Plein-air painter Michael Drury has never forgotten the time or the place that he first encountered the landscapes of Fernand Lungren. He was taking his spending money to a State Street bank and he was just 8 years old.
“I know that has a huge amount to do with why I became what I became,” he said.
Drury now has the opportunity to display his own paintings in a downtown bank. Pacific Western Bank, 30 E. Figueroa St., has a collection of his work on exhibit during regular business hours until April 30. The bank also hosted an evening reception for him last week as part of the monthly First Thursday program sponsored by the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization.
When Pacific Western Bank opened its branch last May, “we included art walls throughout to provide the community with an additional venue to showcase local artists and their works,” said Catharine Manset, the bank’s senior vice president.
“We try to showcase talented members of the local arts community offering unique and diverse artistic perspectives.”
Like Lungren, Drury is a Santa Barbara local with a penchant for landscapes. As a painter in the plein-air tradition, Drury typically paints outside, directly taking in the beauty of the place he is rendering as he works.
Interestingly, Drury claims he prefers to paint locations other than Santa Barbara.
“It’s too genteel ... it’s not rough,” he explained. “I like places that stick out in the open a little bit.”
Drury’s three favored locations to paint are California’s Central Coast, the high deserts of Nevada and the western coast of Ireland.
His love for nature explains his involvement as a founding member of The Oak Group, a collection of local artists committed to preserving Santa Barbara coastal spaces from development.
The Oak Group periodically puts on benefit exhibitions, donating half the proceeds from the sale of its paintings to conservation efforts. Its current show in the Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Public Library will benefit the restoration of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s wildflower meadow.
Drury was drawn into The Oak Group when it was formed in 1986 through his mentor, the late Ray Strong. The two met in 1970 after Drury was awestruck by an exhibition of Strong’s work at the library. A friend of Drury’s who owned a frame shop downtown gave him the artist’s telephone number.
After working up the nerve to contact Strong, the pair made arrangements to go out painting together at the ranch where Drury worked.
“This brown VW bus pulls up,” Drury recalled, and “this man ... unfolds from the van.”
At the end of the afternoon, Drury remembers, “(Strong) takes this huge hand of his, bangs it on my knee ... ‘Why don’t you and I just start painting together?’”
Drury views his relationship with Strong as formative for his development as an artist.
“He called me his painting son, and he was my painting father,” he said of Strong, who died in 2006 at age 101. “A mentor in the best sense ... I found a kindred spirit. We talked about intensely personal things. One of the great lessons of my life was meeting Ray and becoming part of his circle.”
Being able to honestly portray the beauty — but also the chaos and ruggedness — of natural landscapes matters a great deal to Drury. He searches for roughness, huge scale and openness wherever he paints.
“Connemara (on the Irish coast) reminds me of Nevada, except there’s the ocean, right there!” he said. “The sense of space, and bigness, and giant things to paint ... It’s very much like Nevada.”
Drury said he holds authenticity and honesty as the main guiding values of his work.
“I don’t paint sentimental, I don’t paint nostalgia,” he explained. “I try to paint who I am, and where I am and the time I live in.
“I just try to paint as clearly as I can, as unadorned as I can.”