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Review: Art Club keeps its eye on West Coast tradition

Review: Art Club keeps its eye on West Coast tradition
Joseph Todorvitch's "Outing" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24. (Courtesy of the California Art Club)

Few traditions in the history of West Coast art reach back as far as the California Art Club, founded in 1909. It remains a home for generations of painters and sculptors, and is about to host its "105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition," opening Sunday, April 3 at the Autry Museum of the American West.

The Club and "Gold Medal Exhibition" were originally formed as a showcase for the era's lush California Plein Air landscapes, but has over the decades evolved into a gathering of traditional techniques often used amid contemporary subjects and attitudes. The settings range from the vast landscapes of Californian wilderness to traffic jams and graffiti-covered walls of the inner-city.

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"Overall it's about quality work and diversity," says painter Joseph Todorvich, 38, whose work has been included in the Art Club's exhibition for the last three years.

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Mian Situ's "Pacific Breeze" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24.
Mian Situ's "Pacific Breeze" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24. (Courtesy of the California Art Club)

"There are a lot of emerging events with extremely wonderful painters and sculptors, but what sets this show aside is its history," Todorvich adds. "That's one of the main reasons I find it such an honor to be a part of it. When you can directly link the present art to historical artwork that is time-tested and proven, it's a special thing. The heritage is really rich."

Among the more than 200 pieces is Todorvich's "Outing," depicting two young women in black resting beside an upturned umbrella on an apparently windblown hillside. There is also Nancy Popenoe's nighttime scene of our most famous local waterway in golden and purple hues with classic widescreen dimensions in "L.A. River," while Mian Situ paints safely from the tree-lined shore as waves crash violently nearby in "Pacific Breeze."

Another of the show's artists is Jeremy Lipking, 40, whose paintings mingle figurative work and landscapes, often created at his cabin up in the Eastern Sierra mountains. In the "Gold Medal Exhibition," he has "Chantal," a portrait of a woman in profile, wrapped in deep red, gazing into the distance and a rich blue sky.

"It's such a fun thing to be in a show that's been happening for so long and have so much history — especially as a California artist," says Lipking, who lives in Calabasas. "I grew up here and have lived in California my whole life. Even before I made a living as an artist, I looked up to some of the early California painters who were members of this organization."

Jeremy Lipking's "Chantal" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24.
Jeremy Lipking's "Chantal" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24. (Courtesy of the California Art Club)

Lipking's father is an artist, so he grew up going to art shows, but got serious about pursuing a career in art during his early 20s. He was partly inspired by the example of the early California impressionist Edgar Payne, and eventually turned to the California Art Club.

"When I first joined, it seemed the California art world was pretty small and isolated. It's different now with social media — but back then, I didn't know this big community of artists," says Lipking, who had two paintings at the Autry's other annual group exhibition, "Masters of the American West." "When I first got involved with the Club, I met people who were doing the same thing I was doing — painting outdoors, painting from life and painting nature."

Attached to the exhibition are several educational programs for the public. On opening day, artists Jim McVicker and Kate Sammons (with California Art Club President Peter Adams) will lead the panel discussion "Giving Life to Still Life" at 1 p.m. On April 9 is "The Makings of a Great Art Collection," a tour of the California Impressionism Exhibition with Plein Air expert .

For Todorvich, joining the Art Cub was an essential part of his education and growth as a creative artist, after first getting involved as spectator almost 15 years ago.

Kate Sammons's "A Place in the Sun" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24.
Kate Sammons's "A Place in the Sun" is part of the California Art Club's 105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition at the Autry Museum from April 3 to 24. (Courtesy of the California Art Club)

"I was drawn to the Art Club because of the excellent work I had been seeing in the magazines," says Todorvich, who is currently also being exhibited at the Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Culver City. "I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be around the artists who were involved in it. It was important to be engaged as a student and be able to paint with these people. That's how I started out."

He found opportunities to be part of a mentorship program there, and witnessed other artists winning awards at the "Gold Medal Exhibition," which he recalls now as "the most encouraging and motivating thing that a young artist can be a part of."

He says the "Gold Medal" exhibition presents artists displaying diversity, while exploring "where art has been and also where it's going. You can see the lineage and where it can be taken. We're always trying to push things and create new things that people have never seen before."

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What: "105th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition"

Where: Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park.

When: Opens to public April 3. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; though April 24.

More info: (323) 667-2000, theautry.org

Tickets: "Gold Medal Exhibition" included with Autry Museum admission; $10 adults, $6 seniors and students, $4 children ages 3 to 12.

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Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveAppleford

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