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Beyond plein air 

The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts boasts some unexpected treasures

Erin Hanson is in a very good mood. Perhaps that’s because the rock climber, explorer, and plein air artist spends a great deal of her time outdoors. Her exuberance shows through in her bold, bright, impulsive paintings of Utah’s rock formations, Arizona’s deserts, and, more recently, the smooth folds of Paso Robles’ hills. Photorealism isn’t Hanson’s style. Rather, her bursting, buoyant oil paintings seem to convey the spirit of a place, the energy and life and emotion that vibrates through it.

“I want people to love the desert like I love it,” she says.

click to enlarge PASO GREENS :  Los Angeles-based plein air painter Erin Hanson found herself inspired by Paso Robles’ smooth hills, once spending several days living out of her van and waking at dawn to capture the Paso sunrise. Her technique of painting a canvas entirely red, then painting a scene on top of that, allows for brilliant pops of color in unexpected places, as seen in this piece, titled Paso Greens. - ARTWORK BY ERIN HANSON
  • ARTWORK BY ERIN HANSON
  • PASO GREENS : Los Angeles-based plein air painter Erin Hanson found herself inspired by Paso Robles’ smooth hills, once spending several days living out of her van and waking at dawn to capture the Paso sunrise. Her technique of painting a canvas entirely red, then painting a scene on top of that, allows for brilliant pops of color in unexpected places, as seen in this piece, titled Paso Greens.
click to enlarge ALL THAT JAZZ :  African-American quilt artist and scholar Dr. Denise Sheridan will present a free talk called “Quilting a Culture and All That Jazz: A Legacy of African American Artistic Rhythms.” - ARTWORK BY DENISE SHERIDAN
  • ARTWORK BY DENISE SHERIDAN
  • ALL THAT JAZZ : African-American quilt artist and scholar Dr. Denise Sheridan will present a free talk called “Quilting a Culture and All That Jazz: A Legacy of African American Artistic Rhythms.”

Hanson’s paintings, which will be displayed at the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts outdoor show and sale, are not what immediately springs to mind when one thinks of plein air. Honestly, most plein air paintings remind me of hotels. Hers make me want to go play outside.

Hanson is just one of many artists who will bring their talents from near and far to the downtown Paso festival Memorial Day weekend. And while a great deal of work seems to concern itself chiefly with pastoral scenes, ocean views, and mountain vistas, there are odd and unexpected treasures to be found as well.

The weekend event kicks off on Friday, May 25, with an 11 a.m. talk by African-American quilt artist and scholar Dr. Denise Sheridan. In “Quilting a Culture and All That Jazz: A Legacy of African American Artistic Rhythms,” Sheridan will share the familial and cultural heritage woven into her fine art quilts.

At 3 p.m. that afternoon, a free panel discussion featuring four heavy hitters in the artistic community—graphic designer Charmaine Martinez, painter David Settino Scott, choreographer Drew Silvaggio, and painter/illustrator Neal Breton—will explore the role of art and the artist in society. Moderated, incidentally, by New Times Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach, “Don’t Feed the Artists” will be a conversation between several sharp, funny, and opinionated minds.

click to enlarge DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE :  Peggi Kroll-Roberts captures figures with spare, thick strokes, making images come alive with seeming simplicity. - ARTWORK BY PEGGI KROLL-ROBERTS
  • ARTWORK BY PEGGI KROLL-ROBERTS
  • DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE : Peggi Kroll-Roberts captures figures with spare, thick strokes, making images come alive with seeming simplicity.
click to enlarge FALLEN BEAUTIES :  Artist Wendy Denton will exhibit her series of unexpectedly lovely scans of found dead birds during the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts. - ARTWORK BY WENDY DENTON
  • ARTWORK BY WENDY DENTON
  • FALLEN BEAUTIES : Artist Wendy Denton will exhibit her series of unexpectedly lovely scans of found dead birds during the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts.

The opening of two new exhibits, “Local Color” and “Plein Air Masters,” will take place that evening at Studios on the Park at 5 p.m., followed by a keynote address by PleinAir Magazine editor-in-chief Stephen Doherty, and then an arty dinner called “Feasting on Art.”

But the main event goes down on Saturday, beginning with a Plein Air Quick-Draw from 9 to 11 a.m. Thirty California fine artists such as Ken Christensen, Elizabeth Tolley, Jeanette Wolff, Ray Roberts, and wife Peggi Kroll-Roberts, will have two hours to create a brand new work of art on location.

Kroll-Roberts, who will also be teaching a sold-out figure painting workshop that weekend, began her career in fashion illustration, later moving on to figure painting and still life in watercolor and oils. And while the look of her paintings suggests carefree simplicity, bringing subjects to life in a few thick brushstrokes like Kroll-Roberts does is no easy task, as her students quickly discover.

Also on Saturday is a public mural project, performances by the Dragon Knights Stilts Walkers, a Plein Air Masters Panel Discussion, live music by the Mother Corn Shuckers, and performances and classes by the Suspended Motion Ribbon Acrobats. (Ride your bike to the event and enjoy free parking at the bike valet at the Horseshoe Pit.)

But the biggest deal is likely the outdoor fine art show, starting at 10 a.m. in the downtown city park. Textiles artist Sharon Gellerman, mixed media artist Lynn Kishiyama, painter Dotty Hawthorne, jeweler Debra Jurey, sculptor Dale Evers, and many others will display their work. At the A&R Furniture Building (at the corner of Pine and 12th Streets, skirting the park), check out the latest exhibit from The Phantom Project, an awesome endeavor that brings art shows to vacant spaces in SLO County.

- THREE DAYS, 100 ARTISTS:  The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts runs Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27, in the Paso Robles city park and at various other Paso locations. For more information, or to get your tickets to specific festival events, call 238-9800 or visit prcity.com/FOTA. -
  • THREE DAYS, 100 ARTISTS: The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts runs Friday, May 25, through Sunday, May 27, in the Paso Robles city park and at various other Paso locations. For more information, or to get your tickets to specific festival events, call 238-9800 or visit prcity.com/FOTA.

Perhaps one of the most curious exhibits is a photography series by Oakhurst-based artist Wendy Denton. In her own words: “I travel to San Jose about twice a month for meetings. On every trip, I would see many dead birds on the side of the 152 Highway. They were beginning to haunt me. Then about three years ago, I took a summer workshop at Cabrillo College with Ted Orland. There was a scanner in the room, and Ted and I started to play with it. One day, I found five dead birds on the beach and brought them to class. One woman ran out screaming, but Ted and I had a great time. I really do credit him with the inspiration for my project. When I went home, I found a scrub jay wing in the back yard, perfectly intact. Wing. Scanner. Wing. Scanner. That’s how it all began.”

Denton’s scanned images of dead birds, the majority of them killed by automobiles, are unexpectedly lovely, even calming, works of art. The artist poses and lights the animals in such a way that conceals injury and trauma, making for a tranquil, if tragic, image. The scanner, she says, picks up far finer details than a camera, and many viewers are taken by the beauty of the artworks before realizing—with either revulsion or fascination—that the creatures are dead.

“My purpose is not to show mutilation and gore,” Denton says. “It is to celebrate the beauty and sometimes the pathos of these fragile lives.”

Sunday marks the end of the festivities, with the Art & Soul Awards Brunch at Studios on the Park (10 a.m. to noon) and an exclusive tour of two of the Central Coast’s finest private art collections, at the homes of Doug and Nancy Becket and Ken and Marilyn Riding. Seriously, how often does that happen?

Arts Editor Anna Weltner picks vacation destinations inside paintings. Contact her at aweltner@newtimes

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