California Art: Capture The Dream

It’s sunset in Santa Monica as couples and families line the highway to watch the fiery orb sink into the Pacific.  In a scene repeated along the entire stretch of California coastline, in the rose-gold light stirring souls of artists and spectators alike, each wants to hold the moment—the dream.

Early plein-air artists such as Ayres, Bierstadt, Keith, Matson, and Hill sought to instill their vision of California’s golden light and majestic natural beauty into an uneasy nation on its inexorable path towed the Civil War.  Bathed in radiance, the vast expanses whispered to the Easterners’ spirit of freedom through the eyes and art of idealized views of early impressionists.  Through the mid- 20th century, artists including Dike, Brandt, Payne, Hansen, Bischoff, Sheets, Kingman painted visions of California’s seashore, mountains and rivers which inspired dreams and fueled the westward movement and expansive settlement of coastal, then inland ranges.

Modern and contemporary styles reflected artists’ visual response to rapid development and cultural change, evolving in the 1960s and 70s as the Light and Space Movement.  Originating in Southern California, this body of work is most often associated with artists Robert Irwin, Larry Bell and John McCracken, who attributed the inspiration of its minimalist style to the exquisite quality of radiant light and atmosphere.  The movement also became known as “Finish Fetish Art” for its representation of California car and surf culture through the works of Ruscha, Bengston, Kienholz, Bell and Irwin.

Rooted in Light and Space philosophy is the continuing dialogue of today’s minimalists such as Jeppe Hein, Sam Falls, Spencer Finch, who use light to dissolve boundaries with an ethereal geometry.  Concerned with the temporal nature of the world and change as a fundamentally timeless truth, California Art continues to ignite our capacity to dream.