Laguna Beach possesses an extraordinary cultural and social heritage, far greater than would be expected of a small town. The genesis of this heritage can be attributed to Laguna's physical beauty — its captivating landscape and light — that has attracted artists and unconventional thinkers since the earliest days of European settlement.
This attraction has animated landscape painters (both plein air and studio artists) who, as descendents of the 19th century French Impressionists, have portrayed our surroundings to acclaim and affection. Their works reside in art collections around the world. One example is the current exhibition, "Saving Paradise," at the Irvine Museum.
Given this history, if one had to choose just one attribute of Laguna's heritage to describe the essence of the community, landscape painting would arguably rise to the top.
Landscape art, adorning the walls of our homes and museums, reminds us of the natural environment that we sometimes forget in the distractions of daily life. Viewing a landscape portrait — painted plein air or in studio — uplifts, soothes and inspires us; or, when considered in the context of environmental destruction, enrages and motivates us to action.
Landscape painting is a pictorial record of both our history and of those who have worked passionately to protect Laguna's natural and built environment. It provides a vignette of the importance of ecosystems, the need to protect against inappropriate and unsustainable development, prevent and remediate water and air quality degradation, and stop the overuse of natural resources. As Jacques Cousteau once said, "People protect what they love." Landscape art allows us to better appreciate the object of our affections.
Rather than solely considering landscape art as an expression of a lost, idyllic nature, today's landscape painters should visually define the galvanizing actions to reverse environmental abuse and to forge a sustainable future. A study of art history shows that creative works reveal both obvious and hidden elements of a culture and that the greatest art is often produced when a society is under siege. It would not be unreasonable to posit that our environment is under siege and that we need to reconsider our cultural values, priorities and practices. Landscape painting is one means to do this.
Pressing environmental and environmental disasters such as the one presently playing out in the Gulf of Mexico should be a call to landscape artists to create compelling works that are not only inspired by reverent awe of nature's wonders, but also by outrage at damage being done. In this way, landscape artists can play an important role in tempering human excesses and changing bad habits. Laguna Beach's artistic heritage can be center stage to this imperative, if we choose to exercise it.
In this context, the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. (LPAPA), to which I was recently elected president, has a cultural, social and environmental obligation to its members, other arts organizations, and to local, national and international communities.
LPAPA's mission is as follows:
LPAPA builds upon and promotes the renowned landscape painting heritage of Laguna Beach. LPAPA serves its members regionally, nationally and internationally through events, programs and education.
LPAPA enhances the visibility and livelihoods of its artists through the prestigious Plein Air Invitational and other programs. LPAPA provides professional development and business management education to its members. LPAPA enhances its mission through alliances with complementary arts organizations and provides mentoring and scholarships to emerging artists.
In addressing our obligation to a sustainable future, LPAPA has developed a strategic plan, which has three priorities:
1. Enhance our donor base and increase financial strength
2. Acquire a permanent exhibition and education facility
3. Increase visibility and alliances with other arts, environmental and social organizations
Within these priorities, LPAPA's first objective is to raise funds to defray the cost of acquisition or lease of a visible, user-friendly exhibition and administrative facility in Laguna Beach and to raise sufficient capital to fund long-term operations. During these challenging economic times, even this first priority will take great effort, but we are determined to achieve it, with help from many sources and with new programs and events.
Later, we plan to create a significant endowment to serve our members and the community more effectively and to better play LPAPA's role as a flagship art service organization.
In the coming months, LPAPA will be reaching out to the community to explain our strategic plan and collectively to chart creative ways to implement it.
In the meantime, I hope you will attend LPAPA's Best of Plein Air Exhibit at the Esther Wells Collection from July 17 to 25 and the prestigious Plein Air Invitational co-sponsored with the Laguna Art Museum in October.
TAGLINE: Greg Vail is President of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn.