August 2, 2010–If you’re traveling anywhere near Santa Barbara before September 19th, consider detouring to Los Olivos to see works by Fernand Lungren, who’s been called the foremost desert painter of the early 1900s. Lungren, who was a resident of Santa Barbara for much of his life, has been undersung. He mistrusted art dealers and was reluctant to sell his work, so he remained less-known than more self-promoting artists. The show at the Wildling Art Museum should help to fix that.
While the colorful deserts of Maynard Dixon or John Hilton may be more instantly accessible, Lungren’s deserts resemble what a traveler actually sees and feels out there on a relentlessly bright summer day. Colors are muted, the landscape is minimalist and pale. Lungren was getting at something desert dwellers know but few artists have captured: On a hot day the desert seems to be in a perpetual fade.
Inspired by the deserts of Egypt and his studies with landscape painter Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia, Lungren made many trips to Death Valley and the Mojave in the early 1900s. He was one of the artists enlisted by the Santa Fe railroad to paint scenes that would lures easterners West. He painted Hopi Snake Dance ceremonies, Navajo villages and other scenes popular among Southwestern painters, but he always returned obsessively to Death Valley. The year he died, 1932, he made a final solo trip to Death Valley while reworking a painting of Dante’s View.
After his death, some 300 of his works were donated to the Santa Barbara State Teacher’s College, which later became the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Wildling show is comprised mostly of this collection. The Wildling is dedicated to connecting people to the wilderness through art, so the show includes materials on the ecology of the deserts; guests are invited to record their thoughts on the desert in a public journal.
For more information on the exhibit, on view through September 19, call (805) 688-1082 or visit: http://www.wildlingmuseum.org/