Writer and National Public Radio diva Sarah Vowell once observed that having a bad day in California was more soul-crushing than having a dismal day anywhere else in the country. To be less than sublimely happy in the Golden State, with its barrage of sunny days and mythology of the good life, felt to her like a spectacular failure.
But there’s always June, with its decidedly un-California streak of fog, low temperatures, and all-around gray weather. Although these few weeks are written off as a fluke each year, every year by die-hard California idealists, natives have nonetheless given the phenomenon a strangely melodic name: June Gloom.
Vowell would find a kindred spirit in local artist Peter Eble who, in explaining his motivation for curating an art exhibit devoted to rogue weather, explains, “We’re so much exposed to how life should be, but it’s not that way.” No, not even in Ventura. Embracing June Gloom, he hopes, will inspire experimentation.
Eble hopes to tap into the more personal and reticent work that local artists may have hesitated to show or even undertake, “a gloomy landscape or a haziness of the geography or the weather.”
The yearly fluke of funk weather also affords an opportunity to reflect on less seasonal issues, Eble notes — the war, racism and other topics less than compatible with a beachside barbeque.
“We’re living through difficult times right now,” he notes. “I think the artists should be a filter of all that.”
By that criteria, the June Gloom exhibit at the Artists Union Gallery was a successful one last year, when local artists like Roxy Ray-Bordelon (whose work, Eble recalls, often focuses on the watery landscape of the area) went uncharacteristically political with their contributions. Eble hastens to explain that in this open show, “[Work] could be personal, political, it could be landscape, could be anything.”
He of all people knows the symbiotic relationship of weather and art. “I lived in Romania 20 years, lived 20 years in Munich, Germany — and that’s gloomy maybe half of the year. Since I moved here, my art definitely lit up.”
The theme provides the perfect outlet for Eble’s own work, the abstract. Although he has tended toward the figurative in the past, he believes that a move to “complete abstraction” is a logical step in his artistic process. He pays particular attention to colors and textures and incorporates other media in his painting, including metal, sheets of lead and even burlap sacks, proving that great artistic movements may never be more than a garage away.
His decision to use the material most often woven to transport coffee beans came at a time when he felt stagnant. Now, he is inspired by the simple art of the logos and the structure of the materials, “very raw and beautiful to work with.” In his “Light Roast,” a piece of raw burlap provides a raised platform on which Eble painted a talisman of sorts. In “Espresso” (currently featured at Accolades Gallery in Ventura), painted burlap provides a curving land mass that meets a grey horizon.
Eble will hang only one piece for June Gloom 2 this year at the Artists Union Gallery, his “Introvert,” which — aside from embodying the artistic temperament he considers to be at the core of the show — is abstract with a nod to the figurative. Look closely and the concrete lifeblood red on a gray landscape is revealed to encapsulate a navel-gazing form, a thoughtful figure that is internalizing the chaotic external.
Until the Tuesday before the show opens, the line-up of contributors is fairly unknown, the pieces unseen. Artists are welcome to drop off photography, sculptures, paintings, even video installations, to be judged on content and consistency with the show’s theme.
Eble looks forward to welcoming newer artists to the show for the first time, such as two recent California Lutheran University graduates whose work he describes as “very moody, very personal.”
He is only too happy to provide a venue for new artists as he recalls his difficulties getting his work shown in Munich, Germany. As a struggling artist who had dropped out of college to pursue the practical side of the craft, he remembers, “I didn’t go to any shows for a year or so. I canceled all my subscriptions to art magazines, tried to erase all my art history background so I could find my own way, fresh. That was a pretty hard time. I destroyed a lot of work.”
But self-guided study and his abiding interest in philosophy — specifically, in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche — furthered his career more than slogging through art history lectures might have. Although both European philosophers are often charged with pessimism, their effect on Eble was in fact freeing.
“I’m not a religious person; philosophy gave me more answers. Nietzsche actually opened up my eyes, because he wasn’t following any rules, he was just a thinker. He was considered a pirate. That gave me some freedom, freedom of thought, also self esteem.” He adds, “Every artist in this world who takes a brush in his hand is influenced by the other artists, and that’s just fine, you can’t avoid that, but you try to find you own niche somewhere.”
In bringing his work to the area — he relocated to Newbury Park from Munich six years ago when his wife was offered a position at AmGen — he acknowledges that abstract work garners less acknowledgment, and carries less popularity, in Southern California than it does in Europe or even on the Eastern seaboard.
He considers, “With the figurative art, you don’t have to think a lot; it’s easier to digest, because a tree is a tree, a portrait is a portrait, a landscape is a landscape. If it’s done in a realistic style it’s easier to deal with. Also, I think people buy more art to decorate their homes than because they collect art or want to interact with something abstract.”
While he is often told his work belongs in New York, in a larger urban environment, he has nothing but faith in the Ventura art scene, heartened by the recent opening of the Bell Arts Mattress Factory. This wasn’t always the case.
“I was at the beginning so desperate, I couldn’t find an artist union, no artists I could communicate with; then I found Studio Channel Islands.” He recalls that moment of realization, “Oh my god, there is somebody here!”
He became acquainted with Ventura proper by taking the occasional trip to Main Street and experiencing its bohemian reinvention — the street cafes, restaurants, a city center.
Having lived and worked in the area for six years, he returns to the Artists Union Gallery to jostle the local arts population with an unusual assignment, demanding perhaps the antithesis of beach town life.
Perhaps it’s Eble’s upbringing; he quips, “Romanians have a little dark side.”