John Comer: Bringing Light to the Land

By Zach Rosen   |   July 8, 2021
John Comer has spent his life outdoors, catching waves on his surfboard and capturing scenic vistas with his paintbrush

Part of the mystique of nature is revisiting an area at different times of year, or even just different times of the day. The scenery is always familiar yet ever changing as the light, weather, and seasons impart their effect on the view.

Longtime landscape painter John Comer has been capturing these subtle changes of local landscapes and scenic coastlines for more than 50 years. In his newest gallery show, John mentions, “What I was looking for in this show were things that connected me to the different places where I had painted.”

This Sacred Land is on display until September 1 at Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery, located next to the Arlington Theatre. The show features about two dozen landscape paintings that draw inspiration from John’s life around the sea and outdoors.

For much of his career, John has painted en plein air, surrounded by the splendor of nature and the locations he is trying to capture. When he is outdoors these days, it is more about studying the light and movement of the scene, trying to observe the “feeling” of the location so that he can bring that back into the studio to paint. Whether it is how the shadows ripple across a mountainscape at sunset or the glowing sea spray above an ever-churning aqua blue bay, these different paintings illustrate a life spent studying the movements of light and nature.

John has been practicing art since he was a young boy. When he first moved out to the West Coast as a child, he distinctly remembers noticing how different the lighting was along the sunny Pacific compared to the cool greys of the East Coast. Starting with drawing and watercolor, it wasn’t until he was 13 years old that he received his first oil paints. This also happened to be the year he got his first surfboard and the two have been intertwined for him ever since.

“That’s been one of the big things in my life. I just want to be outside. I’ve spent most of my life outside: surfing, painting, fishing, sailing, hiking,” John said. “Everything, I wanted to be outside.” And this life outdoors is reflected in each one of his paintings.

It was this lifelong love for the outdoors that John wanted to bring to This Sacred Land. For the show, he selected a range of paintings of areas that he felt connected to, but also celebrated the interconnectivity between the water and land, and the support that both bring to all life on this planet. From local spots like Refugio and Santa Cruz Island, to Carmel and the coast lines further north, all the way down to Baja California Sur, where John has lived for the past 13 years, This Sacred Land explores the different landmarks and iconic areas of the Pacific that he has painted over the years.

While John spends most of his time at his home in Baja, This Sacred Land is one of his two exhibits currently happening in Santa Barbara. John is one of the featured artists in the newly opened exhibit “Heritage, Craft & Evolution: Surfboard Design 1885 – 1959” at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, which will run until the end of October. The exhibit hosts a range of vintage photographs, displays, and replicas of original surfboard designs. These reproductions were produced from pioneering surfboard shaper Renny Yater and esteemed shaper and painter Kevin Ancell and explore the history and evolution of surfboard design before the advent of foam boards. The various boards have vignettes painted on them by John that show the famous bays and surf spots where the designs originated from and were first used. 

Whether it is one of these painted surfboards, or a piece from This Sacred Land, each of his paintings reflect a life spent outside and his love for each one of those moments in nature.


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