Surfer chick catches Tuscan wave
Warm hues depict quiet countryside hills hugging villas and vineyards defended by tall Cyprus tree battalions in Caroline Zimmerman’s paintings. Often the Tuscan skies take the spotlight with explosive rays of color breaking through layers of clouds, animating an otherwise quiet scene.
"What I paint is light and how the light on a subject affects me. It can be a bright light, or a quiet soft light. That kind of all comes together to create the final piece," she tells the Park Record from her studio in Mammoth, Calif.
Lately, in addition to her love of the landscape, she’s painted farm animals on large-scale stretchers. Some of her roosters, she says, span three feet by three feet. Her Iron Horse Gallery show that opens today incorporates both subjects in "Countryside and Critters."
For more than a decade, the ever-changing moods of Italy’s rolling scenery is the subject that urges her to pick up her paintbrush the most, giving her enough inspiration to cover at least 100 canvases each year, she says enough to fill several shows a year in Sonoma, Calif. and Park City.
Originally a competitive surfer from Laguna, Calif., Zimmerman admits her affinity for Italy’s "La Dolce Vita" (the sweet life) came as a surprise.
Early on, Zimmerman’s work took advantage of the exotic tropical destinations of surfing competitions. Her earlier paintings depict the rippling waves, blue skies and the fawning umbrella leaves of places like Tahiti and Bali.
Then, after receiving her MFA in painting from Oakland’s California College of the Arts nearly 13 years ago, a friend invited her to a painter’s workshop in Tuscany.
"I said, ‘oh, Tuscany is so cliché cypresses and vineyards. What could I possibly find there to paint?’" she recalls.
But, when she stepped off the plane, Zimmerman changed her tune, and became something of a land-lover.
"I got infected," she kids. "When I got there I was just so overwhelmed by the beauty. I just put my foot down and said, ‘okay, this is it for me’ and it was an interesting feeling, because of all the beautiful places I’ve been over the earth, Tuscany was the one place I felt I could just be."
The encounter prompted her to return, and now, Zimmerman divides her time throughout the year between Italy and California. She has a small studio in the medieval mill town, Loro Ciuffena in Tuscany, where she paints and teaches classes in watercolor.
According to Zimmerman, part of the reason she has continued to paint Italy’s countryside is its mercurial character sometimes sunny, sometimes grim which she finds speaks to her own ever-changing attitudes.
"In Tuscany, I’m really painting what I feel and the atmosphere of Tuscany in particular. It’s changeable, from morning, to noon, to evening. The quality of light changes," she explains.
"There’s a certain mood to my work that I think has changed over the years," she continues. "My life has not always been about touching the best waves and finding the source of happiness. It’s about the here and the now, and just being. If it’s a gray day, I paint that or if I’m in a melancholy mood."
Zimmerman paints outside while in Italy, but often she uses her camera as a sketchbook. She typically enjoys a larger format to make her landscape paintings, she says, and finds that the size can get cumbersome outdoors.
"I’m perfectly comfortable working inside and outside, but it’s not always so easy to dip back to Tuscany and create a Tuscan painting when I want," she confesses. "I would love to always be able to snap my fingers and be at the places I paint, but most of the time, I do paint in my studio from photo references."
She returns to the subject of painting barnyard "critters," since it was her first love as an artist, she says, when she was first introduced to oils and canvas at the age of six.
"All the rooster and chicken paintings go back to my love of painting animals which was the reason that I took to art as a child," Zimmerman said. "I loved my pets, my cats, my chickens, my pigeons and very early on."
While observing animals, she says she attempts to capture each unique spirit through the animal’s eyes.
"The eyes are always the special part that brings life to that character," she says. "With each of those paintings, you always go to the eyes and see. That to me is something that has always been really special to bring a depth to this creature by giving a sense of life in the eyes."
But don’t ask Zimmerman to choose between her paintings. She says in each, at some point she finds "that final little highlight, the little dot of white." Sometimes it’s the under painting that gets sacrificed early on for the benefit of the final image, but always she finds the moment, she says, and she calls it "the icing on the cake."
The Iron Horse Gallery will hold a reception for Caroline Zimmerman’s work from 5 to 8 p.m. at 1205 Iron Horse Drive. Regular gallery hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 615-6900.
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