painter Rick Stich

Unquenchable thirst for artistic inspiration

Water is the dominant fascination and artistic inspiration of painter Rick Stich

Lux artist Rick Stich's Water Mirror #1.
Lux artist Rick Stich's Water Mirror #1.

Rick Stich

Where: Lux Art Institute, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas
When: In residence through April 23; exhibit continues through May 18
Tickets: $10 (members, visitors under 21 and bicyclists admitted free; memberships start at $50)
Phone: (760) 436-6611

Portrait of an artist

Personal: Born in Glendale in 1949. Currently lives in Santa Barbara with his wife of 35 years.
Affiliation: Santa Barbara City College
Education: Attended Orange Coast Community College in Costa Mesa and San Diego State University
Notable California exhibitions: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Carnegie Art Museum, Edward Cella Art + Architecture, L.A. Louver Gallery, and Ruth Schaffner Gallery
Corporate collectors: Bank of America, Eli Broad Foundation, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Lux artist Rick Stich's Water Mirror #1.
Artist Rick Stich is inspired by water.
Lux artist Rick Stich's Water Mirror #1.
Lux artist Rick Stic's "Water Mirror #2," 2008.
Lux artist Rick Stich's Water Mirror #1.
Rick Stich’s “ Near left: Water Mirror #110,” 2007.
In the age of the short attention span, it is rare to find focus like that of painter Rick Stich, who has been painting the same subject — water — since 1981. Stich, who lives in Santa Barbara and teaches landscape and figurative drawing at Santa Barbara City College, is the current artist in residence at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. Residents in Lux’s unique program spend a month creating new works of art in an exhibition space where the public can view past projects and interact with the working artist.
I met with Stich at Lux, where we were surrounded by his paintings, which are large and colorful renditions of the surface of water, and a site-specific installation he created for Lux. The installation comprises a dock, a pool of water, a small boat and light.
“The installation would be nothing without the light,” Stich said. While in residence, Stich is painting from the water in the installation. He is particularly interested in capturing the reflections of visitors looking in the pool.
Q: Are the paintings on exhibit drawn from memory or real life?
A: I draw to warm up, like an athlete warms up before a game. I make drawings to study the movement of water. The paintings are mostly from memory though. I’m a surfer. Riding a wave takes 10 seconds. The rest of the time I’m out there, I contemplate the movement of the water. In the studio, color becomes much more important. A work isn’t finished until both of those things are balanced and working together. I built a dock and small boat slip in this space so that people can see the source material and make connections between the paintings and the light, movement and patterns of water.
Q: I’m having a hard time deciding if your paintings are hyper-realistic or abstractions.
A: Good. I like it when they straddle the line between abstraction and realism. They may teeter one way or another, but that is a balance I try to keep.
Q: If you didn’t live on the coast of California, do you think you would paint something besides water?
A: I grew up on a beach in Southern California. That is what I know. Artists can only draw on what they know, and most of them return to memories of their childhood. This dock is a lot like the dock from my childhood. The color and shape of the wood are similar.
Q: What’s your favorite surf spot here in San Diego?
A: Swami’s and Pipes in Encinitas. We live in Encinitas every summer because Santa Barbara doesn’t get good waves in the summer.
Q: You’ve been painting the same thing in a similar way for a very long time. Do you anticipate your interactions with visitors here at Lux will change your process at all?
A: It already has changed. The other day, a teacher from the education building said a train of “tater tots” — that’s what she called the kids — were coming to show me their paintings of water. One little girl was dressed up like a pink princess, and her painting of water was also pink. Her piece excited me and made me want to paint in that color. All of the kids’ paintings were great. I asked them if I could have them, but they weren’t too keen on that.
Q: How do you teach someone to paint water, a notoriously difficult subject?
A: I grab a book and show students how other artists have depicted water. Then I tell them to try and find some movement. Start there. Draw that, and things will usually go well from there.
Q: Thirty years is a long time to study something. What keeps you interested, and do you envision a stopping point?
A: Have you ever found something precious? Or had the realization that you are looking at something rare? Water is everywhere; it is ordinary. Everybody has been in a boat or on a dock, and yet it is extremely precious. Water ties us all together. I can’t imagine an end to my contemplation of water. There is just too much to hold my interest.
Q: Did you know one of your paintings is for sale on eBay right now?
A: I can’t look at that stuff. I have a hard time even being at charity auctions where my work is for sale. It makes me feel like a cow at auction — I immediately say to myself, “I’ve got to get out of here!”
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: “The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.”
Q: Ha! It’s water-related … what a surprise. Do you have any hobbies besides surfing?
A: I lead a simple life. I spend time in the water, I teach, and I go to the studio.

Shawnee Barton is a San Diego artist and arts writer.

No comments: