Cambrian: Opinion

Introductions, gratitude an artful way to start 2017

Leffingwell Landing is the subject of this watercolor by Art Van Rhyn.
Leffingwell Landing is the subject of this watercolor by Art Van Rhyn.

I am an artist and I’ve been working …

Years ago I observed a very close friend of mine always seemed suspiciously cheerful. One day, instead of rolling my eyes and playfully punching her in the head, I finally asked, “What exactly are you so darn happy about all the time?”

She looked at me like I’d turned into Weezer from “Steel Magnolias,” and then patiently told me about her grandmother’s life, raising two children alone and surviving.

“She taught me to start each day by finding one thing to be grateful for, whether it’s a huge deal or just the sound of a bird. I’ve never forgotten. And today, I’m grateful for you.”

Well, that shut me up. And changed the way I behave, mostly. No matter what we think is so important, there is always at least one thing that will give us that sense of gratitude, and it puts things into perspective. I know it sounds simple, but it took me years to figure out how to do it, like meditating or napping. So today, I am grateful that I can introduce myself to you in this first column. I hope we get along.

I’m an artist. I work, learn and figure out how to find and successfully execute inspiration while ignoring most of life’s little distractions like paying the rent or caring for my “extremely mature” mom (she refuses to allow me to use the word “old,” so I have to be careful with what I say since she’ll read this, but can you spell d-e-n-i-a-l?).

I moved to Cambria in 2015 after living in the South for many years. Hopefully the only remnant of that life I’ve retained is smelling faintly like sweet potato pie, plus maybe being able to pull off a good “y’all” or “bless your heart” when the occasion merits it.

I owned a gallery and started 13 annual art festivals in the South. They’re all going strong without me, but I met some of the most fascinating artists there, and I miss them still! Needless to say, I’ve been on the prowl to meet new artists and make new friends on the Central Coast.

When I met Art Van Rhyn at his Moonstone Beach studio, I knew I’d found home. I browsed, played his guitar and chatted for a long time. He wouldn’t let me move in, but he did make me a believer in the Cambria arts community. His watercolors are extraordinary and straightforward, and they capture the essence of our coastal area. I bought two of his paintings and sent them to my friends in the South, then started stalking him. OK, not really, but I’m a huge fan and want to see a retrospective of his work put together.

Next I met Tish Rogers, who I affectionately and secretly refer to as “Go To Girl” because she is not just a terrifically talented artist; she also knows everyone. I’m not exaggerating. I think she knows every single one of Cambria’s 6,000 residents and has probably painted their dog or baked them a pie. She has shown me the ropes and has helped me tone down my accent and work at a more “reasonable pace” (read: slower).

Tish is everywhere and always smiling so I think maybe she’s in cahoots with my longtime friend from the South mentioned earlier. Plus she has a dog named Belle who is like a tiny version of my dog — so I trust her. Tish introduced me to the Allied Arts Association and the Cambria Art & Wine Festival, encouraging me to get involved.

And finally, although I have only scratched the surface of Cambria’s artistic gems, I have to admit to an obsession with Susan Jenkins. When I saw her paintings of roses, I got all crazy because I have unbridled disdain for still life subjects unless I’m tied to a guide at MOMA and forced to admit the genius of Cezanne’s “Still Life with Apples.”

But I can smell Susan’s flowers and feel the china bowl. Her brushwork is subtle and infused with meaning while appearing effortless. She may want to paint other things, but I’m begging you to see her still life paintings if you want to change your life.

At the very least, it will give you one thing to be grateful for.

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

Upcoming Events

Jan. 6-30 — “The Abstract Journey” featuring paintings by Ronn Harsh, Allied Arts Association, Opening reception Jan. 6.

Jan. 27-29 — Cambria Art & Wine Festival,