16 June 2012

Edgar Payne show at PMCA

I rushed today in 15 minutes through the magnificent show of Edgar Payne , The Scenic Journey at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It is unfortunate photographing was not allowed. The show was divided by thematic matter: The Sierra Nevada of California occupies the largest surface followed closely by boat paintings from France and Italy. I thing Edgar Payne might have  enjoyed the Sierra Nevada more than the boats which I feel he saw more of a compositional challenge even though they are superbly rendered as well.  Other subjects encompass California scenes from Laguna (mostly of crashing waves), the Foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains (sycamores, eucalyptus and such) to the The Navajo country (big vertical rock walls and nomadic natives)  and the Southwest and European landmarks (boats, castles and the Alps).

"Breton Tuna boats, Concarneau, France" 1924
A few things jump immediately at the viewer. First, the size. These are large paintings. As a matter of fact, one must take a six or seven  steps away to see some of them start to come together. Especially mountain scenes. I haven't seen many contemporary painters that require that much distance to congeal.. One can almost feel the weight of impressionism on the painters of this period. The second thing that jumps at you is the thick, deliberate and BIG brushstrokes, not a lot of finely wedged strokes and carvings, just big bold strokes and an interesting but effective  "weave" of colors. Payne uses  brushstrokes  of clean color juxtaposed with others equally  clean  strokes of thick impasto. The sum becomes the final color....at a distance. Payne must have had a large studio to practice this pointillist technique.

There is a third  item that soon becomes apparent, his compositions are very correct but a  bit similar. He wrote a great book called "Composition of Outdoor Painting" in 1941 so he was very deliberate in his choices but one wonders if he felt bound by the same grammar  he taught in all  his pieces. There are very few awkward  croppings or what I hesitate  to call "modern"  framing of scenes and they seem to be limited to the boat scenes. The mountains scenes are by the book and so are most other of the sublime landscapes.

If you go to the exhibition, one should not miss the drawings, photographs and compositional studies he made. they are superb, secure and one can see the seed of every large canvas in them. It's pretty amazing he was two years younger than Picasso. I throw that in there for perspective.

"Hills of Altadena 1917-1919

Undoubtedly, Edgar Payne is a "painter's painter", bold, fast and with a keen sense of color and balance. He seems to have "played it safe" a bit but the result is astounding and the brush work would contradict that very statement.

I specially loved one of the paintings of the Matterhorn at sunset. The picture I add here doesn't do it justice at all but you know the drill ...no photos. However, there is a beautifully illustrated catalog for sale I would buy if I had any space left at all in my  apartment.


Marian Fortunati said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing this show.
Thanks for the great description and hints as to what to look for.
I've also heard the the book is excellent and worth the price!!

Steve Baker said...

saw this show at the Crocker in Sac. thought it a fine show. i agree about the compositional aspect. he does seem to repeat himself, but so do most people. what I got out of it was a reaffirmation of an already strong feeling that I don't know anyone who generates such Power in paint. not by narrative but by color, composition and brushwork. a lot of painters try to be that strong but the colors seem crude, or by "telling stories" but stories in paint are never really strong unless you want them to be, it's a visual medium not suited to story telling. Payne uses vigorous brushwork and bold color and generates real power.

SimonLA said...

The full version of the documentary film Edgar Payne: The Scenic Journey is now available online:


Hope you enjoy.

btw, PMCA is working on a new retrospective, with Crocker's Scott Shields, on Monterey Artist Armin Hansen, scheduled to open in January 2015.