Artwork by Sam Colburn
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About the Artist
(1909-1993) "Samuel Bolton Colburn was well-versed in the progressive modernist directions of the day as well as advanced watercolor techniques. The San Francisco art critic Alfred Frankenstein credited Colburn with a sense of drama and "as fine an eye for the subtleties of watercolor as this country has produced since [John] Marin's heyday."Watercolor was Colburn's preferred medium. A prolific painter, he worked quickly outdoors on location, developing a style that was luminous, spontaneous and fluid, though requiring tremendous control of the medium.Colburn developed his art during the 1930s and 1940s, a period when American Scene artists nationwide shunned abstraction and modernist experimentation and depicted rural and urban views in a representational manner. Colburn's American Scene art was tempered by a modernist vision. He found early on what it took others decades to find: a reasoned balance between abstract design and realistic delineation, or between modernism and representation. Economic conditions and social issues were foremost on the minds of many Americans during the Depression era. Colburn was associated with the loose circle of intellectuals, artists and writers on the Monterey Peninsula that included John Steinbeck, Edward "Doc" Ricketts, Robinson Jeffers, James Fitzgerald, Edward Weston, Bruce Ariss and Ansel Adams. Colburn is well-known for his coastal scenes of Jeffers and Steinbeck country. He created genre scenes of the action around the sardine canneries on Cannery Row and at Fisherman's Wharf, sometimes injecting humorous characterizations or visual anecdotes in the manner of John Steinbeck as in the painting Fishermen Hauling Nets (1939). Although a gifted portrait painter and draughtsman, Colburn minimized the faces of his subjects here expressing essentials rather than specifics, getting at the basic power and expression of the body.Colburn made landscapes of the rolling hills around Carmel and Salinas valleys, as well, landscapes that embodied the poetic yearning of Robinson Jeffers. Jeffers Territory (1942) shows Colburn's tremendous feeling for the land--the haunting, sublime beauty of the coastal terrain and the surging restlessness of the sea. He filled his landscapes with voids and mists, out of which freely arose his forms and structural elements.Colburn traveled widely on painting expeditions, especially to Colorado, capturing the essence of the West. He mastered the technique of "white paper painting" or allowing the white paper to act as a design element, or as an additional shape or color, to manipulate the figure/ground relationship. He used resonating color combinations for expressive effect and to build up simplified forms. Nearly all of Colburn's work is based on first hand observation. He once said that "the shapes of this earth…are really the subject of my artistic discourse."Colburn grew up in Los Angeles and studied geology at the University of Southern California. After graduating in 1932, he went to Europe, where he spent a year traveling and studying art. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he briefly attended Chouinard Art School, where he studied with Don Graham. In 1937 he moved to Carmel, and became a member of the Carmel Art Association three years later. He studied painting with Paul Whitman, and learned much through his interaction with other artists.Throughout six decades of painting, Colburn's art moved progressively toward ever freer expression in his response to nature, the still life and the human figure. He was an active member of the artistic community on the Monterey Peninsula, teaching extensively, executing public murals, and exhibiting regularly in local galleries and regional museums. He was for many years the art columnist for The Carmel Pine Cone and author of the book, Tales from the Taxicab, a selection of reminiscences about life in Carmel. A witty raconteur and highly social, Colburn was once described as an "artist-teacher-character-taxi driver-famous hat rack." To that must be added violinist, guitarist, avid golfer and well-loved Peninsula figure, who had a significant impact on the cultural and social life of the region."
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