Flat and bright

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a cover story SN&R published in August 1999 titled “The Unbearable Flatness of Being.” Former contributor and editor Ralph Brave wrote the terrific piece—a kind of reported confession from a non-native son struggling to live in the mercilessly horizontal world of Sacramento. In his musings, Brave asked a key question: “If you live in a flat place for a long time, does the flatness enter your soul?”

In search of an answer, Brave interviewed writers, scientists and artists, such as the renowned Wayne Thiebaud. The painter told him he thinks discontent with the flatness is a kind of “discomfort with the sense of spatial infinity that the Valley can have,” wrote Brave.

Why has that story come back to the front of my brain six years later? It’s because it has a resonance with a cover story SN&R writer Chrisanne Beckner has been working on (see “Paint your valley”) concerning a new crop of landscape painters who believe that Sacramento’s landscape offers a subtle, natural charm that is, well, utterly beautiful. Indeed, many of these artists believe they are part of a movement, a “school” of Sacramento Valley landscape painters, who paint the Valley precisely because of its special infinity, its wide-open flatness.

For her story, Beckner entered the studios of five landscape painters, some of whom trained under Thiebaud or that other local painting legend, Gregory Kondos. The interviews reveal a reverence for our region that we don’t hear articulated often from artists or anyone—a kind of refreshing affection for riverbanks, agricultural fields, the occasional water silo and lots of flat, flat spaces.

Davis gallery owner John Natsoulas thinks landscape artists paint here because of the colors and the contrast—the “bright, bright, bright white light.” Here’s hoping that, along with all the flatness, the brightness also enters our souls.