The Winter Solstice is a week away and the storms have already begun, but there are summer flowers in our midst. Hollyhocks, gladiolas, sunflowers and roses in a blaze of sunshine and color. "How can this be?" you ask. Well, it's an art show, of course, with work painted at the height of the flowering season and brought to you in time to warm the first days of winter.
Jim McVicker and Terry Oats live in Loleta on a little bit of land with a view of the ocean. Their cozy little garden is protected from the road by a towering hedge, and is entered through a small gate, reminiscent of The Secret Garden. These two prolific artists often go far afield for the plein aire paintings they are known for, but the show they have up now, at Meridian Fine Art Gallery in Arcata, is an intimate glimpse of the garden they call home.
It's a watershed moment in their careers — a time when they have both been reflecting on their lives and their work. It wasn't too long ago that Terry took a bad fall from a ladder and was incapacitated for several weeks. Originally, she was told she'd be in a wheelchair for months, but you'll be pleased to know that when I went to visit them last week, Terry was up and about and I could hardly tell that anything untoward had happened.
But the accident did have an effect on both of them. For Jim, an artist who lives and breathes painting, it made him realize that, important as his art is, Terry is more important. "Was there a moment when you asked yourself is she was going to make it?" I asked him. "Oh yeah!" he answered emphatically. Once he heard her voice and knew that she was conscious and even making jokes, the immediate fear of losing her passed. But they still faced some pretty severe injuries and a period of convalescence during which Terry required a lot of care.
This meant that during the past few months of unseasonably warm weather and clear skies, when Jim would normally have been out painting, he was at the house to be near Terry. "I painted a whole series of still lifes that I never would have done had she not been injured." They are not part of this show, with its summer garden theme, but they are something that Jim has always wanted to do. Then, with the need to stay in his home studio, they came pouring out of him. With a bit of luck, we'll be able to see them in his next show.
And while Jim was forced to stay in his studio instead of painting some distance from home, Terry wasn't able to paint at all. Her response to that is not surprising if you know her at all. "It felt so good to have the luxury of looking and observing," she said. It seems to be her nature to look for the good in whatever happens. "I had a long time to look without painting, and that was an interesting experience."
I've always thought that artists have a better perspective on the world because they spend so much time looking at it carefully. But even an artist can get into a rut and look at their subjects as merely subjects, failing to recognize what they really mean. While the pain and handicap of the injury were a trial, Terry took full advantage of the unique opportunity to study her world with fresh eyes, and see things in her own backyard that she'd never seen before.
So this show that highlights their home is appropriate for Jim and Terry right now. Not that is was planned. The show was scheduled before the accident — which, of course, was not scheduled. It was originally meant, just as I stated, to warm our Humboldt County winter. And most of the work was done before the accident, although they've both been doing some touching up in the last few weeks. This is not their work as it has been affected by the events of the last few months. That will be yet to come. But the garden theme, and specifically their garden, seems a good one.
Jim and Terry are both masters of capturing the elusive qualities of light, at any time of year. But in this show, it is all the shades of brilliant summer sun. There are large paintings spattered with the colors of hundreds of flowers and the hedge in the background. There are also small paintings, like Terry's portrait of a velvet red poppy, caught in the petals of the gladiola behind it. One of Jim's paintings features three rose bushes covered in pale yellow blooms, the lawn beneath them broken into panes of endless shades of green.
"I think beauty is very mysterious," Terry says. Why are we drawn to it? For Jim and Terry, the compulsion to paint comes from this inexplicable attraction to the land, air and water, in all of its colors. They are both passionately in love with the beauty they find in the world and full of gratitude for the life they live, spending their days soaking it in. That joy is the real source of light in their paintings.
Meridian Fine Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. It's located at 833 9th Street in Arcata in the Raymond James Financial Services building. Walk through HSU's sculpture garden to get there. There will be a reception for the artists at Arts! Arcata this Friday, Dec. 14, from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Twenty percent of sales from the show will be donated to the Northcoast Children's Services Children of the Redwoods Infant and Toddler Center in Arcata.