Laguna College of Art and Design lacks any finished Rex Brandt paintings in its possession, but boasts 80 boxes, many still unpacked, of the artist’s archives.
The cache of sketchbooks, textbooks written by Brandt, as well as his brushes and a well-worn easel were donated to the college three years ago by his wife Joan and daughters Shelley Walker and Joan Scarboro.
Now, a selection of memorabilia from the archive, along with more than 16 watercolor paintings lent by several collectors, reveal a prolific and disciplined artist and teacher in an exhibition by the college library titled “Awash With Color.”
This smaller show dovetails with the Brandt retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum, “Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine,” opening on Sunday, June 29, and running through Sept. 21. Curated by Janet Blake, the museum’s curator of historical art, this show features roughly 50 works, mostly watercolors.
Brandt, considered one of California’s greatest watercolorists, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1936 from UC Berkeley. Led by, among others, German abstract artist Hans Hofmann, the Berkeley art department followed a modernist direction, which pervades Brandt’s work as well, according to LCAD President Jonathan Burke. Upon returning to Southern California, Brandt joined the California Water Color Society, which included noted California scene painters Millard Sheets and Phil Dike.
He also helped design the first two studios of what would become LCAD and along with Dike, taught workshops for the early art school during the early 1960s. He also served on the school’s advisory board and on a 1978 endowment campaign.
“Dad did not have any particular place to leave his papers and sketchbooks and we did not want the works to get lost in boxes,” said Walker. “He worked on so many levels, architecture, design, illustration, anything pertaining to art he was into. If the works inspire even one student to pursue an artistic career, it would be a legacy,” she said.
The college show marks what would be Brandt’s 100th birthday, said LCAD library director Jennifer Martinez-Wormser, who co-curated the exhibition with LCAD gallery director Andrea Harrison-McGee. It’s distributed throughout the college library and a conference room.
Martinez-Wormser included paintings by Joan Irving Brandt, a water colorist in her own right. Side-by-side paintings of the St. Mark’s plaza in Venice, illustrate husband and wife’s divergent, but equally compelling use of line and perspective. The couple lived in Corona del Mar between 1946 and 2000, the year of his death, in a sprawling, two-lot compound immortalized in the painting “Blue Sky.”
“He was an illustrator, painter, designer, muralist, a describer of life who was constantly re-inventing himself,” said Burke. “He did not have a set style, instead joy pervades all of his work.”
However, Brandt turned out to be allergic to oil paint.
The LCAD show includes a few woodcut prints along with watercolors loaned by Newport Beach residents Janet and Mark Hilbert who, among other works of California art, own 20 paintings by Brandt. Some of their paintings, along with works loaned by prominent collectors such as E. Gene Crain, are also included in the museum show.
Written and compiled by Blake, the exhibition catalog is dedicated to Crain.
“Rex Brandt counts among the greatest California watercolorists. His manipulation of color and pigment is truly outstanding,” said Hilbert. “Brandt worked in a time when artists pushed themselves to the limit and with his bold strokes and strong lines developed synergies way beyond what had been known before then.”
Brandt had become renown for his stylistically diverse works from the 1930s to the 1990s. Blake, who knew him personally, placed greatest value on his later, more mature output. “That is something he cared to be known best for, works done between the late 1950s and 1996 when he stopped painting,” she said. “The show is fine-tuned to that work,” she said.
Brandt’s work was the subject of a comprehensive solo exhibition by the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1963.
“Awash With Color” through Sept. Laguna College of Art and Design, 2222 Laguna Canyon Rd. 949-376-6000 www.lcad.edu
“In Praise of Sunshine” June 29 through Sept. 21. Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr. 949-494-8971 www.lagunaartmuseum.org