I recently went to what I thought was The Irvine Museum in Irvine, CA. It had one of the most magnificent collections of California Impressionists paintings I had seen in one collection. I am currently working from a painting called Grapes by Franz A. Bischoff. I have an older catalog from the museum, and I thought I might be able to see it in person.
When I arrived, I discovered the museum is now the Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute & Museum of California Art. A large portion of The Irvine Museum Collection was donated to the new museum, which is part of UCI.
The Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute & Museum of California Art is a mixture of contemporary work and the California Impressionists, which is a growing trend in museums. To mix the collections, I feel, is the equivalent of pineapple on pizza. I don’t need to see Pollock next to Ingres…but I digress.
I was intent on looking at the California Impressionists’ paintings and skipped over a few of the works while I was looking. I started talking to, I think, an administrator/curator of the museum. It was a pleasant conversation, and the woman asked me why I skipped over some paintings.
She pointed to the last two works and asked why I was interested in the one and not the other. I told her I was looking at the piece’s brush strokes, techniques, color, and rhythm. I could feel a connection with it and the artist. I felt that the artist really was connected with the landscape. The other one was not completed, was a gouache underpainting, and just looked like an academic study of a coastline. She also mentioned that I was looking at the labels on the paintings. I told her that I was looking at the year and location. Many of the paintings were done locally in the Laguna area; I can go there and see what inspired them.
Then she told me that the one I passed over was painted by a woman, and the one I stopped and studied was painted by a man. I was a little taken aback by this and a little confused. I told her I wasn’t even looking for the piece’s artist. I don’t really understand that conversation. When I look at art, especially paintings (since I am a painter), I’m not looking at gender. I look for the passion in the piece. I get confused when people ask me who inspired me; it’s never really the artist; it’s the piece. Am I moved emotionally? Do I feel excited? Am I stopped in my tracks? Are the colors, brushstrokes, rhythms, and patterns created in such a way that I can tell that the artist put their soul into it so much that it reaches out and touches me?
I could tell she was not impressed or understood what I was saying. I felt she only saw me as an older white male, and the judgment was done. I was relegated to a set standard with no knowledge of my background, frame of reference, or anything else.
I gave her my card and invited her to look at my work. I assume she threw it away as soon as I left. It’s too bad when people can’t see beyond labels enough to look at and at least try to connect with the artwork. All artists have bad days and do shitty work. Not everything will be a masterpiece, and such expectations are childlike.
I am drawn to some eras of work more than others. I love Italian High Renaissance and the Impressionists, the Californian as well as the
French, but not strictly that. I’m also impressed by the wind blowing through a group of trees and watching the leaves catch the sunlight or waves crashing on rocks.
I never want to be limited by anything. I want always to be open, as much as I can be, to anything that moves me enough to want to run to my canvas and start painting. I embrace the work, not the labels. Passion is universal; that’s my criteria.