Exhibit in Morro Bay: Power to the people

‘Riding the Petrahue,’ in oil, is of some action Carlisle saw in South America.
‘Riding the Petrahue,’ in oil, is of some action Carlisle saw in South America.

Plein air painting is usually restricted to landscapes and seascapes, but Jim Carlisle takes a broader approach.

“When I paint outdoors, I have a tendency to put people in,” he said. “I find it more interesting.”

It’s not that this month’s featured guest artist at Gallery at Marina Square isn’t captivated by the beauty of San Luis Obispo County.

“I figured I was in Heaven,” he recalled when he moved to Atascadero in the 1990s. As a counselor for the Department of Corrections at the California Men’s Colony, he decided he didn’t care about any future promotions. He was here to stay.

When his wife became ill with Alzheimer’s, he retired early to take care of her.

Carlisle had done little in the way of art over the years, just a little drawing and painting now and then. “It was more private, for myself,” he said.

While getting his fine art degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1961, he lost his joy of painting, he said. “I didn’t really do much with it.” He devoted his time to marriage, and raising a family.

He briefly entered the ministry before becoming a counselor, where his stints included San Quentin.

Following his wife’s death, Carlisle started painting with an outdoors group in North County and that sparked his old love of art. “That became more fun,” he said. He was president of the Central Coast Watercolor Society for a few years, became involved with the San Luis Obispo Art Center, entered some juried shows and won awards.

Then he met his current wife, Pat Cairns, a fellow artist.

“We kind of bounced off of one another,” he said, and he can’t say enough about how helpful Cairns, a former art teacher, has been to him, and his work.

In addition to their shared love of painting, they both love to travel the world. Once a year or so they set off for such places as Egypt, Costa Rica and South America. Next stop is Greece.

While taking in the sights, they each paint, and take photos for reference.

Some of these locales are in his current exhibit, such as “Tourist Season,” which Carlisle considers a humorous piece, featuring the penguins of the South Pole.

Many of his paintings include bicyclists, a favorite subject. Carlisle said he grew up on a bicycle, during his childhood in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and various towns throughout the United States, as he and his mother and brother moved around a lot.

And he spent many an hour on his bike delivering newspapers during his teen years in Los Angeles.

It was a landlady in L.A. who planted the seed for Carlisle to focus on art. “You should go to art school,” she told him, which was the first real encouragement he received. He knew he wanted to attend college, but hadn’t decided on a major.

Even though that didn’t satisfy him at the time, it was well worth the wait for his talents to flower.

Carlisle has another major interest besides the love of his wife, traveling, and painting. Even though it’s outdoors, it doesn’t lend itself to a subject for his art work.

“My first passion is astronomy,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Lee Sutter at