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The shape of a surfboard is both primordial and futuristic. These boards are ancient shields with menacing fangs, instruments of battle, predatory fish; they are spaceships, elegant foils of efficient energy; and they are experimental sculptures of grace and power. Mounted on a wall or lying on a beach, a surfboard is always a dynamic body, always expressive of potential motion. Imagining it executing a bottom turn, wondering how the rails will hold an edge in a tubing section, the surfer hears the hiss of water released off the board’s tail as it navigates the face of a wave.

Hank Pitcher’s landscapes also play with expressions of energy. He finds one form of energy in beaches, populated with beachcombers, graced, for example, with a lifeguard tower. He experiences energy of a different magnitude at Point Conception; a place imbued with great mystical power by California’s indigenous peoples. He does not presume to capture or harness that power, but to honor it through ritual. Exercising a personal pagan rite, Pitcher returns annually to Point Conception for winter solstice, sometimes painting from sunrise to sunset on this shortest day of the year. His calendric rhythm over the past several decades has resulted in a record of a never changing place that is never the same.

In this way, Pitcher’s landscapes and portraits of standing boards are exercises in transcendence. California’s coast has become a commodity, a limited resource with guarded access—not unlike a wave at Rincon, a world class surfing spot 10 miles south of Santa Barbara. Surfboards too are commodities, exploited as icons in advertisements to sell everything from automobiles to pharmaceuticals. Pitcher fears that our coastal landscapes and our wave-riding instruments will lose their souls from overexposure. His paintings take these locations out of the market and the crowded surfing lineup. Seeing his work forces the viewer back to the experience of the wave, the sand, and the rush of water. Like catching that Rincon wave, experience transcends as you feel the board beneath your feet (take your pick: the blue board, the burning spear, the rocketfish...) and the crowd vanishes.

A California native, Hank Pitcher studied the paintings of American and European masters, and studied formally and informally with some of those masters in Manhattan. Yet for more than three decades, he has practiced his art on the West Coast where he grew up and where he teaches at the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

- Timothy J. Cooley
Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology
University of California, Santa Barbara

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