When Coarsegold artist Rita Alvarez heard about the "HWY 41: Destination California," a Fresno art exhibition featuring paintings created within 50 yards of the travelled highway that stretches from Yosemite's entrance to Paso Robles, she knew immediately what she wanted to paint.
"Gallery Row in Oakhurst would be the most perfect subject without a doubt," Alvarez said while working on her piece last week, just a few feet from the fast moving traffic including large trucks and an ambulance with blaring siren.
"Sometimes the traffic would startle me for a second or two but the painting immediately calls me back," Alvarez said.
She's been working on her 'plein air' 24 X 30 oil on canvas painting titled "Gallery Row," over the past two weeks.
The "HWY 41" exhibit will be shown May 2 through June 11 at the Sense of Place Gallery, 2003 North Van Ness, Fresno. An artist reception will be held 1-6 p.m. May 11. The gallery will be open during two Fresno Art Hops events 5-8 p.m. May 2 and June 4.
"For me painting is a calling that can't be ignored," Alvarez said. "After taking care of my sick mom for more than a decade, I wanted to start my life over including where I live after she passed away."
Alvarez grew up in Fresno and it was during her youth she would spend summers with her family camping and swimming at Bass Lake.
The former missile technician in the Army and active Army reserves, decided to relocate to Coarsegold from Woodland, where she settled after graduating from UC Davis.
She finds Oakhurst to be "a busy and friendly mountain town where all roads seem to lead, with a very impressive artist community."
Alvarez In addition to 'artist" title, Alvarez describes herself as a gardener and naturalist and decided to dedicate her life to the arts and pursue an education as a painter. Her favorite medium is oil paint and her favorite subject is the figure in the landscape.
She has had many one-person shows in the United States and her work hangs in a variety of public and private collections in Mexico and Germany. In 2002-2003, she was the artist-in-residence in Woodland at the Cache Creek Conservancy, an experience that blended her compassions for nature, ecology and art.
She received her Bachelors of Art from the University of California, Davis, and continued her studies at the Angel Art Academy in Florence, Italy.
"I'm a very focused painter, but I enjoy when people stop to watch me paint and ask questions," Alvarez said. "It means a lot to me when something I've painted touches the soul of another person. It makes me forget about the bugs sticking to my paint, the wind trying to knock over the easel and lessens the exposed venerable feeling of painting in public."
She says it's her personal connection with the outdoors that drives her to paint with accuracy and a sparkle in her heart, the oak trees, flowing hills and cobalt skies.
"I have a sparkle in my heart when I'm outdoors painting," Alvarez said. "It's my way of bringing importance through documentation and hopefully protection for our environment."
Alvarez lives on a four-acre ranch in Yosemite Lakes Park. She hopes to develop her property into an artist's retreat she plans to call The Art of Working with Nature. In addition to art, the retreat will offer meditation and yoga workshops. She feels the retreat will be an added benefit to the community and aspiring artists.