Sunday, August 18, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 24

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 13th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 2

Painter Rachel Lee's new exhibit embraces her California roots


In food writing, the word succulent conjures up images of something juicy, ripe to the point of perfection, or beautifully fork-tender. In nature, it evokes a sense of heartiness, a sturdy will against rough or turbulent times.

Artist Rachel Lee returned to California after spending 10 years in Italy. For her latest show, Lee chose succulents to celebrate her homecoming to the Golden State.

Succulents are plants that can withstand great environmental upheaval, such as a drought or a blizzard (or even a terrible green thumb). Images of a cacti and other such plants and trees spring to mind, and it's often difficult to picture them as anything other than the foreboding manner they present—prickly and dangerous, meant to ward off predators who seek the sacred water inside them.

But for artist Rachel Lee, succulents possess a more comforting beauty, found not just in their shape and color, but in what they represent to her personally. After spending 10 years in Italy, Lee has returned to her Central Coast homeland to share a new body of work devoted to succulents in a show that runs at Valley Art Gallery in Orcutt through March 31.

The first thing that captures you when entering the space is how important light is to paintings such as these. The sunlight in the gallery's main room takes the viewer out of a formal setting and gives each piece a more natural perspective. Lee has a masterful way with color and light; she is an expert at drawing the eye into the darker areas of her canvas, where the light glistens on each fleck of paint.

Valley Art Gallery in Orcutt hosts a new exhibit, Succulent, by painter Rachel Lee. Lee’s exhibit runs through March 31.

The artist spent a decade in Italy learning about food and working as a chef, and she had a difficult time saying goodbye to the European country. As part of her homecoming, Lee decided she would commemorate some of the things she loved about California. She chose succulents because, as a SLO native, they reminded her of home. In her latest exhibit, she does a strong job highlighting the everyday flora of our community and their distinct beauty.

Dancing Succulent is one of the strongest pieces in the show, and the piece demonstrates Lee's keen ability to create shapes within narrow definitions of a subject. The texture on this painting is also quite remarkable; Dancing Succulent feels extremely organic, as though it would be soft and inviting to the touch (an immediate betrayal of its subject matter).

Flapjack flowers are a succulent plant known for their bright and diverse colors, and in her painting of one, Lee doesn't disappoint. Flapjack Flower has an almost alien-like quality to it; as one traces through the layers of thick petal-like leaves, it begins to feel like a birth, as the new leaves slowly push back and emerge from the pod. Again, Lee allows the light to tell a story, as it welcomes smaller petals into the brighter parts of the canvas.

Welcome back
Rachel Lee’s show, Succulent, celebrating her return to the Central Coast after 10 years in Italy, runs through March 31 at Valley Art Gallery. The gallery is located at 125 W. Clark Ave. in Orcutt. For more information, contact (805) 937-2278.

In paintings such as Pearls and Hens and SLO Agave, Lee reminds the viewer that she is here to celebrate a homecoming, embracing realism and allowing her skill as an oil painter to shine through.

In addition to her canvas work, Lee also does some paintings on hardwood panels. The surface allows for the paint to move more smoothly and easily. The technique is effective in work such as Zucchini Blossoms, which shows her ability to blend and effortlessly merge colors together in longer shapes and movements.

Lee's next body of work is devoted to feminist icons, and it is perhaps fitting that she has first presented this succulent collection. As she broaches the prickly points and off-putting spikes, Lee calls attention to a necessary danger of the beauty in nature, one that asks to be understood and embraced carefully.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is quite prickly. Contact her at

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