Sprawling landscapes and intimate still life paintings will be among the works on display at Flag Is Up Farms in Solvang, as part of an upcoming three-day art festival.
The 13th annual SLOPOKE Art of the West Show, to be held on Sept. 22, 23, and 24, drew in dozens of artists who submitted pieces of various media that celebrate the American West, in hopes of being juried into this year’s exhibition.
The 2023 event will mark Santa Ynez Valley-based painter Natalie Groves’ “first rodeo” with SLOPOKE, she said, as an Art of the West first-timer with four of her animal portraits featured in the showcase.
“Animals have always been my favorite subject,” said Groves, who often illustrates animals in either pen or watercolor but took a different approach for SLOPOKE.
“For a long time, I have wanted to explore using NuPastels in a fine art setting,” said Groves, who was introduced to NuPastels—firm color sticks known to be stronger than traditional soft pastels—12 years ago while working as a chalk artist at a Trader Joe’s.
She described her goal in returning to NuPastels as “moving beyond the advertising chalkboard and into works worthy to be framed behind museum glass.”
Revisiting an artform from her early days as an artist for SLOPOKE wasn’t the only big flashback for Groves during the process, she said.
“This was a perfect opportunity to return to my first love,” said Groves, whose fanciful Beatrix Potter-inspired paintings often feature personified foxes, birds, and frogs, but never horses.
She used to love drawing realistic, nonpersonified versions of horses as a kid, though.
“As a girl, growing up in Portland, Oregon, I always imagined myself in another setting, riding free on the back of a horse,” Groves said. “Since I couldn’t ride horses, I drew them.”
Groves’ departure from her usual whimsy is also apparent in her portraits of nonpersonified chickens and bulls featured in the SLOPOKE exhibit as well.
Other participating artists in this year’s showcase include Orcutt-based painter Sheryl Knight, who shed some light on the SLO in SLOPOKE, which originated as a group show in Pismo Beach more than a decade ago.
“I actually heard about it when it was still in San Luis Obispo County,” said Knight, who was introduced to the annual exhibit by Tom Burgher, who co-founded SLOPOKE with his wife, Sherie Burgher, in 2011.
“His [Tom’s] gallery in Pismo Beach represented me and my work for many years, so we had a good relationship,” said Knight, who has participated in the exhibition twice prior to this year’s event and scored an Artists’ Choice award during last year’s competition.
For the 2023 showcase, Knight submitted a handful of landscapes in oil that depict coastal areas, mountains, rivers, and rolling hills in California.
“I don’t usually paint wildlife, but I do put cows into my paintings from time to time,” said Knight, whose entries in this year’s SLOPOKE include Green Pastures, a calm scene of cows grazing.
Like Knight, Arroyo Grande-based artist Rosemary Bauer is familiar with the history of SLOPOKE and its beginnings in SLO County. Like Groves, however, this year’s exhibition marks Bauer’s first time participating.
“I am known as a landscape painter, though I venture into other areas as well,” added Bauer, who entered multiple landscapes into the show, as well as an interior still life, The Padre’s Kitchen.
A dining table is at the center of the intimate scene, full of colorful furnishings and accessories “reflective of life in California during the 18th century,” Bauer said.
One of Bauer’s ranch landscapes in this year’s SLOPOKE show is a plein air piece centered on a large rock formation titled Uplifting, a title with a double meaning, she explained.
“It was a hot day and I sweated it out to try and capture the shadows in the rock outcropping before they changed,” Bauer said. “The name [Uplifting] came from both the illusion that the rock is emerging from the ground and the joy at capturing the shadows before the light changed.”
Send uplifting comments to Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood at [email protected].