No Plein Jane

Many artists show promise early on – few, however, launch careers at three years-old.

“I can’t remember when I haven’t painted,” says Glen Ellen painter Patricia Akay, a Sonoma Valley resident since transplanting from the South Bay 8 years ago.

Now grown up and a professional artist for the past few decades, Akay is an extraordinarily pleasant woman with a decidedly upbeat and positive demeanor. A tour of her spacious wine country home could well be called a visit to the “Musee d’Akay.” The walls brim with original works by the artist, most of which portraying her passion for landscape.

Watercolors are Akay’s métier though she produces and sells oils as well. Much of her work is imbued with a lucidity suggesting a sense of presence somewhere in the twilight between impressionism and realism. In a seascape, one can nearly see the depth of a bay from how deftly the artist captured it.

“It’s so clear,” this reporter marvels.

“It’s water. I tried to make it clear,” Akay drolly rejoins. “People that like my work say that ‘it’s not washed out watercolor.’ I do like color and I like things with a punch.”

Indeed, Akay calls herself a “high key” painter, referring to her pallet, which, as evidenced on her walls, is generally a riot of vivid color.

“But I’m looking to go more into the darks too,” she says. “I kind of avoid darks.”
I hasten to use some vocabulary I once gleaned from an art student and ask if Akay creates her work “plein air” (the term, French literally for “plain air,” refers to capturing a subject on location in the outdoors).

She smiles at my attempt at art-speak.

“Yes, that’s a very fancy name for what I’ve been doing for years,” she says, not one to suffer artsy pretensions. Then she adds, “If I’m in France I say ‘plein air,’” and pronounces it correctly, unlike me.

Since Akay sells much of the work that she produces, prints often suffice as stand-ins where an original once hung on her wall. Her list of corporate and private collectors runs the length of a page. Likewise, Akay’s work has been featured in numerous juried and invitational shows, one-person shows and galleries. Throughout, Akay has managed to successfully navigate both the artistic and business aspects of her calling. She occasionally accepts commissions and sells much of her work during the annual Art Trails Open Studios tour, welcoming art lovers into her home and studio, which temporarily become a de facto art gallery.

What these visitors are likely to see gracing Akay’s walls are landscapes of area vineyard and wineries, colorful renderings of European scenery and even the occasional whirling dervish – the result of a recent trip to Istanbul. Painting, in many ways serves as a travel journal for Akay.

“I’m so exhausted from painting that I don’t have time to write in a diary, but every painting has a story. When I look at a painting from France or Italy, I know what happened that day. I’m there for six hours. Other people take a photograph and leave, but I’m there. It’s really in my mind,” says Akay, whose vacations frequently turn into painting expeditions. Consequently, she travels with a portable easel at-the-ready as well as paints, brushes and other supplies.

Akay is also just as happy painting at home where the surrounding Sonoma County landscape provides endless inspiration for her.

“The landscapes are so beautiful here. They’re always changing,” she says adding that sometimes she will eschew the familiarity of the local landscape, relying on her imagination instead.

“I really know this area by now, so I kind of have fun making them up,” she says pointing to such embellishments as barns and other rustic elements that augment the scenery she knows so well.
For the past three years, Akay has been developing what she nonchalantly calls her “window series” in which scenic landscapes are framed within the purview of expertly depicted windows.

“A niece in Canada sent us a beautiful bouquet. I was going down to Carmel so I took it with me, set it up. There was a window behind it with a beach – that started the whole series. I always thought that still-lifes where so still, I wasn’t interested in doing them.”

Many of Akay’s window paintings are so vital and brimming with verdant life, they could suffice as the perfect view for a collector with more wall space than windows.

“It’s definitely work. It’s really fun when you start, although sometimes you’re nervous about starting because you want to do it right and you’re moved by a situation and want to capture it. The first thing you have to set is your composition and think how it’s going to be – not that it won’t take on it’s own life,” Akay says of her creative process. She describes the application of her delicate brush strokes as being akin to “dancing.”

Though she has produced other modes of work in the past, including abstracts and portraiture, Akay presently prefers her landscapes, though she is considering moving into more figurative work.

“I could paint in any direction,” she says. “I like to paint something that I’m happy with on the wall. Basically, I’m optimistic and want to be uplifted. My feeling when I look at a landscape is ‘what is it that attracts me to it, what is its soul?’”

If rolling hills quilted with grape vines and dappled by the noon day sun could be said to have a soul, Akay will certainly capture it in paint – plein air or otherwise.