Downtown Palo Alto's venerable Pacific Art League (PAL) plays with size and scale in its 101st anniversary juried exhibition, "SmallMediumLarge," in which, as the title suggests, large-scale works are juxtaposed with medium and small pieces, with each of PAL's three gallery spaces featuring one of the three size categories. "SmallMediumLarge" opened in November and runs through mid-January.
"This show is hung salon style, which is always a special treat because it allows us to accept more artists and artworks," PAL Executive Directory Aly Gould said. "I love the inclusivity of a large show because we are able to feature all types of artists."
The idea for the show came from PAL's Exhibition Director Donny Foley. According to the exhibition's website, "Scale is fundamental to the creation and reception of works of art. Size or dimension is one of the many ways an artist can express meaning, and it is crucial to the relationship between the viewer and the work of art."
Foley invited local art luminary Pamela Walsh (of the nearby Pamela Walsh Gallery, located just a block from PAL on Ramona Street) to serve as juror.
"Palo Alto is so lucky to have her and her gallery in our community," Gould said of Walsh, who selected winning works of each type — small, medium, and large.
"I was delighted to contribute to this celebration. It is astonishing that PAL has been inspiring artists in the Bay Area for 101 years," Walsh told this news organization in an email interview.
Cindy Smith Shih was awarded first prize in the small category for "Women's Work," while Dustin Adamson came in first for medium works with "Repose."
Redwood City painter Cathy Boyer is the winner in the large category, with her striking San Francisco cityscape "Nob Hill at Sunset." The oil painting captures an iconic view from the luxurious San Francisco neighborhood, looking steeply down California Avenue, cable-car tracks and all, with a glimpse of the Bay Bridge in the distance; the tops of the tall buildings bathed in golden light and the city below in shadow.
Boyer has been painting en plein air (outdoors) for more than two decades, but began doing more studio work in 2013, undertaking an MFA program in painting at the Academy of Art University, with a focus on cityscapes, which she paints from reference, using photographs she takes around San Francisco.
"That initial feeling of inspiration came from the beauty of the environment and really taking time to appreciate it," she said. She's interested in capturing the energy and activity of the streets, she said, and finding eye-catching moments in the urban hustle and bustle.
For "Nob Hill at Sunset," she worked from a photo she took at the top of the hill at twilight.
"I was interested in the shapes and the shards of light that kind of bisect the buildings," she said. "I knew I got a good image, and that would drive me to finish it."
That was the first time she'd created such a large-scale painting (36 by 24 inches). "I thought that image could handle a larger rectangle size. I think it was just pushing myself to go bigger," she said. "It was a little over my head. The risk of failure feels higher, so you try to draw it in and let go of everything."
Boyer first took classes at PAL back in 1990 and taught a plein air class there two summers ago, but said she had not entered one of their shows in a while, and was encouraged to do so by Foley. She said she was pleasantly surprised with her first-place honors. In January, she will return to PAL to teach a three-week course on cityscape painting.
Walsh said judging the competition was difficult because of the range of media and styles included (paintings, drawings, photography, collage/mixed media and sculpture) and the broadness of the theme.
"It took me a long time to look at each work, then consider all of the works within the category that I felt were outstanding," she said. "Fortunately, I was allowed to give honorable mention to several entries, which allowed me to award a few more deserving works of art. "
Gould said one of her personal favorites among the entries is "Attacking Martian Robot #2," Mike Pitzer's large-scale colored pencil drawing (one of three in the exhibition) of a 1950s Horikawa Attacking Martian Robot mechanical toy, which earned an honorable mention from Walsh.
"It's very realistic and looks like it's about to step out of the frame," Gould said. "It's a fantastic piece of nostalgia that makes me happy every time I walk by it."
There's much to look forward to at the arts organization, Gould said, including the upcoming classes and an exhibition calendar of themed and group shows put together by a committee made up of local artists, to be revealed next month.
"SmallMediumLarge" is on view through Jan. 17 at Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona St., Palo Alto. More information is available at pacificartleague.org.