Just Now: Hank Pitcher at Sullivan Goss Gallery
by Kit Boise-Cossart
Early morning, late summer, three painters scout for a coastal painting view. Several locations are considered. One of the painters, Hank Pitcher, chimes in with a smile: “I don’t care where it is so long as there’s water in it.” To beat the sunrise, they choose a pasture close by occupied by several large bulls.
Water indeed. As a swimmer needs a pool, Hank Pitcher needs an ocean, as evidenced by recent paintings on view at Sullivan Goss Gallery.
Not the grand vistas of Santa Barbara’s popular well-worn scenes. These are more intimate, scenes from a childhood neighborhood where he learned to surf and paint.
Some titles in the show are geographically non-specific: “Shipwreck,” “Sea Beach,” “Man with Stick,” “Surfer and Platform.” Others include views from his UCSB studio located on Devereaux (Coal Oil) Point, sandwiched between Isla Vista and Sands Beach, both decent surf spots. Most of the canvasses appear to be painted within a tight radius of the Point.
There is an almost casual air of beachcombing for subjects. As if visually strolling along picking up shells, considering the colors and motions of sky, water, sand and myriad details that reveal themselves: how a back lit wave moves in the afternoon sun; that high noon leaves little shadow; veridian colored swells; breezy cadmium yellow bush daisies.
The painter here is unfettered by the burdens and cares of the world. After all, isn’t that why we’re drawn to the sea? He’s keen on how to paint a wave simply (they’re complicated), or plants or a dark figure against sky, ocean and tide.
Surfers, surfboards and surf make their appearances but the act of surfing itself is not central. It’s the things on the edges, the peripheral spirit of the beach, that the canvases embrace.
Part of the dreamy casualness comes from the look. Fast, loose and spontaneous blends, flecks and dabs.
Don’t be fooled by Pitcher’s seemingly free and easy results. There’s no lack of hard work and studied focus. Watching the painter in the field reveals countless brushed on applications, rag wipes, blends, reworks and restarts. Unlike drawing, where erasures and course changes are evident, there’s none of that, no history of trial-and-error.
Even the two largest works, almost 6 feet by 3 feet, have an unrehearsed feel, playing off his earlier large paintings featuring a single surfboard stabbed nose first into the beach. “Lis Fish,” a groundbreaking twin fin board design from the late 1960s; and “Wayne Rich Nightmare – Clear,” a local shaper’s 2021 modernist redo of Lis’ original.
Like an altar piece, the iconic boards float mystically above the sand, elevated in a central, almost spiritual ascension, with a faint halo around the rail edges. A beach couple can be seen together to the lower right at the end of the path in “Wayne” (read Adam and Eve?). Both paintings share elements of adoration, including an oil derrick on the horizon (read petrochemical thanksgiving for today’s board materials), a central path to the sand and water (a rich world of blessings), tempting glassy swells about to break (the apple in the Garden), the fecundity of wildflowers, and redemption of herbs (aloe plant at lower right).
A show of calm, unruffled painting meditations, Pitcher gives us visual comfort washed with water a plenty, unshackled from the everyday grind and the dark times behind us … Just Now.
Hank Pitcher: Just Now is on view at Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery April 30 to June 21, 2021.