Some of the paintings in “Grace,” an exhibition of paintings by Northern California artist Kristen Garneau, running Nov. 2 through Nov. 30 at Seager Gray Gallery. Courtesy images.

“The sun sinks more and more behind the horizon. Bam! He throws his last ray, a streak of gold and purple which fringes the flying clouds. There, now it has entirely disappeared. Bien! Bien! Twilight commences.” 

Those words from renowned French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot hit home for longtime Marin artist Kristen Garneau, so much so that those transitory moments often drive the emotional impact of the beauty she finds in the landscape. 

“Perhaps that is why I am so often attracted to what I call the ‘in-between’ times – the magic in the transitions at dawn or dusk, or when storms or fog roll through,” Garneau told essayist Alan Selsor in 2013. Garneau is set to showcase some of that landscape magic with “Grace,” an exhibit at the Seager Gray Gallery running Nov. 2 through Nov. 30, with an artist reception on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 5:30-7:30pm.

Having lived in Marin for years, Garneau is no stranger to beautiful landscapes. The Pacific beachfronts, the rolling hills of west Marin and the majesty of Mount Tamalpais have provided enough beauty to attract painters like William Keith since the great American migration west. 

Garneau, however, does not fit the genre of plein air or landscape painter.  Her concern is not with describing specific places in paint, but to render the image down to its pure essence to convey her personal experience of it. She is fascinated with the shifting light and weather – magical moments when the sun filters through mist and clouds at sunrise, sunset, dusk and dawn – flashes of mystery and grace.

In her first solo exhibition after a five-year hiatus, Garneau has, in her words, “zoomed in” on the natural world she captures on her canvases, exploring the raw mystical experience she sees in these transitional hours of the day. In “After the Storm,” at 66 x 78” the largest painting she has ever created, Garneau closes in on an expanse of beachfront with bands of sky, water, sea foam and sand in horizontal bars of color bathed in glorious, unsettled light. In the suggestive breadth and masterful handling of the paint she is able to share the startling sensation of the rugged coast as it recovers, as if healing itself from the lashes of rain and wind.

In “Lifting Fog II,” darkened trees contrast with a white mist of fog rising to meet the first glow of morning, greeted by bits of golden light along a ridge. For Garneau. who grew up in Contra Costa County, the paintings begin with one of these epiphanies in nature, but the results are the result of careful studio practice. Surfaces are formed by layers and layers of paint and forms are simplified. In this way Garneau says she owes as much to abstract expressionism as any other tradition. She is speaking the language of paint, layering and modulating her compositions to more fully express the metaphysical properties and emotional impacts of the scene.

In addition to Rothko, Garneau cites Gottardo Piazzoni, the late San Francisco landscape master, whose influences can be easily seen in the power of her restrained palette. Like Piazzoni, Garneau revels in the ever-changing light that bathe these dramatic times of day.
As Selsor noted in his essay: “The desire for discovery has always motivated (Garneau) herself: “I have matured as a painter, but in a sense I am still that young girl riding horses in Contra Costa – that young girl who is happiest when she is out there in a wonderland of the imagination. There is magic in the landscape. Yet, this magic can be easily overlooked, unless you take the time to stop and open the senses.”

The 411: Marin artist Kristen Garneau brings her exhibit “Grace” to the Seager Gray Gallery running Nov. 2 through Nov. 30, with an artist reception on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 5:30-7:30pm. MORE INFO.

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