By Mark Mussari
Robin Hall’s brilliant canvases of verdant landscapes, dramatic seascapes, and sun-drenched missions offer painterly testimony to her deep affection for her home state of California. In painting after painting, Hall illustrates her keen eye for capturing the singular interplay of light and color that comprises the state’s glorious scenery. “The great thing about California,” she observes, “is that we have mountains, deserts, and the ocean. There’s a lot here to paint.”
Hall’s love affair with California began in early childhood. She was born and raised in Santa Monica in a family filled with artistic talent. “My mother was a professional oil painter, and I grew up with her painting in the kitchen and in a small studio attached to our home,” she recalls. The elder Hall imbued her daughter’s life with art by taking her to galleries and art exhibits. Hall’s maternal grandmother was an antiques dealer, and her great-grandmother lived in Old Lyme, CT, an area renowned for its plein-air painters and famous impressionists. “With all that art surrounding me, it didn’t seem so mysterious,” she notes.
Assuming her career path lay in art, Hall took art classes in both junior and senior high school. “My original intention was to go to college as an art major,” she says. But during her freshman year at Orange Cove College, she became sidetracked when a guest speaker in one of her classes helped dissuade her from pursuing an art career. “He came in to talk about dental technology,” she remembers, “and my family was already worried that I would starve as an artist.” Convinced she would never make a living in art, she changed her area of concentration to dental technology and then pursued pre-dental studies at the University of California, Irvine, where she met her future husband. One day, while playing on the school’s tennis team, she had an epiphany. “Suddenly I realized that if I actually became a dentist I’d be staring into people’s mouths for eight hours a day,” she admits. “I immediately left the program. And I’m so thankful that I did!”
Hall pursued a number of entrepreneurial endeavors, starting a catering service, a dessert company, and a tennis rental shop. But then art began to creep back into her life. After selling her companies, Hall developed an after-school art-enrichment program for the Capistrano Unified School District. “It was a time when all the art classes were being cancelled in schools,” she explains, “and I felt that kids needed to have that hands-on experience early in their lives. That was my stimulus for starting the program, and it was very successful.” In time, though, she became disenchanted with the bureaucracy she encountered in the school district.
In 1991 Hall took a plein-air workshop in Santa Fe, NM. “It was an enlightening experience,” she notes. “I realized that you have to understand how atmosphere and light work.” She painted solely en plein air for a year after that workshop. Today most all of her paintings are developed in the studio. “I still do studies on location. For me, it’s like taking notes,” she says. “But I don’t like to finish anything out in the field.”
She also took a photography class to acquire a better understanding of cameras and to learn how to use Photoshop—skills she knew would come in handy both in painting and when working with galleries and websites. “I learned how important light is to composition, especially when you’re focusing on certain shapes and the way light casts shadows,” she observes. “I rely on my digital camera about 40 percent of the time when composing.”
Since 1992, Hall—who now lives in Capistrano Beach—has shown regularly in a number of prominent exhibits, including such notable venues as the California Art Club’s Gold Medal Exhibition in Pasadena and the annual Laguna Plein Air Painting Invitational in Laguna Beach. This past summer, the Oceanside Museum of Art exhibited her work in a rare two-person show entitled Impressions of Southern California: Robin Hall and Jeff Yeomans, displaying scenes of San Diego and surrounding areas. “As a living artist, I feel honored that the museum extended such a generous invitation,” she comments.
Hall defines her art as realism, but, she adds, “It’s not tight. It’s looser and more in the impressionist realm.” She explains that she tries to “push color as far as I can and still have it be believable.” Over time her colors have become bolder. “Experience has affected the evolution of my color sense,” she observes. “In workshops I’ve taken, everyone uses a different palette, and I’ve found I’ve learned something from everybody.” She adds that her own palette has included “more earth tones in the last five or six years, instead of using a strictly prismatic palette.”
Hall also points out that her edges have gradually become harder: “I like scruffy grass, rough textures, old buildings and how the light hits them.” She is particularly fond of the moisture in coastal air. “I love the mist by the ocean, the way moisture affects the atmosphere and the light. It lends itself to lots of greens and blues,” she notes.
Hall cites a number of Impressionist movements as influential on her painting. “In the early part of my career,” she explains, “I was heavily influenced by the California Impressionists, and I still think they’re incredible. Later, I discovered the Russian Impressionists—their work is so exciting!” She holds a special fondness for Spanish master Joaquín Sorolla. “In the 1990s, a museum in San Diego had a fantastic exhibit of his work,” she recalls. “To stand in front of his work—as huge as it is—and see how he saturated his paintings in sunlight was life-altering for me.”
Hall begins her oil paintings with a thin sketch, employing a small brush and using raw umber and a little thinner. “My darks are applied first, using a combination of warm, transparent paint mixtures,” she notes. “I look, analyze, and then lay down what my eyes and my mind agree on. There’s really no formula for getting to the finished painting.” She insists that she wants each canvas “to tell a story and have its own beginning, middle, and end. Part of my enjoyment is solving the puzzle as well as the challenge of this medium. One rule is to keep it fun.”
In her painting CLIFFS, she captures the grandeur of the California coast on a mammoth 48-by-72-inch canvas. In this sweeping seascape, the alluring blues and greens of the water reflect on the dark, majestic cliffs. “That painting was based solely on a 9-by-12-inch sketch I did,” says Hall. “The rest is conceptual.” The canvas offers a prime example of the artist’s rare capacity to portray atmosphere on canvas. The air appears to function as a third element, triangulating with the sea and the cliffs.
In addition to her landscapes and seascapes, Hall’s art includes many paintings of buildings and architecture, particularly of her favorite structure, the mission at San Juan Capistrano. Her piece CORREDOR reveals her painterly affection for the mission. “It was late afternoon and no people were there,” she explains. Texturally, the scene provides a strong juxtaposition between the patched archways and soft courtyard grasses. Hall bounces the brilliant afternoon light, visible through the arches, off the warm adobe wall. Cool, bluish shadows on the far wall provide a contrast in color temperature.
Hall maintains a home studio, which she describes as “medium-sized, but it holds everything. It’s very functional.” After painting for some 25 years, she has learned that painters must connect with their subject matter in their hearts. “I want people to say, ‘She’s a good painter,’ rather than, ‘She sells a lot of paintings.’” Viewing her luminous images of the Golden State, how could anyone possibly think anything else?
Art Expressions Gallery, San Diego, CA; Villas & Verandas Fine Art Gallery, San Juan Capistrano, CA; Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar, CA; www.robinhall.com.
Featured in October 2010