Cambrian: Arts & Events

‘Arresting’ works of art at Morro Bay exhibition reward for following my instinct

“The Selfie” pastel by Candice Grieve.
“The Selfie” pastel by Candice Grieve.

I am an artist and I’ve been working…

It takes a lot to get me away from my easel because I’m probably the happiest painter in the world, and I really like staying in that happy place. But I do keep at least one eye or ear open to the world at all times.

Occasionally I hear about an artist’s work or an exhibit that catches my attention to the point of distraction. When that happens, I put down my brushes to investigate with the same gusto I apply to canvas. It’s always an exciting adventure to discover great talent, and for me, the discovery comes with an obligation to share the story. I consider it a great privilege.

Rarely is anything found when one is actively looking for it.

Rather our peripheral senses kick in and supply the clues that are worth pursuing. Call it a sign, but during Labor Day weekend, I ventured out Sunday afternoon to give support to a fledgling artist who was showing his work in public for the first time at the Morro Bay Art in the Park event. San Luis Obispo native Greg Moni’s abstract works are fresh, bold and subtle all at once. It was great to see his paintings in a large grouping even under a tent canopy. His intuitive approach may be therapeutic, but the results are a tonic to the eyes. He pours and directs paint combinations in ways that shouldn’t work, yet do. The “Nebula” series is an homage to lost loved ones and what he imagines they see in paradise. Decorators are going to love this soulful guy.

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“Nebula Athos 45” mixed media by Greg Moni. Courtesy

While in Morro Bay, I decided to stop by the Art Center. I wasn’t expecting it to be open on Sunday at 5 p.m., but it was. The docent on duty explained that she was happy to sit the gallery with extended hours during the Labor Day weekend. She enthusiastically invited us in to see the current exhibit, “Pastels USA.” I had heard about this show but semi-dismissed it as a medium of limited application. How wrong I was.

This show by the Pastel Society of the West Coast has come to Morro Bay every two years since 2012. Submissions are open internationally and usually attract over 500 artist entries from across the U.S., including the Mid and Far East. These are juried by three experts who narrow the field to a manageable 90 works that are then turned over to a final judge (Lorenzo Chavez in 2018) for consideration and awards. There are several surprising aspects to this show beyond the scope, breadth and technical brilliance of the exhibition. Each work chosen is for sale, with artists setting their own price. In this case, I found the works extremely affordable and frequently under-priced by current market standards. Works also must be completed within the past two years.

Once the show closes, all artwork is returned to the artist, meaning it not a traveling exhibit. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Therein lies the urgency to see these masterful works.

Having the gallery to ourselves allowed time to be immersed in the exhibit. At first glance, I was happy to see very few still-life compositions, the “go-to” subject for many pedestrian pastel artists. The show is hung adequately given the parameters of the center, but there are showstopper pieces that immediately caught my attention. I was drawn first to “The Selfie,” a large format work by Candace Grieve, PSA that won the Robert and Patricia Suggs Award. It’s not just the leather-clad tattooed subject that is arresting. There is an invitation to make critical judgment but also a perspective that invites the viewer to travel through the composition slowly, taking in the details rendered with precision. The title suggests that scrutiny may reflect back upon the viewer with impunity.

A second representational work of distinction is “Alys,” by Nancy McDonald, PSWC-DP, PSA. This piece won the Best in Show Award for good reason. The subtle elements of this face-forward portrait leave many areas unfinished, casting doubt upon the subject and the interpretation by the viewer to complete his/her background. The ambiguity of the portrait demands attention by whispering, “who am I?” with each stroke.

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“Alys” pastel by Nancy McDonald. Courtesy

In the upstairs gallery is a rear-facing female nude titled, “Somnambulist” by Matthew Jaffe. This painting won the University Art Award. Upon examination of the technically masterful and monochromatic execution, it occurred to me that the posture was more provocative than the expanse of bare skin. By looking at this soft and full woman from the back, we do not linger on her nakedness as much as discover a desire to see over her shoulder or perhaps turn her gently toward us. The artist succeeds in making the viewer want more; the ultimate success.

Following my instincts proved to make this Sunday a surprising success. This world-class exhibition is not only accessible, it is affordable. The only unfortunate thing is that it will end and be gone forever after the closing reception on Sept. 16. Follow your instinct. Go see it.

Upcoming Events

Sept. 4 - 30

Allied Arts Association

1350 Main St., Cambria, CA 93428


“Geomorphic Abstractions” by L.A. based artist Brenda Salamone.

Through Sept. 30

San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

1010 Broad St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401


“Earth Fire Water” 26 works in including baskets, ceramics, steel, paper, and glass focus on the effects of catastrophic events.

Through Sept. 16

Pastels USA

Art Center Morro Bay

835 Main Street, Morro Bay, CA 93442


Juried exhibition by the Pastel Society of the West Coast. Over 90 professional works from U.S. and international artists.

Patrick Dennis is an artist living in Cambria, CA. He owns Working Artist Studio/Patrick Gallery in the West Village and a very large dog named Bella.