This solo exhibition for Charles Eckart has been in the making for over three years, the date specifically chosen to coincide with the his 85th birthday on February 2, 2020. It is a dual celebration – one of the artist’s birth and the other of a 60 year career dedicated to paintings that in his own words, “do not attempt to replicate, but to reflect the complexity and beauty of the natural world.” The title of the show, “For the Love of Paint,” speaks to Eckart’s devotion to the expressive powers of pure pigment as he incorporates layer upon layer of paint strokes in endlessly satisfying compositions.
Nature is central to Eckart’s work. In 1946 at the end of the World War II, his mother married the General Manager of Yosemite Park and Curry Company, the Park’s primary concessionaire, and the 11 year old moved to Yosemite Valley to live. In the next 15 years, he inhabited a visual setting known for its breathtaking vistas. He began to carry a small watercolor kit to catch the scenery, preferring hands-on skill to a camera to record what he saw and felt.
By 1951 Eckart had become seriously interested in painting. “There were no programs in art offered in my grammar school or high school at the time,” he noted, “so I sought close-up instruction from paintings hanging in the small Yosemite Museum, which then contained treasures by Thomas Hill, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt and Chris Jorgensen. These were my first teachers.”
Eckart’s formal arts education was received at the University of the Pacific and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles followed by a stint as an award winning Art Director at the prestigious advertising firm McCann Erickson. His early works were showcases for his exceptional abilities in drawing and paint – commuter drawings of his observations in the city and precise rendering of his San Francisco environment, but he became bored.
Already lured by his fascination with the power of the pigment itself, he surrendered to a more interactive process, resulting in a series of winged figures rising out of amorphous backgrounds of color - the figures often already exhibiting the structure and depth created by applying paint upon paint in variations of colors that became the signature characteristic of his painting.
Eckart became friendly with Charles Campbell, often visiting him in his North Beach Gallery where he showed such greats as Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Nathan Oliveira, Hassell Smith, Elmer Bischoff, Christopher Brown and James Weeks. When prestigious art dealer Allan Stone included him in a New York exhibition called “New Talent,” Campbell was inspired to look more closely at the work and he offered him a place in the gallery, beginning what was to be a satisfying 22 year relationship.
In 1985 Eckart, known to his friends as Chuck, moved to Point Reyes Station with his wife Alice. The change from urban influences to a quiet countryside brought a renewed interest in the surrounding landscape and led to another exploratory period. “I didn’t want to record nature as observed but preferred to glean its lessons to create purer paintings that parallel the complexity and beauty of the natural world,” he reflected. The landscape had become a gateway into the more metaphysical concerns that have always engaged him and led to the “Paintscape” series shown here. “These paintings are about paint (pigment) only and its power to stimulate the optic nerve,” explains Eckart, “It is a language. A nonliteral language.” Eckart has always loved the definition of painting by Pierre Bonnard which was referenced in the title of his 2016 exhibition, “Painting is the transcription of the adventures of the optic nerve.”
In “The Red Maple Influence,” for instance, Eckart was moved by the deep reds, blacks and paler rose tones found in the intensity of a red maple in full glory. On holding a leaf from the tree up to the sun, he was surprised to see the explosion of color from the inner leaf which became the primary inspiration for the painting. In works like these, Eckart’s concerns are not with direct depiction, but with the more transcendental sensations, the awe and visual vibration that accompanies looking at something indefinably moving.
The same is true for his painting “Cerinthian Blues,” inspired by the glorious hues of the Cerinthe (honeywort) plant that grows in his wife Alice’s garden. “In full bloom, the colors are astonishing,” remarked Eckart “the blue petals and purplish blooms attract hummingbirds, contributing to the movement and intensity of color.”
At 85, Eckart is still at the height of his powers as evidenced by this extraordinary body of work. He has expanded the limits of what he can do with paint, engaging the viewers’ senses with rich pure generous applications of color - clean, dense and vibrant - often using much as 20 pounds of pigment in a single work.
In his Point Reyes studio, he is surrounded by things that inspire him - books and drawings, pods and leaves and artworks traded with his artist friends. He takes meticulous care of the tools of his practice and takes nothing for granted. His deep respect for nature is matched only by his reverence for the creative process and devotion to his calling as an artist. We salute him and wish him the happiest of birthdays.