Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette, at the Crocker Art Museum

Many people in Redmond’s own day would say: “He could see more than most people, because he couldn’t hear.” He manages to create an evocative, almost narrative landscape in a very simple way. He was one of the very best. He loved that coastal beauty of California and he did it better than anyone. He was actually born in Philadelphia, so at age two and a half, Granville Redmond contracted Scarlet Fever, and it left him permanently deaf. He wasn’t able to speak much, and he never spoke after that. His parents moved to California and settled in San Jose, and enrolled him in the California Institution for the Education of the Deaf, the Dumb, and the Blind, which is today the California School for the Deaf, in Fremont. He took a lot of art classes, he was good at that, and his teachers were very important to him, and they encouraged him to keep going. He was very precocious as an artist, they saw his talent, and then he also learned a lot of pantomime He attended the California School of Design in San Francisco, and he ultimately went to Paris, and he was there for more than four years. He managed to get one painting into the Paris Salon, which was the highest honor an artist could attain at the time Remond first started to paint nocturnes when he was in France, and at first it was really hard for him. He went out and tried to capture the moon and he had to work at this very hard and he finally felt he had captured it. He struggled a lot in Paris because he had very little money, his parents didn’t have a lot of money and the school he had attended, the California School for the Deaf, really supported him. He finally had to come home, his parents were urging him to come home, and so he did: he ended up in southern California, at that time. He started to look at the landscape and he said “You know, this is a beautiful place, and lovely paintings could be made from here…” He really started to paint in a Tonalist style very moody, often atmospheric. Southern California at the time didn’t have much of an arts scene, it was much smaller than San Francisco There were only a couple of galleries where he could show his work, he ultimately ended up moving back to the Bay Area for a while. He settled in Parkfield, in Monterey County, for a couple of years and he loved the place, it was gorgeous and very rural. A lot of the paintings he did at the time also included a lot of weather. Right around the same time, there were a couple of things happening: the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 took place, which was really kind of Nature unleashed, and also his own son developed Scarlet Fever and I think he was very scared, so there was a lot of turmoil in his life at that time and I think that’s what is coming through in those storm paintings. He had a pair of collectors in southern California who bought like, fifty of his paintings, and they were the ones who encouraged him to go out and try his hand painting big beautiful oaks and things that were growing in the region. As he progressed, his colors tended to get brighter and brighter, Impressionism started to happen, so the idea of more color and light became important. Poppies in California, at the time Redmond really started to first paint them was the moment when the poppy became the symbol of the state. It’s the Golden Poppy – not just any poppy – which goes with the Golden State, which goes with the history of gold mining, and the golden hills, and the citrus groves, it is the color of California, so there was this big moment of poppy popularity that Redmond tapped into. Redmond often painted on Catalina Island, and also in Laguna Beach, not only did Californians like it, but tourists that came to the state, if they had money, might like to buy a little poppy painting to take home as a souvenir, and so this was a memento that people wanted to keep with them. In the late nineteen-teens, he was struggling financially, the economy had a downturn, and so he decided he would go and try his hand in the movie business. He met Charlie Chaplin and they became good friends. Chaplin said, “You don’t need to be able to speak: your face and your hand gestures, and all those are what was important.” Redmond was tailor-made for that. He did that on the side. Charlie Chaplin liked him enough that he gave him a studio at Chaplin Studios so he could stay there and work. Chaplin liked to go and sit and watch Redmond paint. One of the reasons he liked to do that was because Redmond was quiet, and people that chattered too much bothered him. He was able to sell paintings to actors and actresses, and directors, and Charlie Chaplin had a big collection, but other directors did as well. And so it really helped his bottom line and ultimately, he became known as California’s foremost painter of poppies in the landscape. Nobody really rivaled him; he did have competitors, but he was the best at it. I think people think of him for the poppies, but they don’t think of how much his style changed. There are paintings that are very Pointillist, which means a lot of little dots and dots of painting… There are paintings that almost have clumps of pigment just sort of applied with bare canvas showing behind. There are the impressionist scenes, that just every brush stroke is like a flicker of light. If it was on the coast of California, he pretty much painted there. He did nocturnes throughout his career. He never stopped, even when he was more of an Impressionist than a Tonalist, he would still do these lovely nocturnal paintings. What he’s so good at is that sometimes they’re almost only one color… and yet they’re so… evocative, and moving, and they communicate so much, even through one color. And sometimes I think the ones that communicate the most are these very simple, reductive, landscape scenes that are at night. This idea of silence, and being out in nature, and you’re the only one there, I think you can feel what he might have been feeling, and then that’s what makes them so good.

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