A celebration of the long and creative life of noted and popular plein air painter and teacher Pam Glover takes place at the Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College,
from July 10th through September 11th, 2011.
In Greek mythology and countless works of art, the Three Graces are a trio of golden-haired maidens who represent creativity, beauty and charm. In Pam Glover's "The Three Graces," a group of cars bathed in sunlight in a rural parking lot is a cheeky stand-in for those bewitching creatures of legend.
That witty painting is one of the first images viewers encounter in "Pam Glover: A Life in Art," a retrospective of the late Orinda artist's work on view at the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College in Moraga.
It was painted outdoors, or en plein-air, on one of the artist's countless day trips up and down Northern California. Rendered in energetic brush strokes and bright colors, the piece speaks volumes about the kinds of subjects whose simple charms captivated the artist. Farm machinery parked beside a barn, chickens scratching in the grass, a line of laundry flapping in the wind -- these bucolic, everyday scenes gave Glover, a beloved painter and art teacher who died last year at the age of 86, the inspiration for her sparkling canvases, which are as much about the Bay Area's natural beauty and breathtaking terrain as they are complex artistic exercises.
But visitors expecting a show devoted solely to Glover's famous landscapes will be in for a surprise. Rarely seen student work from China and Australia, European paintings, and marvelous post-WWII fashion illustrations are on view alongside Glover's much admired Northern California landscape paintings.
While the majority of the more than 80 pieces on display are superb examples of her popular paintings -- many of which the artist held onto and now belong to her family -- Glover's earliest efforts, including her drawings as an art student growing up in China and as a fashion illustrator in Australia, never have been publicly exhibited before.
In fact, Anne Marie Glover, the artist's daughter, wasn't even aware that some of the most precious early works, including a delicate watercolor of a childhood nurse, existed until after her mother's death. She found those pieces stashed in old bags while cleaning out her mother's Orinda house. While Anne Marie knew about her mom's turbulent early years, including a harrowing flight from Asia during World War II, she was unprepared for what she found.
"It was all the stuff she had escaped China with," Glover says as she sits in her Orinda home surrounded by her mother's paintings. As a teenager, her mother grabbed her paint palette, some drawings done as a gifted student under teacher Olga Popoff, and a few tiny mementos and fled with the clothes on her back, Glover says.
When Pam Glover arrived in Australia, she studied at the Polytechnic of Art in Sydney and began to work as a fashion illustrator (a selection of her elegant ink drawings of chic women and their children are included in the retrospective). When she moved to England, she taught high school arts and crafts. In 1951, she and her husband, George, moved to America, eventually settling in Orinda.
Finding her voice
After becoming a Bay Area resident, Glover enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in Oakland, where she created large watercolors such as 1960's moody "Port Costa," whose ramshackle houses and expressive trees foreshadowed her later oil paintings. But she soon turned to abstract expressionism, a movement that was enjoying considerable popularity in the Bay Area.
Glover created works such as "Untitled (Black and Red Abstract)," in which a slash of crimson paint cuts through what could be a snowy, smoky landscape; and "Mask," one of many compositions forged from a mixture of pigment and sand. Housed in the exhibition's last gallery, these are some of the show's most fascinating pieces.
Glover's love of texture was carried forward into the few, slightly autobiographical canvases on display from the 1970s, in which people appear against decorative backgrounds glimmering with mosaics made from cutup pie tins. Highly symbolic and fantasylike, these paintings, including an altarlike triptych, are very personal. But when the artist turned to oil paint and began focusing on the landscape, she never looked back.
Love of the land
"She loved color," says her daughter, who introduced her mother to painting outdoors with other plein-air artists, including Louis and Lundy Siegriest, and a group of edgy painters who called themselves "The Outsiders." Glover painted anywhere and everywhere she could, from the quiet streets of Pedro Point in Pacifica to the strawberry fields of Watsonville. Nothing escaped her attention, not the intense mustard fields of Cordelia nor the jewel-toned boats dotting Half Moon Bay.
As much exercises in color, shape, line and rhythm as simply pleasant to look at, Glover's canvases express a deep love for California's unspoiled natural landscape and its pockets of rural life. It was something her mother wanted to paint before it vanished, her daughter says. And Pam Glover did just that for the rest of her rich and colorful life.