This Year’s Model: The Pastel Society of So. Cal in Torrance
An Oil Change, a Tune-Up, and a Work of Art
Wall-to-wall with the Pastel Society of Southern California
by Bondo Wyszpolski
It’s 7:30 on a weekday morning and, like most of us, you’ve just brought your car into the South Bay Lexus Service Center in Torrance. It’ll only take 45 minutes, maybe an hour, so after you’ve poured yourself a cup of coffee how are you going to pass the time?
Well, just look around! You’re in the middle of an art show, specifically the Pastel Society of Southern California’s “Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition.” Sixty-five artists and 150 works of art! When has getting culture ever been this easy?
From 13 to 130
Half an hour later I’m approached by two employees who are surely coming over to tell me that my Lexus LFA is all charged up and ready to roll, but hold on, no, it’s Lynn Attig and Bernard Fallon, and so we order a few drinks from the bar and sit down to chat.
Turns out, what they have to tell me is more exciting than a novel by Jules Verne!
This is the Pastel Society’s ninth year and eighth show. The group was co-founded in 2009 by Attig, Margaret Lindsey, and Bonnie Botello. Lindsey occupied the president’s chair for the first five years, and Attig’s been ensconced in it ever since. Fallon’s a charter member, involved since the early days, and so I proceed to milk them for the inside scoop.
“There were 13 of us in the beginning,” Fallon says. Initially, they met up at APC Fine Arts in Torrance, but as the membership rose the group moved to larger digs, currently the Riviera United Methodist Church in Redondo Beach. Every other month, six times a year, most of them get together, and once a year there’s a show.
“We get about 75 to 80 people at our meetings,” Attig says, “and 50 percent of our members come on a freeway to get here.” She and Fallon rattle off distant cities: Santa Barbara, Riverside, Malibu, Thousand Oaks…
“The Pastel Society is a non-profit,” Attig says, “and we have three missions: One, to educate the public about pastel. It’s one of those mediums that not a lot of people understand, but it’s growing like crazy in California, where oil painters have reigned for hundreds of years. Secondly, we want to collaborate with other pastel artists, to share information, tips, techniques. Thirdly, we want to strive for artistic elegance by bringing in top workshop instructors. We do monthly paint-outs, monthly paint-ins, so we’re not just having those six meetings a year. We’re doing a lot of other things.”
A group this large and this dedicated to the medium has been gaining widespread attention.
“And we’re getting donations for prizes from nationally-known pastel companies,” Fallon says.
“Like this car behind us?” I ask, pointing over my shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s the top prize,” Attig replies with a smile.
“It’s carved out of a big piece of pastel,” Fallon adds, which could be an alternative fact, but who’s to say until we get inside and turn the key?
“Pure pigment in a stick”
There are several judging categories: Gold, Silver, Miniature, and, for those who are up-and-comers or simply unsure of their talent, a Novice category. But certainly not everything that’s submitted ends up on the wall, so how does one make the cut?
“Traditionally, we had a panel of jurors from our own group,” Attig explains, “but this year we decided to make it even more objective. We brought in Doug Dawson, and he was the juror. He selected every piece for the show.”
However, it’s Barbara Courtney Jaenicke who’ll come in and study each work before deciding on the prize winners (which may or may not include a life-size car made from pastel). At the show’s reception on April 23 she’ll give a free, live demonstration. One hundred chairs have already been rented, and are waiting for us.
Much of the work is highly impressive, by the likes of Joe Mancuso, David Wolfram, Otto Sturcke; and I’ve even drawn to a simple cat portrait titled “Spooky,” nicely framed in purple, by a lesser-known artist named Theresa Garcin. In other words, there are unexpected surprises.
However, pastel makes me think of pastoral, and the medium, unlike, say, barbed wire and brick, seems to lend itself to relatively docile subject matter: flowers, children, seascapes, garden scenes. Nothing remotely close, for example, to a portrait of our new president on the chopping block or a spaceship crash-landing on Mars. Furthermore, very few pieces here might be considered abstract. For pastelists, a rather soothing lifelike representation seems to be the norm.
That said, the colors, whether muted or bright, are vivid and seductive.
“There’s a misconception that pastel is chalk,” Attig says. “There’s actually no chalk in it. It’s pure pigment in a stick.” She reminds us of the ballerinas by Edgar Degas, pastels as fresh today as they were in the 1870s.
“The nice thing about this society,” Attig continues, “is that we have beginners all the way to professional artists, and there’s such a spirit of collaboration. The more seasoned people are helping the newer people, and sometimes the new people are blowing us away and you go, Whoa, how did you do that?”
In fact, the public may have similar reactions as they move from work to work.
“It’s a win-win for Lexus,” Attig says, “because their customers get to see art, and we get to have a venue that’s huge and it’s free for people to come.” (This is largely due to the efforts of Jodi Wiggins and Bill Messenger, the 2016 Excellence in Arts Awards recipients in the category of Visual Arts & Design, given by the City of Torrance)
Also, most of the work can be purchased, and 25 percent of each sale is donated to the Switzer Learning Center. That’s how the group gives back to the community.
“For our tenth anniversary we will have something big,” Attig says, although she’s not about to go into much detail about it now. But that’s okay, my vehicle’s ready, and it’s time to hit the highway.
On the way out I check to see if Fallon was pulling my leg. Could it be that the car in the lobby really was carved from a single piece of pastel?
The Pastel Society of Southern California’s “Eighth Annual Members’ Exhibition is on view through April 28 at the South Bay Lexus Service Center, 24777 Crenshaw Blvd., Torrance. The group’s gala reception and awards presentation takes place on Sunday, April 23, from 12 noon to 4 p.m., with awards handed out from 1 to 2 p.m. and a pastel landscape demonstration by Barbara Courtney Jaenicke scheduled for 2 to 3 p.m. Gallery hours, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, call (310) 374-8309 or go to pastelsociety.com. ER