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Art and About in Santa Ana

Plein-Air Devotees Tackle City Life at Annual Sights and Sounds Event


They paint moods in nature. A beautiful sunset or rays of light piercing through tree leaves. And Santa Ana in all its prettiest colors.

Twenty-four plein-air artists from the California Art Club--one of the state's oldest and largest such organizations--have been painting the town as part of the fourth annual Sights and Sounds of Santa Ana, a music and art event today through Sunday.

Spotted all week in parks, alleys and nooks off the beaten track, the painters have been out in force, giving gritty urban scenes a magical glow.

Littered streets become cleaner with a brush stroke. Yards with no lawn instantly get a Miracle-Gro look with a dab of painter's green.

Cathey Cadieux of Newbury Park didn't mind putting her artistic license to good use.

"As an artist, if I see something funky or horrible I can say that it's going to look beautiful if I paint it," said Cadieux, 46, wearing a Victorian-style dress and hat while scouring the French Park neighborhood for subject matter.

She stumbled upon the perfect scene for her painting: a seemingly mundane driveway butted between a house and two-story apartment with clotheslines spread across the backyard.

Painting plein air, which is French for "open air," stays true to the tradition of the Impressionists. The movement began in the early 1900s when artists, after the invention of the portable easel and moisture-rich paints, left their studios to explore the great outdoors.

These painters must catch the light with each passing hour and show how it reflects off objects and people, casting shadows and giving colors their vibrancy.

And outdoors, artists and their equipment are exposed to the elements. Michael W. Situ used a small grocery cart, containing a beach chair, straw hat and umbrella, parked on a lawn in front of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, where the weeklong painting event culminates in an exhibit and sale.

Unlike Cadieux, Situ wore a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He is a new member of the art club and has painted plein air for 20 years in China and Southern California.

"It's my first time coming to paint in Santa Ana," said Situ, 44, of Irvine. "It's not like Laguna Beach where I go a million times. In Santa Ana, it's mostly buildings and streets. The scenes in Santa Ana are new and fresh here. I will come back to paint sometime after the event."

Santa Ana's urban terrain posed a challenge for some of the artists, including Situ, who are more familiar with spectacular vistas than a city congested with buildings, traffic and pedestrians.

"Santa Ana is a much more intimate setting, where there aren't any horizon lines and your eye doesn't have the luxury of wandering off into infinity, which is what a lot of plein-air painting is about," said Peter Adams, president of the California Art Club based in Pasadena.

"It's a much more intimate environment because you can't be painting much further than 300 to 400 feet. We each have to look for its beauty and discover it."

Adams, a professional artist, has led the art club since 1993 and has expanded its membership from 80 to 300. The group was founded in 1910 in Pasadena by noted artists Carl Oscar Borg, Hanson D. Puthuff, Jack Wilkinson Smith and William Wendt.

The group was the first California art club to allow women, Adams said. When Wendt became president in 1911, he began educational programs and increased the club's exhibitions throughout the state. From 1926 to 1942, the club was headquartered in Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in Hollywood.

The Plein-Air Painting Event, held for the first time in conjunction with the city Jazz and Blues Festival this weekend, was the brainchild of arts patron Ann Avery Andres of Santa Ana three years ago.

The event is part of a budding of the arts in Santa Ana, home to an artists village and new performing art venues.

"We thought a plein-air event would be perfect for Santa Ana," said Andres, chairwoman of the organizing committee. Cash prizes total $5,000.

"Plein air in Santa Ana has a different perspective. It's not the typical ocean scenes," Andres said. Locations recommended to artists included the Santa Ana Zoo, Fairhaven cemetery, Santiago Park, historic buildings downtown, Centennial Regional Park and various neighborhoods.

"The event has already made a difference, because people think of Santa Ana as run-down and crime-ridden," Andres said. "That perception is being changed, not just by the plein-air movement--because it shows a side of Santa Ana that people haven't seen or thought about--but the whole art movement in Santa Ana."

Sights and Sounds of Santa Ana:

Today, 6 to 10 p.m. Santa Ana Performing Arts and Event Center, 505 N. Sycamore. Jazz Cabaret and Art Preview features vocal trio Triple Threat and soul jazz by Idris Muhammad. The art club will exhibit at least four Santa Ana plein-air paintings. This event marks the reopening of the former Masonic Temple, distinct for its Gothic Revival-style architecture. Food and beverages will be available. $15.

Saturday, 6 p.m. Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2002 N. Main St. Moonlight Feast and Plein-Air Private Art Sale. The indoor art sale and artist reception concludes with an award presentation of $5,000 to the winning artists. The event moves to the courtyard with dinner catered by Patina restaurant, the new tenants at the museum cafe. The evening ends with jazz by Rickey Woodard featuring Elaine Woodard. $65, includes dinner.

Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bowers Museum. At the Plein-Air Art Exhibit and Public Sale, the museum opens to the public with full admission to the permanent exhibitions and plein-air collection. $3.

Sunday, 2 to 10 p.m. Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park, 1801 E. Chestnut St. Jazz and Blues Festival: The weekend's finale features jazz artists Arturo Sandoval, Brazilian guitarist Kleber Jorger, Al Wilson, Juan Carlos Quintero and the King Brothers. $20. Information and tickets: (714) 740-2000 or (714) 571-4272.

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