Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Saturday Morning in Locke

I've alluded to my love/hate relationship with plein aire painting in previous posts.  The love is for the experience of being in the outdoors, usually surrounded by beautiful scenery.  What artist wouldn’t love that? The hate part of the relationship is the inability to capture what I see right in front of me.   How could I miss it so badly?  For heaven's sake, I'm literally tripping over it and I can't get it right.

Somehow, the little town of Locke in the California delta region south of Sacramento is the physical manifestation of that love / hate vibe for me.  You really have to see Locke to understand.  It’s a western movie set falling apart.  It’s beyond tattered quaint.  The place just oozes falling down, derelict charm.  You wonder what holds some of the buildings up.  Everywhere you look, there’s a painting.  Or so you get lulled into thinking.  The truth is Locke is HARD to paint!  All those looming balconies and posts, roof lines every which way, dusty windows filled with dusty merchandise or as often as not, abandoned junk.  Sagging stairways, rusty drainpipes and motorcycles! (Al the Wop's is there.  It’s the de rigueur stop on any weekend motorcycle tour through the delta.)  Locke is total artistic overload and more than once I’ve bit off way, way more than I could chew.

I can't remember when I first painted in Locke, but I'd guess it was about five years ago.  This picture was taken on one of those paint outs. Over the years, I’ve failed far more times than I succeeded in capturing the rickety little town.  But I keep going back, like a hopelessly hooked golfer who thinks he’ll do better next time.  Last Saturday, I visited Locke to take another swing.  Other painters were there too, including real life Locke resident artists Chris Spencer, Martha Esch and Ernie Wester.  Yes, there are at least three people actually known to live in Locke. 

My painting friend Ruth Andre ( ) and I ventured down a little space between buildings in search of something manageable to paint..  We both settled on a little shed with a vine half engulfing it. 

There isn’t much to this painting.  It could be anywhere.  There’s nothing about it that says Locke, but I was satisfied.  I felt that I kept it simple, and except for the small plant in the foreground bottom right, I resisted overworking things.  I was pleased with the background fade out on the left side of the canvas.  (It’s actually a bit smoother in transition from lighter to darker than the photo shows.)  When I got home and the painting had a day to set, I repaired areas where the easel prevented painting. I also added a few strokes to the wood siding to create a little added texture.  Finally, some light green values right at the door opening created more depth to the plant and brought the center of interest to the door opening.  All in all, not a bad little painting. 
The plein aire session was followed by a hamburger and beer at Al the Wop’s.  It was a good day in Locke.

If you haven’t been there, go.  It’s about 25 miles south of Sacramento.  Follow the river road (Freeport Blvd will lead you through Freeport and onto the River Road) or go down I-5 to Twin Cities Road, head west, turn south again on the River Road for about 2 miles to Locke.  Visit Martha Esch’s gallery, Artworks In Progress (, and her shop, the Tourist Trap.  If you see Chris Spencer (he’s hard to miss...he'll likely be holding forth on Main Street - as in the picture to the right - or in Al's) ask him all about Locke and the Delta and his art.  He might invite you into his place which is home, studio and gallery….and you’ll see 30 years of the Locke experience as recorded in his art on the walls, floor and under the bed.  You probably won’t see Ernie, and if you do, you won’t know it.  But if you should get a chance to visit with him, you’ll be talking to a truly gifted painter.  Of course, you’ll need to visit other galleries and shops in Locke (there are only a couple…much of Locke is still in arrested decay and disuse), and finally, you can’t visit Locke without a beer and maybe a hamburger at Al the Wop’s.  If you ask the bartender, he’ll give you a silver dollar and a tack.  Using those you may be able to stick a dollar bill (you supply) to the ceiling with the dozens of others already up there. Hey, it's worth a try....and probably easier than getting a good painting of Locke!

1 comment :

  1. Bruce, you have a wonderful way with words and it was truly a great day in Locke. It was my first painting day in Locke and I recommend other artists to take on the challenge.