By Anna Weltner
Erin Hanson is in a very good mood. Perhaps that’s because the rock climber, explorer, and plein air artist spends a great deal of her time outdoors. Her exuberance shows through in her bold, bright, impulsive paintings of Utah’s rock formations, Arizona’s deserts, and, more recently, the smooth folds of Paso Robles’ hills. Photorealism isn’t Hanson’s style. Rather, her bursting, buoyant oil paintings seem to convey the spirit of a place, the energy and life and emotion that vibrates through it.
“I want people to love the desert like I love it,” she says.
Hanson’s paintings, which will be displayed at the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts outdoor show and sale, are not what immediately springs to mind when one thinks of plein air. Honestly, most plein air paintings remind me of hotels. Hers make me want to go play outside.
Hanson is just one of many artists who will bring their talents from near and far to the downtown Paso festival Memorial Day weekend. And while a great deal of work seems to concern itself chiefly with pastoral scenes, ocean views, and mountain vistas, there are odd and unexpected treasures to be found as well.
The weekend event kicks off on Friday, May 25, with an 11 a.m. talk by African-American quilt artist and scholar Dr. Denise Sheridan. In “Quilting a Culture and All That Jazz: A Legacy of African American Artistic Rhythms,” Sheridan will share the familial and cultural heritage woven into her fine art quilts.
At 3 p.m. that afternoon, a free panel discussion featuring four heavy hitters in the artistic community—graphic designer Charmaine Martinez, painter David Settino Scott, choreographer Drew Silvaggio, and painter/illustrator Neal Breton—will explore the role of art and the artist in society. Moderated, incidentally, by New Times Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach, “Don’t Feed the Artists” will be a conversation between several sharp, funny, and opinionated minds.
But the main event goes down on Saturday, beginning with a Plein Air Quick-Draw from 9 to 11 a.m. Thirty California fine artists such as Ken Christensen, Elizabeth Tolley, Jeanette Wolff, Ray Roberts, and wife Peggi Kroll-Roberts, will have two hours to create a brand new work of art on location.
Kroll-Roberts, who will also be teaching a sold-out figure painting workshop that weekend, began her career in fashion illustration, later moving on to figure painting and still life in watercolor and oils. And while the look of her paintings suggests carefree simplicity, bringing subjects to life in a few thick brushstrokes like Kroll-Roberts does is no easy task, as her students quickly discover.
Also on Saturday is a public mural project, performances by the Dragon Knights Stilts Walkers, a Plein Air Masters Panel Discussion, live music by the Mother Corn Shuckers, and performances and classes by the Suspended Motion Ribbon Acrobats. (Ride your bike to the event and enjoy free parking at the bike valet at the Horseshoe Pit.)
But the biggest deal is likely the outdoor fine art show, starting at 10 a.m. in the downtown city park. Textiles artist Sharon Gellerman, mixed media artist Lynn Kishiyama, painter Dotty Hawthorne, jeweler Debra Jurey, sculptor Dale Evers, and many others will display their work. At the A&R Furniture Building (at the corner of Pine and 12th Streets, skirting the park), check out the latest exhibit from The Phantom Project, an awesome endeavor that brings art shows to vacant spaces in SLO County.
Perhaps one of the most curious exhibits is a photography series by Oakhurst-based artist Wendy Denton. In her own words: “I travel to San Jose about twice a month for meetings. On every trip, I would see many dead birds on the side of the 152 Highway. They were beginning to haunt me. Then about three years ago, I took a summer workshop at Cabrillo College with Ted Orland. There was a scanner in the room, and Ted and I started to play with it. One day, I found five dead birds on the beach and brought them to class. One woman ran out screaming, but Ted and I had a great time. I really do credit him with the inspiration for my project. When I went home, I found a scrub jay wing in the back yard, perfectly intact. Wing. Scanner. Wing. Scanner. That’s how it all began.”
Denton’s scanned images of dead birds, the majority of them killed by automobiles, are unexpectedly lovely, even calming, works of art. The artist poses and lights the animals in such a way that conceals injury and trauma, making for a tranquil, if tragic, image. The scanner, she says, picks up far finer details than a camera, and many viewers are taken by the beauty of the artworks before realizing—with either revulsion or fascination—that the creatures are dead.
“My purpose is not to show mutilation and gore,” Denton says. “It is to celebrate the beauty and sometimes the pathos of these fragile lives.”
Sunday marks the end of the festivities, with the Art & Soul Awards Brunch at Studios on the Park (10 a.m. to noon) and an exclusive tour of two of the Central Coast’s finest private art collections, at the homes of Doug and Nancy Becket and Ken and Marilyn Riding. Seriously, how often does that happen?
Arts Editor Anna Weltner picks vacation destinations inside paintings. Contact her at aweltner@newtimes