Wednesday, September 22, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 29
Signup

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on September 8th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 28 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 28

Local painter Taffy French-Gray captures colorful, coastal scenes in new solo exhibit, Life's a Beach: Avila to Venice

By CALEB WISEBLOOD

Although she was born in New York City, Taffy French-Gray attributes many of her favorite childhood memories to San Luis Obispo, where her family moved when she was 5 years old.


Sea for yourself
The Valley Art Gallery presents Life’s a Beach: Avila to Venice, an exhibit of oil paintings by local artist Taffy French-Gray, at the Santa Maria Airport through the end of September. French-Gray will be hosting a special artist talk and guided tour of the exhibit on Sept. 19, from 2 to 4 p.m. The airport is located at 3217 Terminal Drive, Santa Maria. Visit valleygallery.org for more info.

“Growing up in SLO was altogether a wonderful experience,” the local artist said. “My family lived near Cal Poly, so we used their tennis courts, basketball courts, and playing fields as if they were our own. We were walking distance to Cal Poly football games.”

When not traveling on foot or riding her bike with friends, French-Gray loved when her parents would take the family on Sunday drives, “with all five kids and the dog in the back, exploring the backroads and rural areas of SLO County,” she said.

One of these nostalgic backroads led to Avila Beach, which became the backdrop of many of French-Gray’s oil paintings—from seascapes to figure and still life pieces.

“Many summer days were spent at the beach, usually Avila,” recalled the artist, whose latest solo exhibition features said locale in its title, Life’s a Beach: Avila to Venice, currently on display at the Santa Maria Airport. 


BETWEEN THE LINES
Taffy French-Gray’s latest paintings depict a variety of individuals spending a typical day at the beach. “People are generally relaxed at the beach, enjoying the day and the warmth, and when not throwing Frisbees or surfing, they are generally sitting still reading or sunbathing, which makes them easy to draw,” the artist said.
COURTESY IMAGE BY TAFFY FRENCH-GRAY

This beach-themed exhibit was organized by Orcutt’s Valley Art Gallery and is slated to remain on display in the airport’s lobby through the end of September. French-Gray’s figure paintings in the show depict a variety of characters spending their day at the beach in different ways, based on sketches she’s drawn during various outings over the years.

“People are generally relaxed at the beach, enjoying the day and the warmth, and when not throwing Frisbees or surfing, they are generally sitting still reading or sunbathing, which makes them easy to draw,” said French-Gray, who rarely goes anywhere without a sketchbook in hand. 

Throughout her life, French-Gray would draw and paint as a hobby, but she began to take her art more seriously after retiring from her career in nursing. Free time after retirement allowed her to join a weekly figure drawing group and attend art classes at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria (the city she currently resides in).


GO FISH
Out of all the oil paintings featured in her latest Santa Maria exhibit, Taffy French-Gray is most proud of “the one of the two fishermen,” she said, referring to her portrait of two silhouetted figures armed with fishing poles, standing on a shore with the ocean water up to their feet. Abstract strokes of crashing waves can be interpreted in the distance.
COURTESY IMAGE BY TAFFY FRENCH-GRAY

One of these classes cemented her love for painting pieces based around the beach, the artist explained.

“The assignment was to study the effect of backlight on my subject,” French-Gray recalled of the inciting incident. “What better place to accomplish this than the beach with all the sunlight?”

During her art studies, French-Gray became inspired by painters like Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and continuously strives to emulate his use of “bold color in simplified forms,” she said. 

She also finds inspiration in the works of Henry Hensche (1899-1992), who aimed to depict shades of light as accurately as possible, another constant goal of French-Gray in her own artworks.

Out of all the oil paintings featured in her latest Santa Maria exhibit, French-Gray is most proud of “the one of the two fishermen,” she said, referring to her portrait of two silhouetted figures armed with fishing poles, standing on a shore with the ocean water up to their feet. Abstract strokes of crashing waves can be interpreted in the distance.


COASTAL CANVAS
One project during an art class cemented Taffy French-Gray’s love for painting pieces based around coastal settings. “The assignment was to study the effect of backlight on my subject,” she said. “What better place to accomplish this than the beach with all the sunlight?”
COURTESY IMAGE BY TAFFY FRENCH-GRAY

“This painting ‘painted itself.’ That happens sometimes, but not frequently. I like the relaxed posture of the fishermen and the monochrome palette,” said French-Gray, who can fondly recall fishing trips from her own childhood, usually to Lake Nacimiento. 

French-Gray’s former career as a traveling RN took her (and her sketchbooks) to many states across the country (Alaska, Colorado, West Virginia), and outside the country as well (Somalia, Russia, and other countries). The retired nurse said she didn’t realize how exceptional the Central Coast truly is until embarking on these travels. She described one trip to Hawaii as a specific example.

“When I walked out of the air-conditioned airplane into the hot, humid Hawaii evening, I began to understand,” French-Gray said. “We have such good air quality, beautiful beaches, lovely scenery, wineries, and minimal bugs.”

The artist summed up her love for the area by alluding to the lyrics of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

“John Denver sang about West Virginia, but I think the Central Coast is ‘Almost Heaven,’” French-Gray said.

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood never gets tired of that song. Send comments to cwiseblood@santamariasun.com.










Weekly Poll
What are the most important conversations to be having right now when it comes to policing?

We need to address how racial bias influences policing.
We should focus on funding the police so they can do their job.
Mental health is where our dollars need to go, both in and out of the police department.
As one Sept. 20 community input meeting attendee said,

| Poll Results






My 805 Tix - Tickets to upcoming events