Gina Hyams Author

Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Painting Tribute to Leigh Hyams by John McCarthy

Los Angeles-based artist John McCarthy was one of my mom’s favorite people. They met at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1996, and he went on to serve as lead assistant during her master painting classes there from 2006 until her last seminar in 2011, as well as participate in workshops she led in Providencia, Colombia and at various locations in Mexico, including San Miguel de Allende, Patzcuaro, Guanajuato, and Xilitla. He recently shared with me this vivid series of paintings that he created in tribute to her.

Leigh and John at Esalen, April 2008

Remembering Days and Nights: 
A painting tribute to Leigh Hyams, mentor and friend
by John McCarthy 
January, 2015
These are memory-generated paintings inspired by the loss of my art mentor, Leigh Hyams (1926 – 2013).
 
For 15 years I painted with Leigh and other artists in Mexico, Big Sur, and Colombia, often working outside in the tropics to capture in abstract form the essence of the jungle, the wind, and the sea. This series is a remembrance of those days and nights: A recollection of the colors and sounds and smells of the forests and the shore as we all painted together, looking at each other’s work and delighting in conversations about art.

Leigh teaching at Esalen, 2007

The painting, Crossing the Bridge, was inspired by a vision that I had one night last year before I drifted off to sleep. I found myself in a forest in Big Sur with Leigh and another artist friend, Kay Bridge, who had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a forest we had all painted in many times, and I could see Leigh walking across a footbridge, with Kay following behind. I was struck by the aliveness of that moment: I could see what Leigh and Kay were wearing; I could see the moon and smell the pine trees; I could hear leaves rustling and waves crashing in the distance. And then, in an instant, I realized that Leigh was dead and Kay was soon to die. That searing moment was the genesis of the painting.

‘Crossing the Bridge’, watercolor, charcoal and ink on paper, 53” x 42”, 2014

At Leigh’s memorial service at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, her paintbrushes were placed in a basket and those in attendance were invited to take some. I took three brushes, mixed them in with my own, and used them to create this series.

Leigh’s paint brushes (photo by Gina Hyams)

‘The Night Walk’ acrylic on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘Jungle, Xilitla’, acrylic on paper, 9.5” x 12.5”, 2014

‘Warm Xilitlan Night’, acrylic, caran d’Ache and charcoal on wood panel, 29” x 29.5”, 2014

‘La Selva Mexicana’, charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘Rhythm of the Sea’, acrylic on paper, 9 3/8” x 12.5”, 2014

‘Waterfall, Xilitla, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 16” x 20”

‘Remembering the Forest’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2014

‘The Afterglow’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 30” x 22”, 2013

‘Rituals of Spring’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2013

John McCarthy drawing

‘The Winds of Change’, charcoal on paper, 22” x 30”, 2013

John and Leigh at Esalen

John McCarthy is currently seeking gallery representation. Please email any leads to him at johnmccarthyartist@me.com.

Leigh Hyams Critique Group Exhibition

It’s heartening to see my mother’s legacy live on in her students and friends. A group of them, who met more than 20 years ago at her art classes in San Francisco, recently opened an exhibition at Canessa Park Gallery. It’s up through January 30. Hours are noon to 3:00pm on Wednesdays or by appointment by calling 415-885-5695. Their touching and inspiring group artistic statement follows below.

Six Artists: Eclectic Works

The six artists in this show met by chance more than two decades ago, when each of us signed up for a class led by Leigh Hyams. Those first classes were in the former University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco, a couple of rambling old Spanish-style buildings in the Western Addition. Some of us began in a drawing class, others in painting or mixed media. We worked side by side in crowded rooms, on paper or canvas taped to the walls or on drawing boards on tables or mounted on easels. Leigh encouraged us to paint big and with abandon, and to stand while painting so we could use our whole body. And she encouraged us to live life adventurously, and we did, joining her painting workshops at Esalen and in Greece and Brazil and Mexico and France when we could.

After a few years of studio classes, we felt ready to work on our own, and Leigh encouraged us to carve out space for our art at home or to rent our own studios. But because we still wanted her inspiration and guidance, we formed a critique group that met with her once a month, to help us keep making art and to keep growing as artists. During this time, we also worked with Leigh and other students of hers on her film Making Marks.

Leigh Hyams teaching at the University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco

When Leigh moved to Mexico in 2001, we continued to meet without her, for we found that we had absorbed her ideas about painting and her teaching about visual language so well that we could critique one another’s work in her absence. She went on to build a live-in studio in San Miguel de Allende and to paint prolifically for the next decade, with solo shows in San Miguel and Querétero. Whenever Leigh visited San Francisco during those years, she arranged to meet with us when possible, and many of her large following of students visited her in Mexico. Her last expansive series of paintings was of giant flowers in her elegant and buoyant gestural style, reveling in color as always. She died in 2013, and at her memorial in San Francisco, her daughter, Gina, gave Leigh’s paintbrushes away to her former students and friends.

Over the years, our group has continued to follow Leigh’s urging to take chances and to experiment with styles, subjects, and mediums. Styles have ranged from abstract to figurative, and subjects from childhood photographs to landscapes, seascapes, and skyscapes, rabbits and fairytales and death boats, glaciers and rocks, real and imagined dramas, self-portraits and dog portraits, horse portraits and night scenes. Painting and drawing mediums have included acrylic paint and watercolor, encaustic, and wood-burning tools. Some members of the group have ventured into sculpture, in mediums that include fabrics, trash from the city dump, garage-sale finds, broken plastic dinnerware, ruined umbrellas, hunks of marble, leather, and cement.

We try, like our teacher, to make work that is surprising and alive. We sell our work, though we remain amateurs, in the best sense of the word. For we believe that art is important, not just to each of us individually and as a group, but to the culture in general and to the random universe. Like our teacher, we believe that art allows us to live more fully, that creativity is the lifeblood of being human, and that every piece of art we create is a kind of miracle: a new thing in the world made by our own hands, and often one we had no idea we were capable of making.

Artists at the opening (left to right): Heidi Sandvoll, Loretta Wolfe, Carolyn Miller, Jane Baker, Jeanine Briggs, Anne Ming Wong.

 

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