by Michael Hamer
Drury’s roots date back, way back to Thomas Moran, who was one of the original preservationist painters. He painted the Yosemite Valley, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon for his eastern audience. He wanted those lands preserved. He was so successful that Congress established the National Park system. After Moran came Albert Bierstadt, then Maynard Dixon, then the living legend Ray Strong. And the responsibility for preserving the landscape passed from painter to painter.
Each of these painters in turn taught a new generation of painters. Among the youthful students of Ray Strong was Michael Drury, who has not forgotten his lineage. Today, when Drury is not out on some lonesome vista, he is in Santa Barbara teaching the next generation of painters to capture the vanishing landscape.
This solitary cottonwood near Alturas, California has been Drury’s model many times over many years.
Oil on canvas on board, 36″ x 30,” 1999
For the past thirty years Drury has fixed his painterly eye on a select group of rugged outposts: the Nevada desert, the west coast of Ireland, coastal Northern and Central California and his beloved native home of Santa Barbara. Season after season, he returns to these same arenas often to paint the same vistas–his sandstone boulder on East Camino Cielo, the fall sunrise of Black Mountain, the sweep of wind and weather at Point Conception. Each painting, of course, is a conversation, and with each conversation the land reveals a little more and brings him closer to what he calls the truth about these places
Mr. Shirk’s Barn, a favorite subject of Drury’s, is evidence of the two major influences in Drury’s career: the “rigor and discipline” emphasized by Ray Strong and the ruthless simplicity stressed by the Los Angeles minimalist sculptor, John McCracken.
Oil on canvas on board, 24″ x 36,” 2001.
After his graduation from high school, Drury toured Europe for nearly two years. His love of the art world took him to many of the major museums. One day, inspired by the art in the Jeu de Paume, he visited a Parisian art supply store, purchased a paint box, paints and brushes and set himself up to become a painter. It was not until several years later, after meeting Ray Strong, that he feels he first “learned to build a painting.” Up until then Drury felt he had only been illustrating. “Painting,” he says, “is much more difficult.”
For nearly twenty-five years Drury went to work for the Hollister Ranch, twenty miles north of Santa Barbara. On the ranch Drury worked the land. He built fences, ploughed fields and graded roads. And he learned the land. Each evening after his ranch duties he would take a canvas and record what he saw. As a long-time friend of his said, “the land is a reticent and wiley being. It doles out its secrets like a miser.” Michael Drury’s intention is to “coax its hidden intentions from … bedrock.”
Title: Summer Evening, Gaviota, California.
Oil on canvas on board, 22″ x 28,” 1999.