Artists In The Night Kitchen
The paintings in "Moon Over Monterey" offer a window into the mysteries of moonlight.
Thursday, May 4, 2000
There are mysteries in life so simple that they are nothing less than magic. And perhaps none is as pervasive as the mystery of night. Scientific, astronomic equations don''t explain why our world undergoes such a radical metamorphosis when the sun goes down.
At night, we are sucked into the surreal world of dreams or nightmares. It''s a time of dread, when we are stalked by real or imagined predators; it''s also a time for tender first kisses, lovemaking in the moonlight, elopement under the stars. It''s the same world at midnight that it was at noon... yet it is absolutely changed. An alchemist hoping to change lead into gold couldn''t hope for a more glorious result.
It''s this magic of the night that''s celebrated in "Moon Over Monterey," a collection of paintings created under the influence of the moonlight''s silvery beams. Although the title of the exhibit leads one to expect scenes only depicting Monterey, there''s one explicit exception, and a few that could be located anywhere. Despite a couple glitches in the spelling of artists'' names (and the choice to put some of the darkest paintings in a display case that brilliantly reflects sunlight), it''s a well-selected and displayed exhibit.
Emerging as the exhibit''s star is Charles Rollo Peters (1862-1928), who gave his name to the Peters'' Gate area of Monterey, across Munras from the Del Monte Center. Peters settled into the 70-acre estate in 1900, and his home became the star attraction for local Bohemians and wannabes.
Three pieces by Peters truly stand out in the show. In "Dark Barn," a handful of stars float in a cobalt sky, with a couple more caught in the branches of silhouetted trees. The echoes of these stars, their fallen shadows, glisten yellow in the grass. Clearly, Peters was not painting the reality of night, he was painting the magic. A moonlit lane leads into the forest, almost floating in the darkness, past the barn. Inside the building a light burns, raising questions about who--or what--is in there.
The same stars shine over the structure in "House in Moonlight," but here there is no sign of life. Moonlight washes blue off the adobe walls, and picks up green hints of decay from the battered, rustic fence.
For an untitled European scene, Peters selects a more vibrant palette. There''s orange heat spilling from the lanterns on the buildings bordering a narrow, curving street. The focus building in the painting is dusky purple, with green shutters. Buildings on either side of it, coupled with the road, provide perspective lines into a world of mystery beyond the canvas.
In contrast, the paintings of Ferdinand Burgdorff (1883-1975) are far more formal, with a lighter, almost pastel palette of soft blues and greens. But the differences don''t stop there. Where Peters eschews depicting people, focusing on the inherent mysteries of nighttime, Burgdorff uses the night as a stage setting for his characters.
In "Casa del Oro," four miners toting a chest, their mules laden with equipment, turn the corner, out of the darkness of the background, moving centerstage onto the moonlit stage. Night''s light bounces off the whitewashed wall, drizzling highlights of moonbeams on shoulders, hats and animals. There''s movement and action in the painting, as the miners return to town. There''s less movement, and much more romance, in "Custom House," where a vaquero on horseback serenades his lady, who is obscured in the shadows of the balcony.
As moody as Peters'' work, with an even darker range of color, is Will Sparks'' (1862-1937) "Night Scene, Adobe." A navy blue sky and nearly black foreground are bisected by moonlit red roofs atop moonwashed walls that disappear from left to right, into the night. Light reflects off the foreground, indicating a rainy night but, with the serenity induced by the primarily horizontal lines, it appears to be a painting done after the storm has passed.
While blue seemed the color of choice for most of the painters in the show, Jules Tavernier (1844-1889) relied more on muddied brown and grey to achieve the cold, stormy night he depicts in "Miner''s Cabin." The moon, too, is cold, peeking beneath the layer of clouds skewered in Tavernier''s treetops. The reddish light that claws between the boards of the shutters and doors of the small cabin is almost startling for its warmth in the otherwise chilly scene.
Even glimpsed by the light of day, the scenes in these paintings open rabbit holes into the wonderland of night. For every lamplit window there''s a question; for every person prowling in the night there''s a story; for every star there''s a dream.
"Moon Over Monterey" is presented by the Monterey County Historical Advisory Committee, and Colton Hall Museum and Cultural Arts Commission. At Alvarado Gallery (on the second floor of the Monterey Conference Center), 1 Portola Plaza, Monterey.