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Keeping it simple

Well-known Santa Barbara artist Hank Pitcher likes things simple, whether painting iconic scenes of contemporary California culture and the coastal landscape or describing their back stories.

This message comes across loud and clear in the huge, coffee-table book, titled simply, “Hank Pitcher,” recently published by Sullivan Goss — An American Gallery.

In the 254 pages are 211illustrations that reflect Mr. Pitcher’s philosophy. 

“It’s important to me that my paintings be clear and recognizable. They look simple, which is the hardest thing of all — to make them simple and to write about them simply,” he told the News-Press during a phone interview from his unpretentious studio in Isla Vista.

The best example are the paintings of surfboards standing upright in the sand with no background.

Still an avid surfer at the age of 71, Mr. Pitcher writes in the book:

“Surfboards look tribal, like shields, and as with shields, the shape, the size, color, and design all have meaning. You have a sense of where a surfer comes from and what to expect, or least what he or she would like you to expect. Surfboards, like automobiles, represent who someone is.

“Recently I have been making paintings that try to show some of the tribal and individual significance surfboards can have. Stuck in the sand, the boards look modern and ancient at the same time, like something you would see on Easter Island or another planet.”

Other photographs include botanicals, figures and portraits, architecture and scenes of the Gaviota Coast, Montecito, Santa Ynez, Winter Solstice, New Year’s Eve and The Bulls at Point Conception.

“I’ve always thought that as a serious artist, I should be able to paint anything, especially what I know and what I love,” said Mr. Pitcher, who was born in Pasadena and moved to Isla Vista when he was 2 years old.

“I was in the first elementary school in Isla Vista, which was all dirt roads then,” he said.

Although he was interested in art for as long as he can remember, football was his top priority while a student at San Marcos High School.

“I was a fullback and linebacker and was recruited to play on the UCSB team after I graduated from San Marcos in 1967. UCSB had a football team then,” said Mr. PItcher, who enrolled in the College of Creative Studies.

“The first week of class, Buckminster Fuller came to visit, and I quit the football team.”

In 1971, Mr. Pitcher earned his bachelor’s degree from the CCS and while deciding where to go to graduate school was asked to teach in the college.

“I’m still there,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been teaching part time for almost 50 years, which allows me time for my painting. It’s the perfect arrangement.

“I’m so lucky to have grown up in Santa Barbara, where I continue to live with my wife Susan and two sons, Lincoln and Hart. In my paintings, I feel a commitment to tell the truth about the real Santa Barbara because there is so much cheap, exploitive and touristy artwork out there.

“To paint something beautiful and truthful is really hard, but I believe in what the famous artist Paul Gauguin, said, ‘Making a good painting is like doing a good deed.’ ”

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