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PATRICIA CHIDLAW, Rice Bowl Cafe, Lompoc, 2020

Down through time, easel painting has been invented, reinvented, constructed, deconstructed, put to death and brought back to life again.

Solidly grounded in the historical elements of pictorial representation, Patricia Chidlaw’s approach to painting is vibrantly alive in a new exhibition at Santa Barbara’s Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery. Here, steadfast windows are open to a world of unique and overlooked wonders from California and the desert Southwest.

Her views are not your everyday run-of-the-mill landscape or street scenes of what could be called big box discount bulk subjects. They’re unmovable meditations on simple pleasures of observation. Visions of what we pass over, undetected, as we rush though our lives.

Quiet pleasures are found in the surface reflection of architect Julia Morgan’s 1929 natatorium pool, disturbed only by a lone bather in “Pool, Berkeley City Club,” or the placid and empty pool in the late evening dry heat of a desert backyard in “Hope Springs.” 

Transportation corridors with their decade’s old bridges, lampstands, box cars and abandoned equipment don’t escape Chidlaw’s eye for finding the forgotten and unexpected, generally under clear high-pressure skies with low humidity, including “24 Lone Pine,” “Freight and First Street,” “Gold line” and “Dawn, Sixth Street Viaduct.”

On the intimate scale are the people-less interiors of small restaurants (“Paradise Café” and “Rice Bowl Café, Lompoc”) and outside under the afternoon matinee entry in “Grand Lake Theater” or the mysterious nighttime “Natural History Museum Bakersfield” and, with a nod to Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks Carl’s Jr.”

For the most part, even though architecture is primary, people secondary, she invites us to participate, to be present in her selected moments, a shared timeframe and personal history. Some time ago, Chidlaw discovered that street and urban scenes were more to her liking than figure paintings. Although surprisingly, and almost as a footnote, two very individualized portraits appear. Each a female figure engaged in an activity ungrounded from their interior surroundings: “Nuria’s Cell Phone” and “Air Dancer.” 

Patricia Chidlaw, not unlike an architect, engineers her painting scenes on a pedestrian scale. Her drive-by curiosity down shifts to a slow cruise, perhaps best expressed in the nightfall scene at a Santa Barbara trailer park, the palm lined entrance lit up under a glowing star-shaped neon sign: “Blue Skies.”

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