Artist Carol Lindemulder, subject of San Diego History Center exhibit, captures life's colorful moments

Carol Lindemulder recently looked out the window of her Borrego Springs home early in the morning and watched the fog roll down the San Ysidro Mountains to the west. For her, the gray blanket was filled with shades of blues and purples. Then the sun peeked through, and she recalled: “A light came through, a brilliant, flaming yellow light. Like the heavens had opened up.”

She grabbed her camera, capturing the moment so she could reproduce it in oil on canvas. It will be the landscape artist’s next project.

Lindemulder sees the world through a kaleidoscope of colors, taking in subtle hues overlooked my most. She translates what she sees into vibrant, boldly colored paintings that reflect her window to the world.

“I see three to four colors where people see one. So I exaggerate what I see so others can see it, too,” Lindemulder said.

The sky turns from blue to green and the bluffs pop with oranges, reds and deep blues in a painting of Borrego in August. The cliffs of Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly are purple and blue in the shadow of an afternoon.

“She is an extraordinary colorist,” said Kaytie Johnson, the curator for the San Diego History Center, where 17 of Lindemulder’s paintings are on display. The exhibition, “Carol Lindemulder: Color Story,” focuses on four categories — buildings, trees, deserts and fields — and includes local landscapes and as well as other parts of the Southwest.

Only the most recent paintings of the desert are from Lindemulder’s collection. The rest are on loan from private collectors because Lindemulder lost all her work when her Fallbrook home and studio burned to the ground in the 2007 fires.

“I’ve had a very interesting life. I’ve had some hardships, but I firmly believe art is just the therapy to keep going,” Lindemulder said.

After that devastating loss, Lindemulder chose Borrego Springs as her next home. It was a place the native San Diegan had visited often with her family, she had friends there and most importantly, it wouldn’t be at risk for wildfires.

“It’s a small community — wonderful, peaceful,” she said of Borrego. “It’s a great place to create.”

The 82-year-old said that she has always felt the need to create, drawing and composing poetry from an early age. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in interior design as a way to make a living while being creative. She has also taught adult education classes in design as well as art, but it wasn’t until she was in her 50s that Lindemulder became a full-time painter.

Her idea was to become a plein-air artist. While mostly self-taught, she took lessons from Ann Templeton, a well-known landscape artist from New Mexico. But Lindemulder soon realized that the limited time frame of a plein-air artist didn’t work for her way of thinking.

“I would think about color too much,” instead of getting the painting done, she said. Plein-air artists need to work fast to finish a piece before the light on the landscape shifts.

Lindemulder’s process is to take photographs of what draws her attention and then paint from a combination of three or four photographs of the scene and her memory. She always has a camera at the ready wherever she goes.

“I grew up loving the West. I was crazy about Louis L’Amour and went to see many of the places he wrote about because the descriptions were so wonderful,” she said.

As a child, she daydreamed about being a pioneer and seeing the hills and valleys of San Diego County untouched by civilization.

“I’ve always been interested in the vision from the covered wagon,” Lindemulder said. She’s also interested in man’s mark on landscapes and her work usually includes telephone poles, wires, fences and roads. The roads are a symbol of the adventure Lindemulder sees in backroads and dirt roads, which she has often taken just to explore where they go. At the end of the road, whether it’s a town, a tree or a field, she said the question is whether to proceed or withdraw.

“Sometimes you don’t want to get out and sometimes you want to get out and take a walk, it’s so beautiful,” she said. That path and the question are always a part of her paintings. She captures her vision with a style that has impressionist influences on large textured linen canvases that are often square, resembling the view through a window. Using a small brush, she applies thin transparent layers.

Johnson described Lindemulder’s style as both impressionist and expressionist with some hyper-realism added to the mix. “Color is the common thread,” Johnson said. “That’s what really grabs you.”

While most of Lindemulder’s art reflects beauty and the play of light and shadow, she also focuses on man’s effect on the environment. A painting of Ocotillo shows rusted oil barrels and an abandoned trailer. A four-year series on low-income housing was lost in the fire.

Lindemulder’s goal is to share her adventure, whether it’s from the end of a long road or from her living room window on a foggy morning.

“The world is so beautiful,” she said. “There are so many things I like people to see.”

“Carol Lindemulder: Color Story”

When: Through May 5

Where: San Diego History Center, Casa de Balboa, 1649 El Prado, Suite 3, Balboa Park

Tickets: Suggested donation of $10

Phone: (619) 232-6203

Online: sandiegohistory.org

Schimitschek is a freelance writer.

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