In February, California artist Grace Charlotte Schlesier flew from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti, for a tropical adventure that also included the South Pacific islands of Moorea and Bora Bora. For two weeks, Schlesier lived and painted on board a 60-foot catamaran. Southwest Art’s Bonnie Gangelhoff caught up with the landscape painter via e-mail when Schlesier stopped at a Tahiti hotel before her trek home to San Diego. Schlesier painted little grass hut (below) on location in the South Pacific. This is the second in a series of columns that invite you to travel along with artists to far-flung destinations.
What attracted you to the South Pacific and the islands of French Polynesia?
I love the tropics, and I wanted to go to someplace that was remote, unspoiled, and where there weren’t a lot of people. More than anything, I wanted to see the water, because I had heard about its intense colors in this part of the world. And I have not been disappointed. I expected to see turquoise, but there also are incredible shades of cobalt blue and violet in the water. It was difficult with my very limited palette to capture all the colors. Back in my studio, while everything is fresh and I can still remember exactly what I’ve seen, I’m going to experiment with tubes of colors. Some of these colors of the water here look like they actually come straight from the tube.
What painting supplies did you bring with you?
I had to pack extremely light, but I managed to get all my gear in a backpack. I have an Open Box M pochade box and a mini-box that holds an easel, paints, rags, a container for water, and a lightweight tripod.
Describe the climate.
The climate is tropical and it is summer here below the equator. It has been in the high 80s during the day and high 70s at nighttime. The stars are so close you can touch them. The water is the best part. Whenever I get too hot, I jump in to cool off. Also, the snorkeling is in fairly shallow water, and it’s like swimming in a fish tank. I even saw some Moray eels. And I could wave my fingers at schools of fish and they would swim right up to me because they thought I was going to feed them. It made me wish I were an underwater painter.
What is the biggest surprise?
My biggest surprise is that there weren’t as many bugs and mosquitoes as I had anticipated. I expected to be eaten alive. I never used my can of OFF!
What is the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was painting from the boat. We moored it with an anchor out in the South Pacific. But even when it was moored, the boat still moved. It made me think that when Monet painted on the water, he must have been on a small pond.
How have the local people reacted to you and your painting efforts?
People here seem to love artists. They say things about your paintings like, “Ahhh, so beautiful.” What I was so amazed about—and I’ve seen it in Europe, too—is that artists are held in high esteem here. People really look up to them and think they are something special. In the United States, the attitude towards artists is, “Hey, why don’t you get a real job.”
What was your most memorable experience?
It’s hard to pick one thing, but I did take a wild four-wheel Jeep drive into the mountains. It was great seeing how people live and how life is so mellow here. We Americans move at such a fast pace. Here people take the time to enjoy one another more. It’s a camaraderie we get once in a while in our country. But it’s a shame we don’t live more in the moment like them. As I head home, I realize that I want to transport this sense of peacefulness back with me to California and into my studio when I paint.
Schlesier is represented by Judith Hale Gallery, Los Olivos, CA; Village Frame & Gallery, Montecito, CA; Villas & Verandas, San Juan Capistrano, CA; Zantman Art Galleries, Carmel and Palm Desert, CA; and Enchanted Gallery, Del Mar, CA.
Featured in “Dispatches” June 2006