I really want to capture what’s distinct about the landscape here.
If you live in Northern California, you are paying for it. The currency doled out might be sweat, margin, money, or sanity. Because of the intense pace and expense of life here, it can be easy to ignore or even discount the natural beauty that surrounds us in the Bay. The hills look brown and dead, the sky yellowed with smog and the vapor of a thousand IPO’s.
Artist Stephanie Maclean wants us to notice the intense natural world of Northern California, via her deeply colored landscape paintings, which seem to transport us past the many ‘issues’ of living here, and into a peaceful, almost magical realm—perhaps a time before silicon, when all of this was “the valley of heart’s delight.”
“I really want to capture what’s distinct about the landscape here, which is the bright colors, the golden hills, the oaks,” she says.
Maclean indeed captures a distinctness and even the very essence of the wild places in Silicon Valley—realms of uninhabited space and color, often merely a ten-minute car ride away for many. Her work moves quickly past the blasé representational landscapes found at every art and wine festival, and into something both grounded and otherworldly at the same time.
“I’m trying to bring out the beauty in things that you might not realize was there,” Maclean explains. “I’m showing it (nature) in its ideal.”
Part of what drives Maclean’s work is her avid participation in orienteering, a hobby of hers since she was a teen. Orienteering is like competition hiking—a group of participants trying to reach an endpoint in nature, using navigational and orientation skills rather than brute strength, endurance, and speed.
“The key is, it’s not the fastest runner who wins, it’s the person who can navigate the terrain,” she says. Maclean is no stranger to going off-trail, seeing what many of us weekend warriors might miss—the intricacies of each hill and valley, the heartbeat of a specific patch of nature. When she paints a place, usually working initially form a photograph, she knows that location intimately. In a way, she is seeking to make orienteers out of us as viewers—prompting us to leave the trail and inhabit the natural locales we might look past, or even take for granted.
Maclean has been a fixture of Silicon Valley Open Studios for over a decade, and will host a showing at her home studio in Los Altos the weekend of May 10th.
Written by Kevin Marks
Photography by Daniel Garcia