Art History 101 • August Gay
I had first discovered the Society of Six a few months ago from friend/master painter, John Brosio; it was a group in the 1920s in the Bay Area of California led by Selden Gile and August Gay that proposed a new style of painting. This style consisted of bright colors and impressionist techniques that contradicted with the prevalent somber tonalism and decorative aesthetics of William Keith and Arthur Frank Mathews. I am guilty of choosing a somber palette, too, so I decided to challenge myself with a more impressionistic technique and study from one of the masters of the Society of Six – August Gay! My boss, Linda Wehrli, and I have never heard of him, so we decided to do some research. Who was this brilliant painter?
Born in 1890 in Rabou, France, Gay immigrated to the United States with his family in 1900, settling in Alameda, California. At age sixteen, he developed tuberculosis and spent three years healing on his uncle’s ranch in the Imperial Valley. Meanwhile, he did much sketching and developed his passion for art, but he never regained much energy and seemed totally oblivious to most everything but his painting. Although his art education was minimal, he did, however, attend a few classes locally at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Gay’s work can be described as Cubist and geometric and many of his paintings were done on cigar box tops! He is also known for having an innate sense of color and an overall happiness that is evidently portrayed in his bright, cheerful paintings.
Although he painted mainly landscapes and coastal scenes, Gay was also an etcher, muralist, and furniture builder. The Society of Six was active from 1918 – 1930, yet Gay did not receive recognition for his paintings until the 1950s. He settled down in Monterey and Carmel where he worked at an art supply store and continued to paint until his death in 1949. Today, Gay’s work is in the collection of the Oakland Museum .
Here is my study of one of August Gay’s self portraits. Oil on Gesso, 5×7. I loved using the loose brush strokes and bright colors.
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