"When I owned the building where I hung all these things, I've had artists come just to look at that painting," the
The sunlight that drenched "Allende" was a motif throughout the gallery: morning on the ocean, surfers silhouetted by dusky yellow, sails' outlines bleached white and blended into the sky. For that matter, the paintings had recently taken their own journey into the light, even if it was electric museum light and not the
In recent years, the works in Crain's collection have spent most of their time packed away -- at his home, in storage, with friends. It's rare for him to see them displayed together. But when the
On this day, as the museum prepared to open the exhibit, bubble wrap and plastic tarp lay about the galleries; rugs supported the propped-up paintings, while pages taped to the walls showed where they would eventually hang. Crain brought a behind-the-scenes artifact of his own: a Brandt piece that he had recently acquired in
"He is the only man I ever knew that I think may have had an original thought," Crain said of his longtime friend. "That's hard to come by."
Oh, yes, the dinner party. When Crain stopped by "Strong Light" and "
One night in the 1960s, Crain and his wife were enjoying dinner with Brandt and his wife -- painter
"My wife and I were just raving about Joan's work -- how good she was, how talented, sensitive, how well she did children," Crain said. "We were likening her to
"Finally, he'd had enough, and he tapped me on the shoulder, and he went back and showed me these two paintings. His point was well made."
As Crain stepped from room to room with curator
Crain is no artist himself. Asked if he ever trained with Brandt, he replied with a laugh that "the last time I had a brush in my hand was in the eighth grade." For the
"That one," he said, gesturing to an image of sailboats in the water, "is the property of the late
That image, 1986's "
"Rex owned boats and sailboats," he said. "He sailed. And he said, 'You can't really paint a sailboat unless you've been a sailor.' And he sailed a lot. He was a big man, about six-five, six-six, and strong -- good tennis player, good athlete and very well conditioned all his life."
Crain has only vague memories of the first time he met Brandt. The details have slipped his mind, but he recalls the artist's presence -- and how long, that day, he ended up being its audience.
In 1961, Crain, who rented a
When Crain mentioned their mutual friend, Brandt invited him in. And it was late afternoon before Crain finally left.
"Actually, Rex was quite deaf -- not totally deaf, but he liked to talk," Crain said. "And he was always interesting. He never had anything dull to say, and he just mesmerized me. I suppose I said some things now and then, but for seven hours -- he'd never met me before -- for seven hours, we just sat and I mostly listened."
In the years to come, Crain and his wife traveled with Brandt and Irving. Crain gave his son the middle name Brandt in the painter's honor. In 2000, after Brandt died at age 85, Crain delivered the eulogy at his funeral. Months later, he contributed a group of Brandt works to a retrospective show at the
"The way I look at it, he was extremely important in a particular niche of art history," Blake said. "He was important with regard to the
One of those artists is Blake herself, who became acquainted with Brandt's work while taking a watercolor class at
Walking through the galleries Wednesday, Crain and Blake nearly finished each other's sentences as they traded observations about the work. At one point, the curator knelt down to dissect "Allende," which she called a coveted painting among artists and tourists for years.
"Essentially, he's literally carved this image out of the white paper," she said. "I mean, look at what he did here, see, with this blue wash. And then it's, of course, this spontaneous splash to represent the intensity of the sun, because it's
The last time Brandt had a solo show in this building, this painting didn't exist -- and neither did the
Now, the museum has scheduled Brandt's retrospective during the season that his work most evokes. Executive Director
Where Brandt's reputation goes from here, the next decades may determine. After touring the galleries Wednesday, Blake and Crain sat in the lobby -- this time in the natural light off
"Rex once told me, without some sort of break, without some sort of unusual circumstances, you can't really tell how important an artist is until at least 50 years after their death," Crain said. "
"Only 14 years," Blake cut in.
"Yeah," Crain nodded. "Fourteen years."
Information: (949) 494-8971 or lagunaartmuseum.org
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