According to legend, one night in 1837, the third Marquess of Waterford and a group of ne’er-do-well companions culminated an evening of drinking with a vandalism spree through the English town of Melton Mowbray, where they painted several buildings red, giving us the expression “paint the town red.”
Not to be outdone, forty artists fanned out across Alameda for five days in August to paint this town in reds, blues, greens, and yellows, in the 17th Annual Frank Bette Plein Air Paintout. The exhibit of their work, which runs through October 1 at Frank Bette Center for the Arts, reflects their lively approach to Alameda’s many treasures.
In previous years, many of the artists focused their attention on the Victorian-era homes for which Alameda is famous. This year the subjects have a much broader appeal, and that serves the Frank Bette Center for the Arts well. This fundraising event, supported in part by the Alameda Post, “raises about a third of the funds we need to keep our facility open for other creative groups and classes during the year,” said Executive Director Margaret Fago, who also is an accomplished watercolorist.
This year the focus was on local treasures
Rather than depicting specific, gorgeous homes that a visitor to the gallery might appreciate aesthetically but with which they may be unlikely to feel a personal connection, many of this year’s entries showcase treasures that Alamedans “own” collectively. “Plein Air” refers to painting outdoors rather than in a studio, capturing the scene around you. That can include the commonplace sights we take in on weekend strolls which, if you use your imagination and maybe squint a bit, are just a little magical.
For example, if you’re driving up Broadway and glance to your left just before you hit the beach, you’ll see a fence with a sign warning trespassers to keep out. Hardly inviting. Marie Massey, however, sees “A Splendid Spot,” blurring the chain-link in broad, impressionist strokes, bordered by the burning red flowers of the adjacent bottlebrush tree mirrored in the water where a snowy egret wades.
Walking down Central Avenue near Sixth Street, a sudden break in the tightly packed buildings reveals an archway through which a courtyard and its centerpiece fountain is revealed. Jim Bensman romanticizes the tableau, restoring the front lawn to its former pre-drought glory and removing the chain that cordons it off, and voilá! You are transported to a 19th century chateau in “Neptune’s Fountain.”
Pop over to Blanding Avenue to pick up some groceries at Nob Hill Foods, and ahoy! Like a ghost pirate ship, the Kaisei, operated by the nonprofit Ocean Voyages Institute, is moored within a cannon’s reach, weirdly out of place and out of time. Paul Feinberg renders the brigantine in acrylic, saturating the colors in daubs that suggest movement, like a horse struggling to break away and run free again.
These are representative of this year’s offerings at the annual Frank Bette Plein Air Paintout. The painters avoid low-hanging fruit and easy targets, favoring subjects that benefit from a keen eye and some artistic license. They are charming mementos, accessible and just plain fun.
Many pieces from the show have already sold, many more available
Unfortunately, only four of the fourteen award-winning paintings are on display in the Frank Bette gallery. The artwork was previously exhibited at the South Shore Center on August 6 and to encourage sales for this fundraiser, any pieces purchased that day were taken home by their patrons, according to Fago. That includes Best of Show winner Lana Rak’s “Alameda Sky,” as well as “Shopping for Flowers” by Kristian Matthews, recognized by fellow painters with the Artists’ Choice Award.
The good news is that more than 100 paintings still are available for sale at the Frank Bette Center, including award winners “Cottage Garden” by Marie Massey, “Silent Sentinels” by Laura Xu, “Ferry Building” by Lynn Metha, and another piece by Jim Bensman entitled “Bay Farm Bridge.” Award winning or not, any of the work on display is an opportunity to possess a piece of Alameda’s charm.
The 17th Annual Frank Bette Plein Air Paintout exhibit runs through October 1. The Frank Bette Center for the Arts, at 1601 Paru St., is open Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.