can be overly enthusiastic. And talk too much.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Along with every other slave to modern media, “awesome” comes to mind.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Being able to sing loudly with confidence and in tune would be lovely. I’d also like to easily remember Johnny’s weekly hip-hop routines. Talent or no, it’s still a blast.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Patience would go a long way with me.

Where would you most like to live?

Actually I’m already here. A huge ranch with horses behind my house on the Mesa would be ideal. But I’m not complaining!

What is your most treasured possession?

Can I say my Lakeland terrier, Corky? He makes me laugh every day when he’s not being naughty.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My husband, Keith Albert. He has a wicked dry sense of humor.

What is your motto?

“Do it now — you may never get this chance again.” I know, not very original, but hey, without it, well so many things — would never have jumped out of that airplane or walked on those hot coals…

On what occasion do you lie?

I said above that I dislike sneaky people. But every so often there’s a reason for a slight tweaking of reality. Of course, I can’t reveal when.


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