Sonoma County artist on the rise for paintings of Yosemite, Grand Canyon

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Working in a modest studio space in west Santa Rosa, painter Sergio Lopez gets good sunlight from five smallish windows, but on a canvas at one end of the room, he has been creating his own window on the world, with a very different view. In his painting, a stormy and darkening sky looms above the Grand Canyon.

“Some of these paintings are from photos that I took years ago,” Lopez, 36, said. “The Grand Canyon trip was in 2014. It was a really interesting day to be out there. It was my first time I had ever been there. There were all these thunderstorms happening in and around it, so it was really a dramatic day to be out there. The thunderclouds evoke a mood and a sense of space.”

While Lopez is local, his reputation is spreading throughout the West. His work has been shown at galleries as far away as San Luis Obispo and even Charleston, South Carolina, and has been featured in Southwest Art magazine, based in Broomfield, Colorado. Two years ago, he won best of show at the Carmel Plein Air event.

The Grand Canyon piece is one of seven paintings that Lopez is currently working on for his “Western landmark series,” to be shown at Christopher Queen Galleries in Duncans Mills, which has represented him for the past decade, and where his work is on exhibit year-round. Besides the Grand Canyon, the locales in the series include Yosemite and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Sergio’s a born artist, and a natural talent. He can paint any sort of subject, and he can use both oil and watercolor equally well. He used to come into the gallery and show me his work when he was a still a student,” said Nancy Ferreira, owner of the Christopher Queen Galleries. “When he got out of school, I thought, I’m gonna grab this kid.’”

As a Santa Rosa native and plein air painter who loves to get out in the open, Lopez ranges as far as Big Sur, but more often goes up to Jenner, Salt Point and Timber Cove to make preliminary sketches and take photographs for later reference.

“These are all places I been to, over the years. I go to regional parks and public land for the most part. I want the remote, rocky coastline,” he said.

“I work from photos, but 99% of them are ones I take myself. I do stay and work from nature sometimes. I need that time working from life, but it doesn’t always afford me enough time, because the light changes so dramatically during the day.”

A quiet man, Lopez doesn’t always feel comfortable when hikers or tourists approach him while he’s working on his oil paintings outdoors.

“That is where my introversion comes in. I don’t normally like to be bothered when I’m out painting,” he said.

“I tend to have my headphones on, and I just want to be in my own little world even though I’m out in the outside world. I just want it to be me and the scene in front of me. When I have my easel set up, I kind of want to have a little boundary around it, so I can step back from the scene or my canvas to get a better perspective.”

While Lopez is more focused on his landscape work now, he is equally accomplished at his portrayals of the human figure, including nudes presented in a tasteful fashion.

“There’s a new avenue I’ve been exploring for the past year or so,” he said.

“It’s a more contemporary way of dealing with the human figure. There are a lot of people who are inspired by the classical way of working with the figure, and more modern abstract methods. The way people are combining the two these days is really interesting.”

During his five years of study at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Lopez had more access to models, but after he went out on his own, he began to concentrate more on landscapes.

After he left school, he worked for a couple of years at a company in Marin County that produced 3D virtual reality graphics, where his job was to supply scenic backgrounds.

“That’s where I started doing plein air studies. I’ve done some abstract work here and there, but I really love traditional, realistic painting,” he said. While some critics may dismiss realism as commonplace or out of date, the artists themselves seldom clash, because the realists and the abstract painters each travel in their old worlds, Lopez observed.

A 2001 graduate of Piner High School, he has known since childhood he wanted to be a professional artist. “My earliest memories are of sitting at a table with a yellow legal pad, drawing pictures,” he recalled.

But now in his mid-thirties, Lopez considers his growing expertise in marketing his own work almost as important as the art itself.

“I’m also realistic about how I treat my career,” he said.

“It’s a profession like any other. It’s not just going to your easel and painting. I had to learn how to be comfortable presenting myself. In a way, you’re selling yourself.”

For him, online marketing and connecting with art collectors via social media has been a boon.

“I’m much more comfortable working one on one,” Lopez explained. “When there are more people around, I tend to shrink.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts

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