Cambrian: Arts & Events

Luxury not a prerequisite for elegance in artwork

Richard Diebenkorn, master of the “elegant line,” left a tremendous body of work and was influenced by Henri Matisse.
Richard Diebenkorn, master of the “elegant line,” left a tremendous body of work and was influenced by Henri Matisse.

I am an artist and I’ve been working …

It’s both hard and surprisingly easy coming home after being exposed to unfettered luxury. The hard part is that I was adapting very quickly to the ostentatious consumerism, hyper-stylized living, million-dollar cars, exotic haircuts and dark glasses that cost more than my rent. Even the ripped jeans in Gucci’s windows started looking perfectly normal, leaving me to wonder if maybe there is a subversive little undercurrent of Norman Bates hiding in those designers who may be urging our easily manipulated young generation closer to the edge of denim genocide.

Anyway, even though it didn’t seem too weird at the time, I doubt that I’ll start hacking my wardrobe to death any time soon. The surprisingly easy part is knowing how to live without any of that and prospering because of it. It’s like a super secret language that I’ve mastered and feel a little smug about.

Of course it’s equally possible that I’m simply delusional and disoriented after being in Beverly Hills for several days acting like Jethro Clampett and I’m just more comfortable in my non-lacerated jeans.

Beverly Hills has a lot of things we don’t have in Cambria. Rodeo Drive; Nate ’n Al’s Delicatessen (near Spago) with real bagels and actual waitresses; a concierge and valet at Gelsen’s grocery store; and many very fast cars that race from one stoplight to the next. (My theory is the 0-60 factor is more important there because a Maserati can get to the stop sign at least a few precious seconds faster than say, a Jetta.)

There are also many more people in Beverly Hills. Most of them wear dark glasses because it is universally known to be an effective tool when looking over the shoulder of the person talking to you while you are scanning the vicinity for a richer, more important person. They also have stress that apparently cannot be paid off in hedge funds.

Say what you will about the Beverly Hills lifestyle, these people are art collectors, and that makes me (and many of my artist friends) very happy. At the Beverly Hills artSHOW in May, the visitors were enthusiastic and educated, making for lively conversations and brisk sales. Exhibits ranged from massive Claes Oldenburg sculptural interpretations to repurposed fabric compositions.

My neighbor, an extraordinary abstract painter, lives in Tijuana, Mexico and uses vibrant, unexpected details and elegant lines. Other exhibitors came from all across the U.S.

Rather than being overwhelming, the overarching impression of the show was one of refinement and subtle strength. At some point, I stopped being starstruck and began focusing on simple details.

I consider the master of the “Elegant Line” Richard Diebenkorn, who left us with an amazing body of work spanning decades when he passed in 2005, as well as artistic guideposts for elegance. He “expressed a sense of ease and appreciation for the quiet interludes of daily life. Unrehearsed and often revelatory, his works often reflected his lifelong interest in the lyrical domestic interiors of French painter Henri Matisse.

“Whether he used etching, aquatint or drypoint, Diebenkorn maximized the impact of each mark and demonstrated exceptional technical facility in a medium that few associate with him. “Although Diebenkorn would later turn to abstract painting, his work would always demonstrate the refined draftsmanship and compositional sophistication seen in these early works.” (Source: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.)

Elegance in art is hardly related to opulence at al. Although sometimes luxury provides a fascinating Bacchanalian theme, it is usually a bit obsequious in application. Artistically, elegant simplicity speaks quietly but cannot be ignored, much like Diebenkorn.

Here on California’s mesmerizing Central Coast, we live among the elegant line, the simplicity of nature unspoiled or prostituted. All it takes is a moment of reflection and peripheral scan to see and appreciate what we often take for granted. Even the artwork produced in our region exemplifies that classic element. Take, for example, the new works on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. The exhibit theme is “Lighten Up,” which is good advice even if an overly broad directive for an art show. Applying an enlightened philosophy to a variety of media has produced an astounding collection worth viewing. Cambria artist Carolyn Chambers has a fiber composition among this group. Also at SLOMA, Cambria ceramic master Patricia Griffin has a solo exhibition, “By the Sea” through July 2. Patricia’s works prominently feature graphic interpretations of plants, animals reflective of our environment in an innovative, simple, engaging way.

All said and done, I prefer contemplation to distraction, simplicity over ostentatiousness. So it’s a good thing I live on the Central Coast in Cambria where my little house, old car and welcoming doggie do not expect me to be important and most notably, don’t cause me any stress at all.

Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at


June 2-July 30 — “Lighten Up,” a juried exhibition, is on display in the McKeen Gallery at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad St., San Luis Obispo/ The Central Coast Craftmakers, one of five artist groups affiliated with the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, interpreted the theme “Lighten Up” in many ways. Some inferred the directive to take life less seriously or as a suggestion to unload old baggage; others interpreted the theme physically, incorporating materials such as glass, fiber, or paper. The resulting artworks have light and airy qualities with a touch of wit and humor. Exhibition juror is Tres Feltman. Feltman attended Santa Monica College, UC Santa Cruz, and received his Master of Arts degree in Ceramics from UCLA. Feltman is known in downtown San Luis Obispo as the original co-owner of Hands Gallery. 805-543-8562.

June 15-30 — “Let’s Rock,” an exhibition of fine art featuring some of some of the most gifted artists of the Central Coast. Iconic landmark, Morro Rock, sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the Central Coast, watches over Morro Bay Harbor. The last in a row of what is referred to as the nine sisters is a plug of an underground, extinct volcano. Morro Rock seems to draw visitors and romantics alike, from all over. Locals just call Morro Rock home. Artists will exhibit their perspectives of this beloved landmark in photographs, paintings and mixed media. Art Center Morro Bay, 835 Main St., Morro Bay. 805-772-2504.

May 5-30 — “Outer and Inner Views.” Featured artists Helmut Kuhn and Dena Helmut are two very different photographers. Helmut uses aerial photography; Dena uses multimedia techniques. Allied Arts Association, 1350 Main St., Cambria. 805-927-8190.