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Village Matters

Passion expressed, one way or another

The Historical Society’s program Monday on the history of art in Laguna Beach gave much more than a recitation of facts on how Laguna Beach became an art colony.  Speakers Janet Blake, Richard Challis and Gene Crane shared personal insights about art, artists they knew, and living an artistic life.

Finding a passion for life and conveying that passion visually makes great art. The cycle continues when the viewer/collector feels the artist’s passion and it inspires his own depth of feeling. “Buy art because it moves you, does something for you,” Challis advised.

Challis and Crane spoke of the artists they knew, a group of artists who became known as the “California School,” Emil Kosa, Rex Brandt, Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Millard Zornes, Tom Craig… who painted because art was their life. “They captured the essence of California in the days before the war.  They had a personal view of the world and the world’s essence,” Crane explained.  Through their art they expressed that and achieved their goals.

On his death bed Kosa urged Rex Brandt, “Paint, Rex, paint, don’t ever stop painting.”

There is this urgency the artist has to express what he or she sees and feels.  In great artists this passion must be overwhelmingly compelling.  They find a way to make art the focus of their lives.

I, on the other hand, am conflicted, with many competing media—politics, writing, landscape architecture, gardening.  In the late 70s I took two days a week off to do watercolors.  I produced a series of paintings, most of which I have hanging in my house—I couldn’t bear to sell any of them.  Then we bought a house, house payments had to be made, and my art has been set aside.

In thinking about the dilemma of where to put my energies, I often remember Ralph Hudson who was a landscape architect and watercolor painter.  Every summer he would spend his vacation from his job at Orange County Harbors Beaches and Parks painting with Rex Brandt.  The county offers good benefits and retirement program, and Hudson’s plan was to eventually retire and paint full time.  Painting was his passion, landscape architecture was his work.  Yet, much too soon Hudson was taken by a brain tumor, and was never able to complete his dream.  When walking at Dana Point Harbor we find a bronze hat resting on a stone, a memorial to Ralph Hudson.  I remember a kind and serious man whose artistic insights remain unfulfilled.

Yet one day while we were antiqueing at the Old Barn in San Juan Capistrano I spied a watercolor propped against some furniture.  It was a seascape by Ralph Hudson.  For $99 it hangs in our family room, always a reminder of his poignant story.

I used to worry about where to focus my passion, feeling guilty about what I was not doing.  Now I have learned to go with the flow and do my best at what seems to come to my agenda.  There must be a plan, because wonderful things keep coming.

As Richard Challis said, it doesn’t have to be so serious.  “Look at the funny side of life.  Don’t worry.  Don’t stress. We have maybe a hundred years, then others can do the worrying.”

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