Cambrian: Opinion

‘Blink and you’ll miss it’ also applies to art

“The best I see are the shapes and blocks of unexpected color choices used in her less refined paintings,” the columnist says of Holly McCain’s art.
“The best I see are the shapes and blocks of unexpected color choices used in her less refined paintings,” the columnist says of Holly McCain’s art.

I am an artist and I’ve been working …

“Blink and you’ll miss it.” I remember that cozy, old-fashioned expression along with so many others inexplicably spouted by my dad. He would yell, “Shoot Sakes!” or “Hell’s Bells!” if he was mad about something. Otherwise, he just peppered his infrequent remarks between beers with what I considered colorful gibberish and pointless gestures belonging to a lost generation of circus performers. I was fixated on how small he was and worried that I would never grow into adult-size shoes, a fear I held close for ages until I turned 10 years old and began towering over him in my J.C. Penney husky brand big boy pants.

Sometimes this reticent and private man would teach life lessons without saying a word. Like the time he loaded us kids into the station wagon to drive through the “cardboard canyon” of Tijuana or the Watts ruins. We were not allowed to speak or ask questions or, god forbid, get out.

First I learned that my bladder must be the strongest muscle I’ll ever develop and that my brother is really smelly. Second, I learned about the powers of observation and how important things can land in your head and take root without a word of encouragement like a really stubborn dandelion. Mostly I learned that it’s true: Don’t blink, or you really will miss it.

When Cambria artist Stan Bowen closed Gallery 786 last week, I had that feeling that I’d blinked. It was open for only two years, and I never got well acquainted with much of the work on display there. The few times I wandered in to say hello I was drawn to the back walls showing the work of an undisputed master by the name of Park Merrill.

From what little information I could gather, Mr. Merrill is quite mature, private and uses disposable brushes to create the illusion of texture and detail. His landscapes are ethereal and perfectly rendered. I mentally edited out what I considered throwaway distractions like birds, but couldn’t find fault in his technique. I also couldn’t find any record or image of his works online. Like I said, I blinked and fear I may have missed seeing more. In the meantime, please join me in wishing Stan success as a non-gallery owner.

I consider myself somewhat observant, often discovering the joy of beauty in obscure shapes and colors not induced by alcohol consumption, although sometimes that helps. Cambria painter Holly McCain catches my attention with her unexpected compositional simplicity. When not out with the “Wednesday Irregulars,” a plein-air painting group, she paints riotous, colorful subjects from animals to rusty trucks.

While these are fine and feisty, the best I see are the shapes and blocks of unexpected color choices used in her less refined paintings. The results remind me of the wisdom of few words, the story not completely spelled out. They make me slow down and wait to blink so I can plant the seed of the image in my head, to be cultivated later and harvested. I don’t want to discourage Holly from painting whatever subject appeals to her homey senses. But when she uses her painterly instincts to render a subject matter using less, I want to see more. I promise not to yell any jarring epithets her way when I see her painting with her road gang.

One final discovery that makes me feel right at home in my no-longer-husky jeans is the craftsmanship of Will Scroggins. I stumbled upon him two years ago on a bike ride down Moonstone Beach and will never forget my first impression and warm welcome. I can safely assume my instincts were correct because he has a great reputation. His dog has the same name as mine, so it was more than his charm that put me at ease.

I checked his website (Moonstone Redwood Gallery: www.moonstone and found that it comes complete with a warm review by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which is pretty wonderful. If for some unfathomable reason you can’t make your way to Moonstone Drive to see his gallery and workshop, at the very least read her story of his life path.

Will’s work with wood is often in gigantic proportion because, well, he starts with a tree. But rather than using showmanship and scale to show the beauty of the grain and burl, he keeps it simple. The only embellishment I observed was the occasional use of copper. It feels as though he has an intimate relationship and history with each piece and knows how to edit carefully.

When we spoke, he talked in terms of restraint and honor when giving his gifts from nature a new life as art. His commitment and skill are enough to convert the chrome and glass folks from L.A., and certainly made me a willing believer. I may not get back to see Will much, but I definitely will not make the mistake of waiting too long, because I would hate to blink and miss it.

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

Coming up

Spring Juried Show. Opening reception, 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 31. Juror: Tera Galanti, Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Cal Poly SLO. Allied Arts Association.