MORAGA -- From gold-brushed hillsides to brilliant cerulean skies to lofty, lyrical white blossoming pear trees, "Points of View: Mary Lou Correia and Paul Kratter" at Saint Mary's College Museum of Art reveals the drama of en plein air painting.
Capturing the elusive essence of landscapes while painting outdoors requires both long-suffering patience and lightening-speed brushwork, an unusual combination of talents Correia and Kratter discovered along their similar though divergent career paths.
Martinez resident Correia began painting at age 12 and taught high school and college-level art courses, but veered off into designing book covers for UC Press and devising marketing as director of publications at SMC.
Kratter, a longtime Moraga resident, honed his artistic chops as an illustrator, most often of winning professional NFL and major league baseball players, or wildlife art or pieces for children's books.
For both, en plein air painting offered an openness and freedom their controlled, purpose-driven art didn't.
"What I really like are the surprises," said Correia, minutes after previewing the Studio Gallery exhibit before its June 2 opening. "I really believe in that sense of the moment."
"I fell in love with plein air painting in 2001, at the Sonoma exhibit," Kratter says. "I thought it was fabulous. I went out and bought paint the next day. One hundred paintings later, my wife said I had to find a gallery."
Correia scouts locations from her car, examining the sky and opening herself to a captivating space often found in a cluster of trees, animals, flowering plants or clouds. Quick watercolor studies organize her compositions and confirm her nonliteral depictions.
"I love to catch my colors outside, where I can get a feel of the whole painting," she says.
Back in the studio, Correia occasionally uses her studies, photographs and memory to complete a work, but cautions, "The sky's movement only happens outside: there's nothing like being there."
Kratter describes his process -- and his results -- as "true to nature" and, half-in-jest, "magic." Having drawn only in black and white during most of his childhood, he says his instinctive, shape-oriented approach seeks out elegant, stately forms.
"I get to a spot and say, 'This is it.' I always do a quick sketch and it's those decisions that make and break a composition," he explains. "Do you lower the horizon line because the sky is fabulous? Do you go close, or back up?"
Correia and Kratter embrace plein air's second challenge: fleeting light and swiftly changing circumstances. Correia roughs in entire canvases, snatching the landscape's color palette before it disappears, while Kratter chooses a smaller size when experience tells him the colors will change in a dramatically short amount of time.
After years of experimentation, sweet success and lesson-learned failures, they say working larger and looser is "increasingly comfortable."
The exhibit's 14 paintings by Correia project a tactile, sensory-resplendent feel. A table of foreground grass, sprinkled with orange in her "California Poppies," nearly transmits a spicy scent.
Kratter's paintings are more about things hidden. "Rusted" hides the rear of a farm truck behind sturdy, cropped-top oak trees. Densely matted blossoms obscure individual detail in "Pear Orchard."
"It's nothing like a photograph," Kratter says, reacting to a question about a comment people frequently -- and mistakenly -- offer plein air painters as a compliment.
Correia is more circumspect, choosing instead to speak of the camaraderie of local artist groups and her students. "The easiest part of this work is the joy of it," she says. "And teaching is my way of giving back."
Kratter leads workshops and teaches students in the Bay Area and agrees sharing his experience is rewarding.
"It's amazing. I can be standing side-by-side with another artist, looking at the same sky, and see an entirely different blue."
When: Through Sunday,
Where: Saint Mary's College
Museum of Arts, Moraga campus
Information: Gallery open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Admission, $5, ages 12 and younger free. 925-631-3379, or visit www.stmarys-ca.edu/