Going with the flow
Chico painter Jan Allenspach takes in a change of scenery
It’s a crisp, beautiful morning in the quaint Central Coast town of Cambria, population 6,000, and Chico artist Jan Allenspach is using big brushes to paint an underwater ocean scene. The air is so cool that she’s cut the fingers off a pair of gloves, but the setting couldn’t be better. A self-described environmental artist, Allenspach works every day in a gorgeous house located near the coastline and surrounded by pine trees. Three-story-high windows fill the place with sunlight.
“It’s the best art studio I’ve ever had,” Allenspach says. Since last March, she has been taking a sabbatical from her home and art career in Chico to take care of the Cambria house for a couple of overseas-based World Health Organization workers.
“I’ve been painting a ton,” says Allenspach. “Friends who have seen the new ocean paintings are using words like ‘ethereal, ephemeral, fluid, religious’ to describe them … but for me, the setting has just opened up a whole new world of tranquility and natural influences.”
Some Chicoans may remember Allenspach’s Australian-aboriginal-influenced, storytelling artwork from exhibits at Moxie’s or the Upper Crust or from T-shirts she sells at S&S and Made in Chico. Her new show, soon coming to Cory’s, is entitled Ocean Dreaming and features whale/underwater paintings with a specific environmental message in mind: “No more sonar” (the subtitle of a lead piece).
Allenspach has been researching the damaging effects of military sonar experiments that she says “basically boil the blood of whales” since she’s been able to spot the magnificent mammals, along with sea lions seen on the sandy beaches protected as part of the Monterey National Seashore.
Allenspach started watercolor painting 20 years ago, and she still uses a lot of water techniques in these various-sized, new acrylic works, playing with the underwater interplay of light and shadows.
Allenspach says she has been well-received in the friendly, tight-knit art community of Cambria and has participated in open-art-studio tours. Still, she misses "friends, the nightlife and the diverse arts scene" in Chico and will be glad to return home for her December show.