Artistic Excellence | Margaret Larlham

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Santa Ysabel After Rain, pastel, 11 x 14.

What inspired your winning entry? What seemed at first a disappointingly wet and blustery day for a paint-out turned out to be especially memorable in the moody changes of the landscape in the Santa Ysabel Valley. I had already completed one painting and had returned to my car to pack up my things when the clouds parted, and I became entranced with the way the dancing light added mystery to the water-logged field, dark oaks, and distant mountains.

Do you come from an artistic background? I grew up thinking that art, music, and dance were as much a part of living as reading and writing. My background allowed me to blur the edges between the arts, and I have enjoyed shifting between choreography, playwriting, and painting. My focus in the university theater departments, where I have worked in South Africa and San Diego, has been mostly on the creation of new work—choreography and plays for young people. But I have always painted at home. I value both rigorous expertise and released spontaneity in my painting and other arts. I believe that my painting style is a form of dance. Certainly the gestural application of the pastel—dragging the side of the stick, hovering the tip of it over the paper, and smoothing or layering colors—is like a dance. I wish all people the time to immerse themselves in artistic effort, expression, and appreciation.

Where did you study art? As a theater student at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, I took an elective course in the history of art and architecture, which was transformative. I have always drawn and painted, and I have taken occasional intensive courses at the Art Students League of New York, the Natal Technikon in Durban, and at San Diego State University.

What is your favorite subject matter and why? Trees. Besides the often noted symbolism connected to trees in many cultures, I am drawn to their individual personalities. They are expressive inhabitants of the landscape. Slender saplings, thorn trees, ancient oaks: every kind of tree expresses an endless diversity of form.

What is the best advice you have ever received? My dad would say this to me while doing his crossword puzzle: “We are never bored with our own company in our family.” I think I took it as a point of pride or advice.

Future goals? To travel widely across the United States (and elsewhere) with my husband, Peter, and stop for a couple of hours each day to paint in order to see and set down the American landscape. And then to have exhibition opportunities or gallery representation in each of the 50 states in America.

Representation: Santa Ysabel Art Gallery, Santa Ysabel, CA;

Featured in December 2011.