Art About Buildings at Thomas Reynolds Gallery in Downtown Santa Barbara

Art by Local Architects with the Show ‘ARTchitecture’

“Plaza Rubio” by Stephen Harby | Credit: Courtesy

In practice and theory, art and architecture can be viewed as later family relations, albeit with the critical difference that buildings are more deeply indebted to the concrete rules of structural integrity and gravity. Architects naturally make art, drawing and painting in the line of duty (when outside the digital domain) and as a way of exploring the beauties of architecture around the world and, especially in an architecturally rich place as Santa Barbara, in the hometown.

Such is the basis of the aptly mongrel-monikered ARTchitecture: Santa Barbara & Beyond, the current exhibition of art by Santa Barbara architects, now at the impressive Thomas Reynolds Gallery. The gallery moved to town last year after 25 years in San Francisco and has been finding its way out of the pandemic chill.

Subjects range from illustrious and historic Santa Barbara buildings to European sights, and San Diego’s Balboa Park sneaks in through a sympathetic side door. Artistic styles range from Sean McArdle’s impressionistic musings to Henry Lenny’s elegant precisionism, to Jeff Shelton’s gonzo/surreally cartoonish/folk-art-y impulses.

Michael Reardon, whose painting in the window juggles radiating series of arcs, with red stripes adding vim to the visual effect, shows vertical watercolors often dealing with optical sensations. “Notre Dame Nocturne” envisions the famed cathedral as a distant silhouetted form, with the shimmering surface of late-afternoon light on the Seine as a central element.

From elsewhere in the field of classic European architecture, Domiane Forte’s dynamic “Horizon” captures the sense of wonder in gazing skyward at ornate architectural details of antiquated structures. Marc Appleton takes a more sober, documentarian approach in his insider’s appreciation of Roman ruins, with “Agrigento.”

Back on the home front, Santa Barbara’s famed courthouse and tower, a significant architectural treasure in our midst, is viewed through different perspectives. The monumental is pared down to the microcosm through the prism of landscaping in Stephen Harby’s loose-brushed watercolor, but emerges with its grandeur and formal details intact, as celebrated in realistic form, in Qing Xue’s painting.

ARTchitecture is one of those exhibitions that may well inspire a post-viewing walking tour. Make the two-block trek to the courthouse, for instance, and see what the fuss is about, while recognizing that considerable sketching, conceptualizing, and draftsmanship went into its creation. Where architecture goes, art is never far behind.

ARTchitecture: Santa Barbara & Beyond is on view at Thomas Reynolds Gallery (1331 State St.) through November 12. For more information, visit

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