HomeArtsCelebrating 31st anniversary, Carmel Art Festival hopes to keep Bohemian art culture alive

Celebrating 31st anniversary, Carmel Art Festival hopes to keep Bohemian art culture alive

Published May 8, 2024

BY LAUREN GALICIA

Since its beginnings in 1993, the Carmel Art Festival has celebrated Carmel’s artistic legacy through a friendly competition bringing the culmination of talented artists and intrigued art collectors to Devendorf Park in downtown Carmel, this year held by the non-profit Carmel Gallery Alliance from May 17-19. 

“There was a group of artists that started to chafe against the more specific studio style of painting that you saw from some of the classic salons in Europe, and they really wanted to be outside,” explains the Carmel Art Festival co-founder Ellen Wilson. “[Carmel’s] landscape—anything from the cypresses, the mountains to the sea—is just really inspiring to a painter trying to capture a plein-air scene.”

The festival is a plein-air painting competition of 60 juried artists, consisting of painters from all around the world, some from as far as Europe or China, but most primarily local from the west coast. On the Wednesday before the public events, artists register their canvases and spread across the peninsula in hopes of capturing nature’s beautiful landscape for two competition paintings. Award winners are announced Friday, May 17.

“When I’m out in creation, it’s just overwhelmingly beautiful,” expresses plein-air painter Coraly Hansen.

“If I can capture a little bit of it, that usually brings people joy.”

Plein-air artists stay local in town, close to Devendorf Park to paint for the quick draw. (courtesy of CARMEL ART FESTIVAL)

It will be Hansen’s 16th year participating in the Carmel Art Festival, while she also shows art in the Carmel Fine Art Gallery and is involved in the California Art Club, American Impressionist Society and Oil Painters of America. Hansen loves to paint in Point Lobos, especially China Cove.

Similar to Hansen, Joaquin Turner and Donald Neff are high caliber, local oil painters who plan to compete in this year’s festival. Turner, having hometown advantage owning an art gallery in downtown Carmel, enjoys painting the coast and the Monterey cypress, his favorite places of inspiration being Point Lobos, Scenic Road of Carmel or Pebble Beach. Neff appreciates the Big Sur area, Garrapata State Park, Elkhorn Slough and the sand dunes in Marina near where he lives.

“You’re forced to capture what’s important to you, and all the little things, all the frivolous stuff, gets thrown out the window,” says Turner, recounting the quick draw. “Ultimately, it ends up being more of your impression of the scene.”

Artists are given two hours on Sunday morning to paint a quick draw, so in that limited time artists tend to stay close. The time constraint can be seen as a challenge to many, with some artists working better under pressure than others. A plein-air artist is open to the elements as well, the wind a significant factor, especially for a painting on the sandy beach.

“It’s a good way to compare yourself to a lot of other good artists,” says Neff. “See how your art is developing and theirs is developing. Many of the artists are my friends also. Some I only see a few times a year.”

For some, the festival is a reunion of sorts—meeting up with friends and encouraging each other during their artistic process. In a competition with fellow quality artists, many of them describe pushing themselves to compete at another level.

Carmel is a bustling, exciting, art-enriched place for many of the locals during the three-day festival, bringing in art collectors and families alike. Along with the showing of stunning landscape pieces, live entertainment includes music, screen presentations, dance performances and sculpting demonstrations. This year the festival plans on having presentations on artwork in the adobes belonging to state parks and partnering with Oscar’s Playground for kids’ activities.

“A lot of us have galleries in courtyards and alleyways off the big path, so I thought it would be good to help us stand out from all the big, commercial galleries,” says Turner, describing the Carmel Art Walk he began in 2016, consisting of a tour on the second Saturday of every month from 4-7 p.m.

With many art galleries closing under Carmel’s rising economy, local artists strive to keep art circulating through various events. Many wish to keep alive the Bohemian spirit and artist camaraderie in Carmel that seemed more prevalent in the 1900s. 

“People kind of revert back to that Bohemian spirit where you had really famous painters like Arthur Hill Gilbert or Ritschel,” says Wilson. “People really adhere to that history and want it to still be part of our current Carmel experience, but it can’t be unless it’s protected.”

The Carmel Art Festival is an event designed to pay homage to that culture. Profit from the festival goes toward their developing scholarship program for Monterey County students interested in pursuing art in college.

Further information on the celebration can be found on the Carmel Art Festival website at www.carmelartfestivalcalifornia.com

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