Tim Schiffer, Executive Director, Museum of Ventura County
John Comer paints the landscape of southern California, both as it has been created by nature and as it has been altered by man. He captures the region in a manner reminiscent of earlier plein-aire painters, but Comer is not a backward-looking artist. He paints wildflowers, forests and beaches, but he also paints freeway onramps and apartment buildings. His work covers the full spectrum of California landscape, from wilderness to city, paying homage to the idyllic light that has captivated generations of California painters. Distinguished by a level of craft rarely seen in contemporary painting, his landscapes are both skillful renditions of familiar and unfamiliar scenes, and subtle meditations on time, space, and light.
Comer grew up in southern California, swimming and surfing on the beaches of Orange County. He began painting after receiving a box of paints for his thirteenth birthday, and has spent his life pursuing his two passions, art and the sea. After early success as a landscape painter in Santa Barbara in the 1970’s, he spent a number of years outside the world of art, working as a commercial fisherman off the Channel Islands and sailing his boat “Debonair”, down the Pacific coast and through the Caribbean and Hawaii. His years as a sailor have made Comer appreciate the importance of the atmosphere in a painting. “I’ve seen a lot of weather”, he says. “It’s like the landscape is secondary; The weather is the important thing. It affects what you see and don’t see- the colors and shapes.” Comer’s voyages included a stay on Maui, where he worked with the painter Julian Ritter. For many years he shared a Santa Barbara studio with Ray Strong, the legendary landscape painter who worked alongside Maynard Dixon and has acted as mentor to many Santa Barbara artists. Comer credits Strong with helping him master the interrelation of color and value in his paintings, which allows him to combine vivid color with the illusion of deep space. Other major influences on his art are George Inness, the nineteenth century American painter whose dynamic landscapes are energized by changing effects of light and weather, and Corot, the French landscapist who began his career painting the golden light and picturesque ruins of the countryside around Rome.
In the tradition of painters who have celebrated southern California in their work, from Granville Redmond to Richard Diebenkorn, John Comer focuses on the dramatic topography and idyllic light of the region. He distills the experience of a particular place at a particular time down to a coherent arrangement of colors and forms. His paintings of urban scenes, of freeways and skyscrapers, share the color and space of his other landscapes, creating what Comer calls a “synthesis of culture and land” in an area that “is constantly in the process of tearing down and rebuilding.” He paints the landscape as it has always been and the landscape as it is being changed. To both he imparts an awareness of time, of the daily progression of the sun across the sky, of the process of man’s intervention on the land, and of the timeless presences of sea, land, and weather. The space in Comer’s paintings seems to extent beyond the horizon and outside the edges of the canvas, giving a sense of the roundness of the earth. His paintings are an invitation to travel through, and appreciate, the beauties of our world.