Roof Of His Own
Pacific Grove takes on stunning new dimensions from the rooftops.
Thursday, July 4, 2002
Photo: "#4 Southwest Holman House," by Michael Kainer
In his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo uses the vantage point of the great cathedral''s bell-tower to describe Paris as seen by a bird in flight. Almost cinematically, Hugo imagines swooping above, around and through the sinewy streets and ancient buildings that still today characterize the labyrinthine French capital.
The Monterey Peninsula may not have many crooked streets or stone monuments, but it does have a dazzling assortment of trees. Seen from a bird''s eye view like the one Hugo imagined, the area appears as a colorful mosaic of trees and rooftops that spreads across the town of Pacific Grove to the forest of Huckleberry Hill and the tawny hills of Corral de Tierra, then back down to the Bay.
It''s a perspective difficult to grasp from the ground, but a new exhibit of paintings by Michael Thomas Kainer at the Lisa Coscino Gallery opens a window onto this unique way of seeing a familiar place. Entitled "A Bird''s Eye View of P.G.," this show allows us to imagine what it would be like to fly across town, to cast our own shadows on the trees and buildings that usually loom over us.
Kainer''s vantage point was the rooftop of the old Holman house on the corner of Lighthouse and Granite, in Pacific Grove. Built for the prominent Holman family near the end of the nineteenth century in the Victorian style, in the 1980s the house came to be used by the Monterey Museum of Art''s Education Department. Recently, the museum has begun moving its offices and supplies out of the building, as the historic structure, in need of considerable restoration, faces an uncertain future.
In the meantime, Kainer, who began working at the museum in 1988 as an intern and is now its "exhibit preparator," was given the opportunity to use the vacated rooms on the second floor as a temporary painting studio.
These are spacious, light-filled rooms, a painter''s dream. But Kainer is a plein-air painter, used to executing his landscapes in the field. A conversation with Lisa Coscino about his work and his new studio led to the idea of painting Pacific Grove from the Holman house''s rooftop, which offers a glorious panoramic view of the city. The five resulting paintings, whose titles represent compass markings from the roof, will give viewers a perspective that sparkles with color and unexpected juxtapositions.
Kainer is quick to point out that these paintings are not meant to be photographic replicas of the rooftop view. They are, rather, suggestive works that see the shapes and colors of trees and rooftops as pieces of a puzzle to be taken apart and put back together again as art. It is his use of color that is most delightful to the eye, from the liquid sheen of the sun reflecting off deep-green magnolia leaves to the blue fragments of sky and sea that poke through the lattice of branches.
This project was not without certain challenges. On some days the painting was not so much plein-air (open air) as plein-vent (rough translation: lots of wind). One afternoon the wind was so strong it blew a canvas-in-progress, along with its easel, over the side of the roof. "There were days when it was like trying to paint on a sailboat," Kainer remarks.
Earlier this year, Coscino reconfigured her gallery space to include a separate alcove, one that proves perfect for recreating the wrap-around perspective of Kainer''s work. The gallery''s new shape has encouraged her to design exhibits based on balance and contrast, usually featuring two artists, one local and one from out of town. Also showing with Kainer''s P.G. paintings are several new works by noted San Francisco painter Gregg Chadwick. The show''s title, "Screen Memories," reflects the painter''s abiding fascination for certain movies, many foreign, that embrace the fragile and fleeting qualities of beauty often left out of contemporary art theory dogma. Ravishing works like "A Gesture Life" appear as single stop-frame views that are not so much frozen as fading, already turning into a memory, illuminated by strange and distant colors and by the projection of our own desires.
"A Bird''s Eye View of P.G." and "Screen Memories" show through Aug. 2 at the Lisa Coscino Gallery, 171 Central Ave, Pacific Grove. 646-1939.