She already knows what she’s going to paint. She chose her subject the day before so as not to waste precious creative energy searching for one now. She’ll carefully set the legs of her easel before her subject. Then she’ll place the over-sized, hand-stretched canvas that she coated and prepared like the masters she studied in Paris. She’ll arrange tools, then her oil paints, blended with linseed oil, casein and egg yolk. She’ll mix her “artists palette” on-site like a sous-chef prepping for dinner. When the light is right, she’ll lift her brush and look into that palette, and when she “sees” her subject inside it, she’ll begin ...
Gianne Harper is an artist ... a Southern California grown, UC-Irvine-graduated local girl who could be excusably mistaken for native French. The petite blond has a noticeable accent and often describes things in her new tongue when she can’t find the right word in English. Understandable, when you learn she’s lived in Paris the last 24 years. She has studied with French instructors and exhibited throughout France, as well as Italy and Sweden.
While she is the first “Artist in Residence” at the Casa, it is not her first residency. In 2011, Harper had the unique privilege of painting the gardens of the Château Tillerai in Bachiviller, which is about an hour south of Paris. It was the historic property where Mary Cassatt, (a famed 19th century American painter, who ironically had also left America to study and paint in Paris) lived and worked from 1891 to 1893.
“The experience of working in the beauty of that compositional garden was so moving that it became the singular inspiration for my art; namely to capture through the painting of significant bodies of work, the beauty of other esteemed gardens.” Gianne says.
She has recently come from another residency at the Domaine du Rayol, 50-acre publically owned garden on the southern French coastline between Le Lavandou and St Tropez. Next year she will participate in a group show at the Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles, then on to paint in residence at the Thomas Hanbury Gardens in Italy in 2014. You only go around once in life, you might as well be doing what you love to do, in the world’s most beautiful places.
Gianne is also an artist with a message. She hopes to share the beauty of all the indigenous native gardens in the Mediterranean climate to spread the message that we don’t need to waste the excess water that we use to keep non-native plants blooming.
“I am not just a landscape painter,” she explains, “but a landscape painter with something to say. Something that I hope is universal. The ‘why’ of my work is my way of showing, of convincing, of finding compositions that already exist in nature ... (to show that) it is possible to have a magnificent Mediterranean garden and avoid watering. In California, 70% of the consummation of water is used to water plants and lawn. I work in the Mediterranean climate which is arid, and where water is our most precious resource. It is my hope that my paintings create the desire to have a particular form of beauty, a water-wise garden in an arid climate.”
Gianne Harper has now brought her talents and message to San Clemente, capturing in her unique style the natural gardens of the Casa Romantica. She has been busy for three months, painting the gardens "in situ" on large canvas throughout the grounds. Harper’s works will be showcased in her pubic exhibition “In the Garden of the Casa,” on display at the Casa Romantica Cultural Center from May 11 through June 10. It’s a great excuse to visit a community treasure.
In a final note, San Clemente’s not just another stop on her world tour. Gianne’s proud parents live in San Clemente and her dad, Jim Reiss, is that strong baritone voice coming from your local Kiwanis Club.