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REVIEW: PMCA squeezes 840 miles of California's coast into one exhibit




Dennis Hare, The Cove (Monterey), 1982. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Mark and Jan Hilbert Collection
Dennis Hare, The Cove (Monterey), 1982. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Mark and Jan Hilbert Collection
Pasadena Museum of California Art
Dennis Hare, The Cove (Monterey), 1982. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Mark and Jan Hilbert Collection
Phil Dike, Sunlit Afternoon (Corona del Mar), 1949. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Private Collection
Pasadena Museum of California Art
Dennis Hare, The Cove (Monterey), 1982. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Mark and Jan Hilbert Collection
Joseph Duncan Gleason, Avalon Bay from Mount Ada (Santa Catalina), 1934. Oil on canvas, 16 x 22 inches. The Kelton Foundation Collection. © 2016 The Kelton Foundation
Pasadena Museum of California Art
Dennis Hare, The Cove (Monterey), 1982. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Mark and Jan Hilbert Collection
Rex Brandt, Surfriders, 1959. Oil on canvas, 26 x 36 inches. E. Gene Crain Collection
Pasadena Museum of California Art


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Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele reviews "In the Land of Sunshine: Imaging the California Coast Culture," at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through  February 19.

I don’t know about you, but it’s what brought me here from New Jersey.

Back East, you only had an Atlantic shore. But in California, you have the real Coast — beaches extending dozens of miles along the ocean they called The Peaceful, fronting the bastions of the pale young mountains rising out of the sea from Tijuana to Oregon. A coast full of flossie-tressed maidens in pink bikinis and noble surfers in blue Speedos. And plenty of fun-fun-fun.

It was a vision you could not avoid, even if you avoided the actuality. Decades of films like “Gidget,” “Pacific Vibrations,” and “The Endless Summer;” music of the Beach Boys, Dick Dale, and Glendora’s Surfaris; and episodic TV ranging from “The Rockford Files” to “Santa Barbara.” Pastel cars fabricated in chilly, soot-streaked Flint bore names like “Malibu” and “Del Rey.”

The images washed over our nation and the world like a storm surge.

So you have to ask, why did it take this long for someone to think up an art show encompassing the essentials of the entire coastal subject? It finally happened at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and it’s worth seeing.

Art Riley, Playa del Rey, 1960s. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Collection  of Ken and Jan Kaplan
Art Riley, Playa del Rey, 1960s. Watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Collection of Ken and Jan Kaplan
Pasadena Museum of California Art

It’s called “In the Land of Sunshine: Imaging the California Coast Culture.” Curator Gordon T. McClelland has assembled 90 pictures spanning the past century and a half, tracing how industry and society shaped California’s people and landscape.  Along with the coastal delights, there are the factories and cement mills, oil wells and canneries. So we’re way beyond Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon here, though that basic vibe is never far away. 

The show’s banner piece is Dennis Hare’s “The Cove (Monterey),” a watercolor with brand-name sun tan lotion bottles and blonde, bikinied bodies … and since it’s from 1982, no tattoos. It’s a pleasing work, but it doesn’t amaze the way his newer, non-representational works do.

But McClelland has found some amazing pieces, like Hashimoto Sadahide’s 1862 wood-block triptych “Departing San Francisco.” It’s a thrashing, flashing seascape of clippers and steamers coursing San Francisco Bay in fine mid-19th century Japanese style. How did curator McClelland come up with this one, along with Raymond Yelland’s striking 1884 oil “Golden Gate from Angel Island?”

Raymond D. Yelland, Golden Gate from Angel Island, 1884. Oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches. Ray Redfern Collection
Raymond D. Yelland, Golden Gate from Angel Island, 1884. Oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches. Ray Redfern Collection
Pasadena Museum of California Art

Both date to the lost decades before promoting and illustrating California became an industry in and of itself. Reaching out to the 1970s, there’s “Pacific Vibrations” a passionate conjunction of Surf and Underground symbolism by tragically short-lived Zap Comix maestro Rick Griffin. It became the film poster for a movie of the same name. The museum wall copy unsurprisingly notes “the artist quit taking psychedelic drugs shortly after the painting was completed.”

Water colorists dominated so much of California’s outdoor art over the last century that it’s no real surprise that they’re well represented in a special sanctuary at the PMCA, out of the bright lights.

There are fine works from the big West Coast names, like Millard Sheets, Rex Brandt, and Lee Blair, plus others less well known but well worth encountering. Their decades of watercolor experimentation in technique, style, and pigmentation in the great California Coastal art laboratory, most perfectly evoke a thousand miles of our ever-evolving seafront and its myriad lifestyles that somehow, with this show, now belong to us all.