visual studies: finding visual language

Cold December Dawn. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

The Society of Six, led by Selden Gile, part of the San Francisco Bay Area modernist art scene, painted plein air from 1917 to 1927. William Clapp, later Curator of the Oakland Museum and one of the Six, described their work as the intent “to produce joy through the use of the eyes.” After hiking short distances in the East Bay Hills or along the Oakland waterfront they painted small canvases that could be done quickly and “on the spot” creating a visual language defined by distinctive color and spatial relationships. Louis Siegriest, Maurice Logan, August Gay and Bernard von Eichman completed the close-knit group working from Gile’s cabin on Chabot Road, Oakland.

Led by the great artist Professor Anthony Dubovsky, our Visual Studies seminar Fall 2015, met weekly to discuss the Art History spectrum considering visual language, layers of meaning, and methods to organize expression. Mr. Dubovsky’s exhaustive knowledge of art and culture and the special insights provided by my fellow students, fueled our discussion to understand what is intentional and what is discovered in the artist’s creative act. Our goal was to grasp the diversity of visual language and nurture our own voice through individual art practice and group discussion. Tony introduced me to the work of Selden Gile suggesting the spontaneous plein air approach of the Society of Six might inform my art practice. The seminar experience was rich and priceless. Because of the seminar, I have renewed the exploration of visual language. What is my current painting vocabulary? It is time to let the painting speak for itself. Now, when I pick up my brush, dip into the paint, and connect with the canvas, I bring intent, and also the courage to let go. What will the painting be? What will I discover? I draw inspiration from the poet Paul Valery in Mauvaises Pensées et Autres: “the painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.”

near the heart of the world

Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Yosemite Falls. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Winter rain has brought snow to our beloved Sierras and the sound of Yosemite Falls echoes like thunder through the valley! A welcome sound for our California beset by drought. Gradually hiking to Glacier Point from the valley, each switchback brought another gorgeous view of the waterfall. In his 1871 journal, John Muir wrote “as long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”

Captivated, I painted the waterfall the next day. Setting up my easel by the Swinging Bridge, I tried to capture the rainbow created by the sunshine striking the water falling earthward. The song of the waterfall, birds, and wind was all around, complemented by the sound of human language, as peoples from throughout the world came to visit and wonder at the beauty of this sacred National Park. Yosemite, the great sanctuary, the heart of the world, welcomes us all, makes brothers of us all, diminishing our fear, giving us peace in time of pain.


Winter darkness

Darkness. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.
Darkness. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Dark, cold and grey comes the day as the sun protests for better working hours. The whiff of coffee wafting through the house persuades me to leave my blanket comfort. Jets flying 5,000 feet above, on landing approach, mean rain is coming. Finally.

“A wanderer,

so let that be my name –

the  first winter rain.

Tabibito to

waga na yobare’n


by Matsuo Basho