An Artistic Homecoming
Six From Fifty-Four at Sasoontsi Gallery, Salinas.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
One of the area’s best-kept secrets, the Sasoontsi Gallery in Salinas, offers an Aug. 20 exhibition that’s a time capsule with fascinating contents.
Titled, Six From Fifty-Four, the exhibit showcases six graduates of the Salinas High School class of 1954 who went on to successful careers as artists: Chet Amyx, Pat Burden-Roberts, Jim Crane, Dennis Renault, Ray Tarp and Andy Zermeño. Represented by painting, drawing, sculpture and cartoons, the six artists have gone in distinctly personal directions.
“Dennis Renault came up with the idea,” says attorney Miguel Hernandez, co-owner, with his wife Bonnie, of the gallery. “When his reunion committee met and decided an art show featuring their classmates would be a good thing, Dennis approached me.
“The exhibition will be great for the community, and the young people at Salinas High School in particular, because they will be able to see that this valley could produce artists,” Hernandez says. “I hope it brings the community together.”
“Fifty is a watershed year,” says Renault, who was the staff cartoonist at the Sacramento Bee throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. “We wanted some special activity to commemorate the 50th year and came up with the idea of the art show. Now, the graduates will all be attending the opening because they will have to pick up their reunion program and activity packets there.”
Renault remembers the confluence of forces that helped the six budding artists in the early 1950s. The Valley art scene was dominated by Leon Amyx, Chet’s father, who was head of the art program at Hartnell College and a noted painter of California landscapes and local color.
“Leon was responsible for a lot of people getting into art,” Renault recalls.
At Salinas High School itself, the main art force was Don Hamburger. Hamburger, 81 years old and retired in Napa, will be the guest of honor at the class reunion.
“Don established a vigorous art program, which began our freshman year,” Renault says.
The 30 years of Hamburger’s tenure amounts to the rise and fall of art in public education, Renault says.
“Don told me recently that in 1950 there were seven art units offered at the high school, which increased steadily over the years to 26 units. That’s the kind of healthy environment young people need, to channel all the monster, horror, car and sex drawings they do at that age. Don says it was Prop 13 that brought it all to an end, and they’re back to seven units again.”
While cartooning was Renault’s main interest, especially after getting advice from Peninsula cartoonists Hank Ketcham and Gus Arriola, the other artists went in different directions.
Chet Amyx is a professor emeritus at Cuesta College, having taught there many years. A major body of work Amyx created in the 1980s, “Pueblos Blancos,” was installed at the Monterey Conference Center. Large horizontal bands of canvas stretched on thick, sculptural bars, examined the play of light. On the inside beveled edges of some of the canvas sections, Amyx painted brilliant blue or green, which sent blushes of color across the canvas.
Burden-Roberts sculpts bronze horses, focusing on a subject she knows well. Married to noted horse whisperer Monty Roberts, Burden-Roberts has received acclaim for her realistic, personal approach to the subject. Often introducing humor or a horse’s interaction with other animals, Burden-Roberts uses life on their Santa Ynez Valley horse farm as daily inspiration.
Crane worked as a high school teacher after college, but soon pursued bronze sculpture. “Jim’s the most serious businessman of all of us,” Renault says. He operates his Adobe Foundry outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, producing his own bronze pieces as well as getting public and private commissions and doing other artists’ foundry work. He got his start on Cannery Row.
Tarp was an engineer at the Livermore Labs while he nurtured his art. Using neon, and its unique properties of glowing and casting colored light on surrounding surfaces, Tarp has exhibited throughout the San Francisco Bay area.
Andy Zermeño, according to Renault, is probably the most colorful character of the six artists involved in the Sasoontsi show. He worked for Cesar Chavez as a graphic artist, making posters and comic strips for the United Farm Workers agitprop publication, El Malcriado.
“Andy has manifold talents,” says Renault, “He paints, does sculpture and graphics. He’s run his own advertising agency for years, both here and the Los Angeles area.”
As the time capsule is opened, “Six from Fifty-Four” sheds light on the local art scene, from a Valley viewpoint.
“It was great to be in this area in the early 1950s,” Renault recalls, “because the Monterey-Carmel scene was definitely there, but we in the Valley had our own resources, and acted on them.”
Six From Fifty-Four opens Fri, Aug 20, with a reception from 4-8pm. Sasoontsi Gallery, 40 Central Ave., Salinas. 751-1777. Ends Sept. 28.