History lesson

Boyd Gavin, detail from “Delta Farm,” oil on canvas, 2003.

Boyd Gavin, detail from “Delta Farm,” oil on canvas, 2003.

California has strong ties to landscape painting. For well more than a century, European-inspired artists traveling throughout the West really had little else to paint, but it wasn’t a lack of subject matter that drove people to landscapes; it was the majesty of the scenery that proved to be quite a powerful inspiration. The Sacramento Valley has a specific appeal for artists—it’s the clarity of light here—and California in its early days had views unobstructed by cities or any signs of modernization.

Fast-forward to the 1960s in Sacramento. A few pioneering painters like Gregory Kondos were creating a new look for Valley landscapes by using a brighter, more modernist palette to illustrate the intense light: edges lined with eye-popping oranges and blues making the subjects zing with a feeling of the bright sun shining down. This style became quite unique to this area of the country.

Now, thanks to an ever-growing population, there are many landscape painters in the region, but most of them find it difficult to create images of a more pure nature without addressing the encroachment of the heavily populated and overly mechanized world that is contemporary California. Many feel the pressing need to record the vanishing landscape before it disappears further; others incorporate the manmade and let it exist as a visual record of today.

Through August 22, the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis is holding its second in a series of annual exhibitions, co-curated by Natsoulas and Don Hagerty, which honor the legacy of landscape painting in the Sacramento Valley. The show features the work of many greats from the past and present, including Kondos, Wayne Thiebaud, Patrick Dullanty, Boyd Gavin, Chella, Maynard Dixon, Pat Mahony and others. In conjunction with the show on Saturday, July 24, there will be a one-day seminar with a plein-air painting demonstration, a panel discussion and a tour of various venues featuring this style of work, all culminating with a reception in the evening. Given the history of the genre, it’s fitting to give it such a large and multifaceted yearly tip of the hat.