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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Plein Air Artist Shares Six-Year Channel Islands Odyssey

• Exhibition Explores Painter’s Perspective on Local Archipelago’s Ecosystems


For the past six years, Southern California artist David Gallup has documented the natural history and marine life of the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. Malibuites still have an opportunity to explore the Channel Islands without having to travel farther than Pepperdine University’s Weisman Museum of Art. The exhibit “David Gallup: Channel Islands,” which is scheduled to close on July 31, features 60 plein air, observation-based paintings of the Channel Islands in the tradition of the impressionist movement by artist David Gallup.
The product of six years of study in Channel Islands National Park, the exhibit ranges from large, complex paintings executed in studio, to the quick studies Gallup paints in the field.
The subject matter ranges from stormy petrels on the wing, to whales surfacing, an ecstatic frenzy of dolphins, cathedral-like sea caves, a cove wrapped in deep fog, and pelicans silhouetted by the glow of the setting sun.
Gallup was at the Weisman Museum on Saturday to answer questions and discuss his work with visitors as part of Pepperdine University's Community Art Day.
He told the Malibu Surfside News about his approach to his subject matter and his technique.
Gallup, who says he prefers not to rely on photo reference, uses extensive field observations to create even the largest and most complex images.
“The eye sees differently from the camera,” Gallup explained. “A lot of poses hold for a few seconds, the camera freezes the moment, the eye records a sense of movement.”
Gallup compared his work to film, rather than to photography, adding that he attempts to capture the way light moves, and even the after-images it leaves on the retina.
“That’s never something captured in a photo,” he said.
Gallup pointed out a painting of storm petrels skimming the surface of the water. A second glance at the painting reveals the fin of a juvenile blue shark beneath the whirl of wings. “The shark is easy to miss,” Gallup said.
He recounted a visit to the islands where he had the opportunity to observe many of the spectacular fish and explained that observation is a critical component of his work.
“All of the birds have slightly different wing strokes,” Gallup said. I wanted to capture the sense of motion. They are delicate but incredibly hardy. They spend their lives at sea. They hardly ever go to shore. They can almost walk on the water but they can't walk on land.”
In addition to observation and field studies, Gallup stresses the importance of brushwork. One large canvas depicting a sea cave is almost sculptural, the focus is on the textures of the rocks.
Rough studies reveal how the artist's brush travels across the canvas and give an indication of the speed at which the artist works.
Color is also an important aspect of the work. A painting that features an undersea garden of kelp contains an astonishing range of purples, reds, yellows and greens, used to convey the underwater world of the kelp forest. The balance of warm and cool colors gives weight and volume to the water.
The exhibit grew out of a day trip Gallup took to the islands in the winter of 2005.
Gallup wrote in his artist’s statement for the exhibition: “From the initial boat ride out with dolphins and whales, to hikes and kayak trips around the island perimeters in different weather and light, interior island hikes, wildlife encounters, and even flying and diving expeditions, I have strived to utilize these paintings to bring the entire experience of my personal discovery to the viewer. Still, this is not about the Channel Islands as much as an exploration of a more global theme: discovering the wilderness in one’s backyard. The islands are a great way for me to engage this aspect of an ultimately universal experience; man’s reconnection with nature.”
“David Gallup: Channel Islands” is on exhibit at the Weisman Gallery through July 31. The museum is open Tuesday –Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. More information is available at 310-506-4851.

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