by Karen Braun Malpas

Visitors to Alameda often call it "pretty as a picture." That's what 46 artists thought as they recently  spread throughout the sidewalks, open spaces and parking lots of our town to record its unique and lovely aspects.

A hardy breed of outdoor artist, these Plein Air painters eschew the artificial light of the studio to place themselves in the plain air where they are challenged by all the vagaries of environment...temperature, wind, sun, passersby etc. Here, they enter into a loving, ferocious dialogue with light...moving,quivering,sweeping,reflecting...expressive light.

After a week of painting, their works are on exhibit at the Frank Bette Center from August 10-September 29.

This is not a roomful of paintings all blue sky at the top and green grass at the bottom! The view-points represented are as varied as the personalities involved.  That is, what they looked at, how they perceived it and how it was rendered.

Take palm trees for example. To a Midwesterner whose eyes are accustomed to the comforting fulsomeness of a tree line of hardwood oaks or elms, a row of palm trees is nearly freakish...goofy palm is to tree as bizarre flamingo is to bird.

In this exhibit, Debbie Gualco captures the gawky whimsy of 5 "Palm Notes" placed simply, in their engaging weirdness, against a delicate sky.  Sandra Smith-Dugan gives her interpretation of "Grand Harbor Palms" a nearly belligerent quality by means of her big, aggressive, brush-strokey handling of them.  In Sibyl Johnson's painting of "Crab Cove", the row of 10 palm trees in the distance is used merely as a landmark, a reference point, a way of indicating the furthest plane in space but, it's not the subject of the painting.

Sometimes at the request of a local business but sometimes just because the tableau was so visual, many familiar places were immortalized in paint this month. To cite a few:

Mark Monsarrat painted a portrait of the "Frank Bette Center" in all its warm,open-armed golden-ness as well as the "Oakland Skyline" presented as a busy,flourishing port, rife with commerce and industry.

Iris Sabre, Sergio Lopez and Suzanne D'Arcy all saw charm in the "High St. Station." It was the charm of shapes and colors. Many years ago, as local lore has it, that same spot was said to be a house of ill-repute where a different kind of charm was the draw.

Gabriele Bungardt makes "Julies" teashop on Park seem nearly European in its enchanting specialness.

There's "Tuckers", the hotspot to be on a hot day, by Nancy Seamons Crookston, "Dans Melons" by Dana Phillips in case you missed the farmers market this week, the distinctive Art-deco facade of the "Alameda Theater" by Rolando Barrero and the imposing sobriety of the "Courthouse" bySamantha McNally.

Plein Air painters are sometimes called painters of light. To understand what that means, look at the work of Markus Lui and experience the bell-like clarity of the highest highlight or a searing pure white strategically placed or  the untouched/preserved white of the surface (paper or canvas) around which layers of color are built.  It is the intelligent and deft use of the full value range as expressed in color. It is structural as well as emotional.  It establishes a sense of time and place by implication because where there is intense light, there are also dark,delicious  could it be otherwise?