East Bay Figure Painting has experienced an influx of new people, so I thought I should write a short history of its origins, in celebration of our two year aniversary on November 28.
Susan Brand, Susan Newman, Karen Zullo Sherr, Barbara Maricle, Mike Warner and Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez met at the figure drawing class that the Richmond Art Center then offered. Their first session was inspired by an invitation from Mike Warner to continue drawing and painting during the Richmond Art Center's winter break. He offered his shop in El Sobrante as our first location. Rebeca created the listserv, a Google group then called West Contra Costa Figure Drawing, on November 15, 2007. It was meant to keep everyone in the loop as they figured out how to keep the sessions going.
Back then, the group was primarily interested in painting the figure, so on November 28, 2007, they met to draw each other - they had no model! The second session took place at Rebeca's studio, and the third, at Karen's. The group hired amateurs until it was able to secure an account with the Bay Area Models' Guild. But the guild booking person at the time thought that sending models to rotating locations would be confusing, so Rebeca offered her studio as the primary location until the start of RAC classes. Soon after, Karen and Rebeca decided a three hour pose was not such a bad idea, so they began scheduling models with this in mind (as opposed to the 20 min poses at the RAC).
After a few weeks of this, they began discussing ways to make the volunteer-run environment welcoming and supportive, and settled for a few principles that are still part of both groups: Membership involved neither fees nor a portfolio review, just a commitment to painting, because they wanted members to have diverse approaches and levels of experience. Through a non-teaching environment, they wanted to encourage and support the development of members’ individual styles, believing this diversity contributes to a developing critical dialogue. And they encouraged members to share their knowledge of online communication, digital image processing, and the art market through free member workshops and joint projects.
At the same time, Karen and Rebeca began painting outdoors together. Their first session took place in 2007 on a very cold Tuesday. On January 8, 2008 they went to Inspiration Point in Berkeley, and they almost froze! They returned there the following week, but did not develop a steady routine until later. For a few months, it was mostly just them and a schedule that moved between Tuesdays and Mondays. From the beginning, they thought about painting on weekends but a busy family schedule made this difficult. Ever so slowly, they began meeting painters who had these days available, and who were very committed to painting outdoors. Mike found Larry Hatfield painting near his house in El Sobrante, and Karen brought Vicki Salzman. They were added to the proto-listserv, which was then open to anyone who wanted to join and held the names of those interested in figure or outdoor painting.
On February 2009 (fourteen months after its start) the listserv was vandalized for the second time and Rebeca was forced to close it, delete it, and start a new one with a new name: East Bay Plein Air. This list continued to include people from both groups until August 2009.
The first blog was devoted to plein air painting, and made its debut in May 4, 2009. Rebeca wanted to have a public space in which to announce locations, since the listserv was no longer open to the public. She also envisioned it as a collaborative space where members could post work done during the group's painting sessions. It quickly gained a big readership because it is updated frequently with members' work. The group also began advertising on Craigslist and on Facebook. Because of this the listserv has also grown, and now sends updates to 42 local artists. East Bay Plein Air sessions now meet twice a week, with anywhere from six to nine painters attending at any one time.
For more than a year since its beginning, the figure drawing group continued meeting in Rebeca's small studio, which held a maximum of five painters. Karen and Rebeca did the booking and coordination jointly, and quickly discovered that a small group of drop-ins cannot always afford the model's fees, so they decided to seek a more spacious location in the spring of 2009. This was the Richmond Art Center at first, but because the center was undergoing a renovation, it was very difficult to stay. This prompted Karen to broker an arrangement with the members of Berkeley's Firehouse Collective during that summer, and to think up a new name. By August, Rebeca introduced a blog and a separate listserv for this group, and Karen took over the booking and the coordination. The group, now named East Bay Figure Painting, began advertising almost immediately on Craiglist and other venues, to ensure they could cover the model's fees in the new location. The Berkeley location has attracted a steady group of about seven painters, and they have achieved a supportive environment respectful of diversity in artistic approaches.
During the fall of 2009 and as a group of long-time members contemplated exhibit opportunities, Karen and Rebeca held discussions on the direction in which these two groups should go. They decided to keep the two groups together as a collaborative network, Re-Emerging Artists. Its mission is to facilitate the re-entry of mature artists into the art world, so now the groups' interactions are centered on supporting clusters of re-emerging artists.
All comments are welcome!