Cambria artist, cartoonist Art Van Rhyn: 'Go outside the lines'

Painting, sculpture retrospective show on display through July

Special to The CambrianJuly 5, 2013 

In which, once again, we confuse law and justice.


This is the eighth in a series of interviews presented by the Cambria Center for the Arts to heighten awareness of artists — and the arts — in our community.

Arthur Van Rhyn has been well-known in Cambria for years. He is a cartoonist for The Cambrian, an artist and a supporter of Allied Arts. Arthur, 84, is a second-generation Californian, born in Barstow and raised in Compton. He worked for the California Department of Highways (now called CalTrans), eventually becoming a registered civil engineer. He also — in his 50s — got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture at Cal State Northridge.

He and his beloved wife Patty, who passed away four years ago, raised three children in the San Fernando Valley.  They retired in 1983 and bought a vacant lot on Moonstone Beach Drive where Art built their house and his studio, where he has lived and painted ever since.

Q: When and how did you become an artist?

A: I didn’t come to art until my 40s. I started with black and white printmaking and then after a couple of years decided I wanted to paint. I tried watercolor and discovered I didn’t know the basics, so I took classes at El Camino Night School. Had a great teacher who limited us to using just four colors (so we had to learn to mix colors). I stuck with watercolor for 25 years. Then I tried oil for about a month, but didn’t like them because I’m a very fast painter. (I always did plein air, and with plein air watercolors you have to be fast because the air dries the paper and the paint so quickly). Then I tried acrylics, and I’ve been doing that for 15 years.

Q: How did you become a cartoonist?

A: Years ago, I was a cartoonist for what was then Compton College’s newspaper, the Tartar Shield, but that only lasted a few weeks because I couldn’t handle deadlines. I started doing cartoons for The Cambrian in 1990. There was a big issue in town: the postal service wanted to move Cambria’s post office over to where the dog park is now. They just decided to do that, without asking us. You don’t do that to Cambrians. So I did a cartoon about the issue and have been creating cartoons for 23 straight years ever since. Sometimes I don’t get an idea until the day it’s due.

Q: What is art?

A: Anything an artist does and calls art. That’s the beauty of art. It’s an anything-goes thing.

Q: How would you describe the art you do?

A: I’m an impressionist, a plein air person. I just like being outside. Sometimes I like painting very “van Gogh-ish,” and other times I don’t mind getting a little lighter if it works. I’ve never tried to have a style. I just let it go and be what it is.

Q: What are your biggest challenges?

A: I go through periods when I don’t like what I’m doing. I try to grow from it. I want to be a better artist but I don’t necessarily know what “better” is. I want to paint like me.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Everything inspires me. But I am essentially a landscape and seascape painter. I learned to draw when I was working in downtown Los Angeles (not very happily, I would add). I’d hit the streets at lunch and draw people. Kind of scary to try that, but you discover that when you draw, you become invisible.

Q: What obstacles do you face in making your work?

A: Some days I just don’t feel like painting. I don’t have any real obstacles, though. Sometimes I have ideas, other times I’m grasping. The biggest deterrent to artists is the “Donald Duck” coloring book in childhood. Some fool tells the kid he can’t stay inside the lines and from then on, the child thinks he’s not an artist.

Q: What is an average day like for you?

A: I’m a busy guy. It just depends. I am up by 8 and have a leisurely breakfast. Yesterday I worked at the theater for Nancy Green (Cambria Center for the Arts theater director). Sometimes I read for the afternoon. I’ve reached the stage in life when I can do that without feeling guilty.

Q: What’s the idea behind the “Wednesday Irregulars”?

A: It was started 27 years ago, with two friends, Ted Harpainter and Michael Alonzo. I was working on the house, but I wanted to paint, and so we three started going out on Wednesdays, and soon we began picking up others. The magic is that nobody comes to it or lasts if they think they’re better than anybody else. It’s friendly. It’s not organized. You show up Wednesdays at my place at 8:30 a.m. There’s one rule: if you want to come with us, you have to show up. People do oil, acrylic, watercolor. We’re always outside unless it rains, we’re very flexible, and everyone is welcome. You will get good, honest critique about your work. And we have a sack lunch together

Q: Why are so many people afraid of art?

A: Because of that “Donald Duck” coloring book. Don’t try to paint something exactly as it is; you’re tying your hands. Paint it the way it makes you feel. And go outside the lines.

Q: What advice would you give a beginning artist?

A: Do it. Don’t hesitate. Jump in. If you want to learn how to draw people, go hang around Costco. Draw the people pushing the carts, or whatever you see.

Q: What can participation in a local arts organization offer both the casual and the professional artist?

A: If you’re an artist, it’s very important to show your art. It’s important that in Cambria we have a place where people who are beginners can show their paintings. As a community gallery, you have to have a place for beginners.
Q: Why do we do art?

A: I guess I’m hoping somebody will find a stash of paintings in a garage someday years and years from now and say, “This guy was really great!” Immortality, that’s what we’re after.

See Art Van Rhyn’s two- and three-dimensional work at a special retrospective exhibit July 4 – Aug. 4 at the Cambria Center for the Arts in the Old Grammar School at 1350 Main St., open from 1 to 5 p.m.  Thursdays and Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

A free public reception marking the opening is set for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, July 5, at the Cambria Center for the Arts.

For more about Allied Arts, Cambria’s art organization, visit or stop by the gallery.

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