Photograph by Paul Myers


    Detail from 'Fellowship,' one of Sandra Smith-Dugan's oil paintings on display in the Los Gatos Town Council chambers.

    Artist varies themes in current show


      Council Chambers exhibit offers three favorites


      By Shari Kaplan

      Unlike some installations of art in the Los Gatos Town Council Chambers, in which one theme dominates, the current exhibit by Sandra Smith-Dugan comprises works from three of her favorite themes: portraits, bovines and still lifes.

      The show of two dozen oil paintings runs through Feb. 22 and is part of Art in the Council Chambers, a program organized by the Los Gatos Arts Commission that features new exhibits every few months, often by local artists or artistic organizations.

      Smith-Dugan still considers herself "local." Although she now lives in San Jose with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, she grew up in Monte Sereno and is a Los Gatos High School graduate.

      "I've always been painting and drawing," she recalls of her childhood. "I always knew I wanted to study art. That was never really a question--it was more a question of what do I want to do with my art."

      Upon earning a bachelor's of fine arts degree in painting and drawing from San Jose State University, Smith-Dugan put art on the back burner for a time, working instead in information systems and as payload coordinator for NASA's space shuttle program . She drew and painted at night and on weekends, however, and continued her education by attending art workshops.

      Now a wife and mother, Smith-Dugan has left the 9-to-5 workforce to devote time to her daughter and to her art, which she creates in her home studio when toddler Lia is sleeping or playing.

      Some of Smith-Dugan's favorite topics are figures and portraits, especially in the alla prima style. This is also referred to as "direct painting," she says.

      "You're very involved with the subject. Lighting is critical. It's a direct response to what you're working with. It's very demanding and instinctual," explains Smith-Dugan, who does alla prima portraits of friends or relatives some of the time and professional models at other times. "There's a real synergy that goes on between the subject and myself. I like that energy."

      She gets a different kind of inspiration when painting the placid cows in what she calls her "bovine series." She has clear memories of the agricultural past of Santa Clara County and enjoys the nostalgia of photographing cows, horses and farms in the many rural parts of San Benito County. These images then show up on her canvasses.

      The still lifes in the exhibit came from a different emotional impetus--the death of her father. "They're about energy, beauty, line and color. I had a huge need for beauty then," she recalls, adding that at the time, she didn't even realize why she was drawn to these balancing elements of still life painting.