Magazine article Southwest Art

The Promised Land

Magazine article Southwest Art

The Promised Land

Article excerpt

IN JOHN STEINBECK'S NOVEL PASTURES OF Heaven, an early Spanish settler happens upon a lush central California landscape. Awestruck by the beauty, he whispers, "Holy Mother! Here are the green pastures of heaven to which our Lord leadeth us."

Like the young settler in Steinbeck's novel, painter David Ligare is also enamored of this area west of Salinas and bordered by the Gabilan Mountains on the east. Known as Pastures of Heaven today, its lush green and gold hills surround the artist's home. Visible from his studio window are the sweeping pastures he frequently depicts in his sublime body of work, including LANDSCAPE WITH BUCK and STILL LIFE WITH ROSES AND ARRow. These are works rendered in California's late-afternoon light when the shadows are long, dramatic, and deep.

Ligare finds it easy to ruminate about the visual pleasures of his home in Monterey County where he draws so much inspiration. "If I want a rocky crag, I know where to find one. If I want soft rolling hills, I've got them all around. If I want an ocean with cliffs, gentle beaches, lakes, and rivers, they are all here," he says.

As he talks he glances out the window at a scene he depicted in BROAD LANDSCAPE WITH A RIVER: the Salinas River curling toward Monterey Bay on a foggy day. It's immediately evident that Ligare is knowledgeable about the cultural and literary heritage of his home. A student of Steinbeck, Ligare points out that the well-known writer was born in Monterey County and lived for many years in the coastal town of Pacific Grove.

"Steinbeck tends to mythologize Monterey County, applying stories from the Bible to the tales he tells, and it's most evident in East of Eden set in Salinas Valley," he says, referring to the novel that recreates the biblical rivalry of Cain and Abel. "Steinbeck saw this area as a land rich with promise." So does Ligare. In fact, a 1999 show at Hackett-- Freedman Gallery in San Francisco-aptly titled Pastures of Heaven-featured his renderings of the breathtaking vistas near his home.

Ligare's affection for the area's spectacular scenery marks every aspect of his art and is a prominent element whether he is rendering figures, architecture, or everyday objects. In the painting STILL LIFE WITH A ROCK AND A LEAF, for example, the objects are lit by late-afternoon light and set against a landscape that includes a pale blue Pacific Ocean.

Landscape painters abound, but what sets Ligare apart is that he appropriates ideas and references from disparate subject matter ranging from Steinbeck novels to ancient Greek and Roman mythology. At times his works seem to have been created in another era, perhaps by French painter Nicholas Poussin [1593-1665], who's another source of inspiration for the contemporary California artist. It's no surprise Ligare's paintings have an appeal beyond the Golden State and are shown regularly in museums in the United States and Europe, including the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, WA, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK, 11 Politico in Rome, Italy, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

If a viewer finds Ligare's landscapes reminiscent of the light and terrain of northern Italy, it's no accident. Ligare, a regular visitor to the area, sees many similarities between central California and Italy. "The view out my window seems very much like Tuscany-the same configuration of hills, same vegetation, and the same Mediterranean climate," Ligare says. And as Ligare points out, there is often the same sense of mythology and awe connected to the two regions. "When Americans hear I'm going to Tuscany they grow wistful and say, 'Ah, Tuscany!' But when Italians hear where I am from, they say, 'Ah, California!'"

Ligare is fond of inhabiting his contemporary California landscapes with classical Roman and Greek figures. In SELF-- PORTRAIT IN HOMAGE TO PETRARCH he pays his respect to Francesco Petrarch, an Italian poet who helped reestablish the desire for learning that led to the Renaissance and a rebirth of artistic and intellectual achievement. …

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