By Bonnie Gangelhoff
When artist Thalia Stratton’s parents settled in Los Gatos, CA, after World War II, they brought with them many traditions from their native Greece. Stratton’s father, William, planted vegetable gardens and fruit trees, and the family soon enjoyed an abundance of fresh tomatoes, cherries, apples, figs, lemons, onions, and beans. Holidays were marked by celebratory feasts for family and friends. Summers usually meant visits to the Greek island of Samos, where lunches in picturesque seaside cafes lasted for a lively three hours.
So it comes as no surprise that today, some of Stratton’s favorite subject matter revolves around the fine art of dining. Her slice-of-life paintings capture eating establishments in far-flung locales such as Paris as well as ones close to her home in San Francisco. The scenes often reflect an ambience best described as old world elegance. Waiters in long white aprons carry flutes of champagne on silver trays while chic urbanites share meals in sun-dappled cafes. “I like to paint restaurants that have a European feel because it is so close to me,” Stratton says. “I gravitate to quaint cafes and bistros because I am comfortable there and have such wonderful memories of eating in places like that.”
As this story was going to press, Stratton was finishing paintings for a May solo show at Arata Fine Art Gallery in San Francisco and looking forward to the publication of her dining scenes in a cookbook, The Art of Dining: Epicurean Delights. The cookbook also features recipes by her nephew, John Stratton, a Le Cordon Bleu chef. This month Stratton’s painting, LUNCH IN PROVENCE, is on display in the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition at Devin Galleries in Coeur d’Alene, ID.
Trained as an illustrator, Stratton is drawn to paintings that suggest a story to the viewer. Although she has a master’s degree in fine art from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, early in her career she worked as an illustrator for clients such as Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin & Company, and the San Francisco Ballet. “My painting process now begins as a recording of a specific moment at a specific place, and then I transform it into a fictional scene in order to create a powerful and distinct mood,” she says. “I want viewers to feel so welcomed into a scene that they create their own story.”
These days Stratton maintains a studio in the San Francisco Design Center. In addition to the café scenes she is fond of painting, she also relishes depicting the streets outside her studio window as well as the churches, hotels, and skyscrapers that inhabit the picturesque metropolis. And Stratton is quick to point out that she never tires of painting the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. No matter the subject, though, her palette is marked by darks, minimal intensity, and soft, muted tones. “I like Manet’s palette—less color and more value and tone,” Stratton says. “My approach to color and light is at the forefront of my style.”
When it comes to the future, Stratton says her wish is that viewers look at her paintings 50 years from now and think that they reflect the times—how people looked, dressed, and dined. “Hopefully my works will be like a classic book,” she says. “The paintings will last over time.”
Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Arata Fine Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Eminent Design, Sonoma, CA; Interior Visions, San Francisco, CA; Josephine Homes, San Francisco; CA; Henredon Furniture, San Francisco, CA; www.thaliastratton.com.
Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition, Devin Galleries, Coeur d’Alene, ID, June 10-July 9.
Featured as an “Artist to Watch” in June 2011.