Alameda Shows Off: En Plein Air Review

The iconic yellow Victorian on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Paru Street has spent 18 years refining its annual Plein Air event. This year, it exudes a confident excellence in the work of 40 painters who came from near and far to paint the Alameda scene.

These artists who paint outdoors, on site, seem to be a hardy breed. They smell of sunscreen, have a valise packed for all eventualities and are experts in taking whatever the weather gives them while uncomplainingly making the best of it; i.e., they rise to challenges. How do you paint water moving? How do you paint a night scene in the dark?

A certain type of image is often associated with Plein Air. Grossly simplified, it is illustrative, rich in descriptive detail and often carries a narrative. Greg Holzhauer disregarded these unspoken rules and painted “The Other Side of Crab Cove” rather than the oft recorded beach itself. His style was so loose and painterly as to be non-specific. Although he did it IN Alameda, it wasn't of her usual face. Similarly, Paul Kensinger used the giant ships at Nava; Air Station as an exercise in pure design. It was just the big, sweet arcs of their prows he loved, not their picturesque, historical tourist appeal.

In her abundance, Alameda offers color-full houses and gardens galore. Marie Massey and Randall Stauss were captivated by the blue “Jolly Jacaranda” tree on Eighth Street whose periwinkle blue blossoms played beautifully against a pink wall. Equally fascinating, however, is the complex, bobbing, undulating shadow of the branches upon the wall. The phenomenon evokes that visual puzzle of “What do you see? A vase or a woman's profile?” We the viewer look back and forth between the reality of the branches and the illusion of their shadow dancing in duet.

If these two relished the lively blue and pink sight they saw, Teresa Steinbach Garcia found her satisfaction in a greatly limited palette of neutrals. She shows very still compositions of horizontal textures receding from foreground to background at “Low Tide.” There is a hush to these elegant images.

Watercolorists seem to rejoice in Alameda. Their painting fairly sparkles with light, the result of strategically allowing the white of the paper to work for them. Carol Tarzier, Barbara Tapp, Raffi Kondy and others exercise a solid knowledge of perspective while exercising a light and exuberant touch in their paintings.

A number of paintings featured night scenes. Marti Walkers pastel sticks lent themselves to a deep, soft, velvety rendering of “Alameda Nightlights” winking and blinking in the harbor. Kristian Matthews saw a solo patron in a “Late Night Laundry” illuminated from within. The viewer is nearly a voyeur here, giving the image an uncommon intimacy riding in on the scent of lint and Downey fabric softener. Cleo Vilett noticed a house at night with only two lights on, one upstairs, one downstairs and told herself a little story about the couple who lived there seeking “Separate Bedrooms” and why.

— Karen Braun Malpas