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A. Moret - Writer and Art Critic

Frederick Wight- Art Scene (January 2011)

Frederick Wight (1902-1986) first established himself as a fixture in the California art scene not as a painter, but during his two-decade tenure as a museum curator and director of the UCLA Art Gallery.  Located on the North Campus before the development of the UCLA Hammer Museum, Wight championed the careers of artists who had yet to receive national attention including Charles Sheeler, John Marin, Arthur Dove, Alexander Archipenko, Rudolph Lipschitz, and Stanton MacDonald-Wright.  From 1953 to 1973 Wight was not only instrumental in shaping the careers of artists, but creating a thriving foundation at the UCLA Art Gallery with the creation of the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden which showcased the works of Moore, Arp, Miro, Matisse, Calder, and David Smith.  It was not until his retirement in his seventies that Frederick Wight was able to fully commit to his painting practice, which celebrated the California landscape, Joshua Tree, and the coastline and explored the subtleties of oil paint.  The exhibition “Radiant Skies- California Paintings by Frederick Wight” at Louis Stern Fine Arts celebrates Wight’s contributions to American and California in which he produced about 250 full-sized Western landscapes created from 1974 until his death in 1986.  Frederick Wight signals a rare instance in the art community as he served for a leading California art institution sacrificing the creation of his own work, and then created a body of work that is widely celebrated as a contribution to California art.  Thus Wight is a California institution in his own right.

San Andreas Fault, 1985 oil on canvas 48 x 60 inches; 121.9 x 152.4 centimeters

Courtesy of the artist and Louis Stern Fine Arts

Tame Palms, March 1982 oil on canvas 36 x 40 inches; 91.4 x 101.6 centimeters

Courtesy of the artist and Louis Stern Fine Arts

In his first novel published in 1935 “South” which received critical claim, Wight analyzes the Western landscapes that foreshadows the luminosity and kinetic energy of the California skies that would later characterize his body of work: “Outside the window the sun fumbled its way upward behind a wilderness of pine trees.  The sky overhead… was string with the most infinite spider-webbing of cloud; such a pale misty white the blue behind it had gone to silver.  Yet for all its infinity it had a near tactile quality, like the mist-divided strata of the landscape.  It was characteristic of the things in the South… to reach you by some auxiliary sense, even its sky.” In Desert Morning (Morning Hours II) the sun splinters like shards of reflective glass igniting a celestial spark in the vast open sky, with colors like Wight had described as “pale misty white, the blue behind it had gone to silver.”  The morning sun dwarfs a mountain range that diminishes in the distance, while Wight’s handling of oil paint renders a two dimensional surface into a multi-dimensional scene familiar yet still fantastical to those of who have witnessed such exquisite California moments.  While works such as End of Day and Moon and Sea explore the symbiotic relationship between vast Pacific Ocean and the setting sun, Tame Palms recalls a scene that is quintessentially California.  As if inspired from a view in a convertible, two palm trees are separated by fine gold brush strokes emanate warmth and cast a glow off the canvas.  There seems to be a visual tug of war between the full palm tree in view in the lower corner and the second palm tree, which appears to grow out of the canvas.  Tame Palms presents a common thread present in Wight’s body of work, which is painting scenes that are familiar but are immediately transformed through the subtle handling of paint, manipulation of colors that echo the surreal palette found in nature, and the celebration of the state that he radically transformed through his vision in and out of the museum.

Desert Morning (Morning Hours II), January 1981

oil on canvas 78 x 50 inches; 198.1 x 127 centimeters

Courtesy of the Artist and Louis Stern Fine Arts