Quintessential snapshots

The magic of Gregory Kondos' landscapes exists in how they capture moments that no longer exist

If you’re vacation starved like most Americans, then an hour visiting Gregory Kondos’ new Crocker Art Museum exhibit is a vicarious getaway.

His work welcomes relaxation, via celebrated Malibu beaches or Dodger-blue Lake Tahoe waters—soak in some of the Golden State’s premier leisure space, the painter invites.

Or, if you’re up for adventure, visitors can behold the stupendous monoliths of Yosemite National Park, in some cases, on 6-foot-tall canvases.

All of this is part of the mix at the nearly 90-year-old Kondos’ latest local show, A Touch of Blue: Landscapes by Gregory Kondos, which overtakes a large swath of the Crocker’s third floor.

Spend too much time at the Sacramento painter’s new exhibit, however, and you may begin to feel miffed about your lack of time off. Or your inadequate savings account.

Locales such as California’s Silicon Valley, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Yountville and classic scenes of Greek beaches and the French countryside are timeless. But also privileged. Lush Northern California vineyard landscapes and paintings of his wife’s iris gardens in Toulouse, France, aren’t everyman scenery. One must pay to play.

But you, nonwary nontraveller, ultimately understand that jealousy gets you nowhere. And that, when it comes to Kondos, the landscapes are vital because they capture moments in nature that oftentimes no longer exist.

“It is always high noon on a summer day in Greg Kondos’ paintings” is how longtime Sacramento Bee art critic Victoria Dalkey described his specific brand of magic hour, or the way in which Kondos’ work functions as quintessential snapshots of the Earth’s most immortal topography. Places now mostly overtaken by humankind.

Consider Kondos’ 2001 portrait of Emerald Bay, arguably Lake Tahoe’s most memorable cove. The skies are clear, creamy white. The steel-blue waters glow like icing. A lone tree pokes its branches upward in the foreground. And the island—undersized and lacking detail, like a navel lost in an ocean—conveys a sense of privacy, solitude. It’s the perfect moment alone in nature—even though, in the real world, visiting Emerald Bay can be the ultimate tourist trap.

So much of Kondos’ work on display now at the Crocker seizes this “high noon on a summer day” vibe and preserves popular California iconography in its natural, unaffected state.

“Half Dome,” Yosemite’s most legendary rock, glows with blood-orange tears at the crest, as if the sun’s giving the towering formation a rare kiss. Its walls glimmer with piercing white and silver. And there’s nary a hiker in sight!

Even Kondos’ Sacramento Valley landscapes—work from his own backyard—are river scenes at their Terrence Malick best: Shadows from tree canopies contrast sharply with luminescent, periwinkle waters. Tawny and fern-green brush overtake the shore. Latte beaches sparkle.

The Sacramento River never looked as good as under Kondos’ brush. And there’s no water-skiers, riverboat revelers or beachcombers to be found.

Indeed, it’s not jealousy because the painter shows us places we only dream of going. Or the exclusivity of his landscapes, such as Santorini in Greece. It’s Kondos’ ability to capture the world’s beauty at its most complete that invites resentment. Because, oftentimes, the landscapes’ moments are, sadly, no longer.