Sullivan Goss
AN AMERICAN GALLERY
Celebrating 27 Years of 19th, 20th and 21st Century American Art
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CHARLES PAYZANT

(1898-1980)

CALIFORNIA REGIONALIST AND SCENE PAINTER

By Ruby K. Todd

Working in the watercolor medium that characterized the California Regionalist movement in the early twentieth century, Charles Payzant contributed to the innovations that shaped artists working in California during the time. Payzant worked with Disney studios on the creation of many of the classic Disney films, and his documentation of California changed the popular perception of the State.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

On February 18, 1898 St. George Charles Payzant, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He lived in Nova Scotia, Canada until World War I, when he served with the 23rd Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Royal Flying Corps before beginning his study of art. His schooling began in Canada at the Victoria School of Art in Halifax and later took him to England. In the 1920s, he moved to Los Angeles where he studied at the Otis Art Institute, and later at the Chouinard Art Institute among peers who would also become influential painters in the Californian Regionalist tradition.

Working in the 1920s, Charles Payzant’s stylistic roots were based in the painterly style of the American Ashcan School of the early twentieth-century. Payzant concentrated on freelance commercial work. Many of his scenes from this time depicted Los Angeles’ urban landscapes. Like many artists emerging in California at this time, Payzant worked outdoors and preferred the watercolor medium for its ability to depict the quality of light characteristic of the region.

In the early 1930s Payzant began exhibiting with the California Watercolor Society. This time ushered in a change in Payzant’s stylistic approach. He moved away from the traditional qualities of his work in the 1920s and toward a more innovative use of space, color and brushstrokes. These would become the characteristics ascribed to the emerging California School. Payzant's subjects of the time continued to be primarily focused on Los Angeles. He created many street scenes, such as Wilshire Blvd., (1931) which showcased his new influential technique. For this work, Payzant won an award at the Annual Juried Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. He also influenced his fellow California watercolorists through his treatment of the space and innovative light quality in this work.

The turbulent economic times of the 1930s and 1940s forced artists around the country to seek alternative employment. Many of the California Regionalists took up work designing for studios in Hollywood as a means of earning their livelihood when their private commissions failed to suffice financially. Charles Payzant began working for Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s doing watercolor backgrounds. He later worked on the artistic programs, specifically background and landscape scenes, for many of the well-known Disney movies of the time such as Fantasia (1940), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Make Mine Music (1946), Bambi (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944) and Dumbo (1941). Although the economic environment of the Great Depression stifled the art scene in many areas of the United States, the opportunity in California to continue stylistic development through work in Hollywood resulted in the overall progress of the California Watercolor School.

After the War, Payzant returned to freelance work and continued his illustrative work on children’s books written by his wife, Terry Shannon-Payzant. He also served as art director for an educational series called the Dick and Jane series of grade school readers through the MacMillan Publishing Company. During this time, Payzant also wrote multiple articles and short stories published in the Los Angeles Times. Throughout the rest of his life, Payzant continued to paint in the California Regionalist style, completing multiple murals through private commissions. Charles Payzant died in Corona del Mar, California in 1980 at the age of 82.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

The initial artistic style of Charles Payzant was heavily influenced by his involvement in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. This Institute was the foundation for the development of the California Regionalist movement. Through interaction with his peers and teachers, Payzant’s style developed throughout the 1920s within the Regionalist style, with the strongest influences coming from the Ashcan school.

The work of Payzant during the 1920s and 1930s could be broadly categorized within the California School, which brought about new techniques in watercolor. The color palette of this group was more bright and bold than that of their predecessors, with saturated colors and free brushstrokes. This development can be traced to Chouinard’s focus on the “plein air” technique.

The early 1930s, specifically in 1931 when he completed the watercolor, Wilshire Blvd., marked a turning point in Payzant’s style as well as a new approach to the medium of watercolor that would influence the progression of expression within the California scene. This work was unique in that Payzant left white spaces on the paper that served to define the space and its relationship to the concrete objects in the scene. It also reflected a new way of depicting the unique quality of light with which California landscape painters had been working for years. Payzant’s method of watercolor application was also a new approach combining broad, unbroken transparent strokes layered upon each other. The basic subject of his work during this period was a celebration of the Californian way of life through representation of physical symbols in the landscape such as palm trees and a drive-in on Wilshire Blvd. This mode of representing life through typical Californian urban imagery was to be used frequently throughout the decade to reflect an urban optimism characterizing the California Regionalists.

Like many artists of his time, Payzant started working in Hollywood during the late-1930s. This was a choice characteristic of the California Regionalists who were able to translate their technical skills at depicting landscapes and urban-streetscapes into background scenes for many Hollywood movies. Payzant’s style was nicely fitted to creating backgrounds for Disney cartoon fantasy movies such as Dumbo, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Fantasia. He worked for the Disney Studio art department for twelve years. This work with Disney marked new points of stylistic developments in his work due to the altered market and demands of the film industry. The California Scene painters, such as Payzant who began to contribute to the film industry during this period of economic pressure were instrumental in the development of the Disney Classics.

After the War, like many other artists, Payzant returned to freelance work and also began illustrating for children’s books, such has those written by his wife, Terry Shannon-Payzant. The couple worked on 50 books together, mostly in the educational field. Stylistically, at this time Payzant took on more simple characteristics based on the younger market. Payzant’s experience with illustrations and scene design for Disney movies became useful in his depictions for these books, which were aimed at a similar audience. Charles and Terry Payzant also collaborated on educational books about subjects such as ocean geology and pollution (Windows in The Sea). In accordance with this focus on a younger market, Payzant was the artistic director for a set of grade school readers called, The Dick and Jane Serie which became the primary mode of teaching reading in the United States through the technique of methodology over content. Four-fifths of American schools were estimated to have used this series until the 1960s. Payzant continued working on private commissions, writing and illustrating throughout the rest of his life.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1898 Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 1920s Moves to California
  • 1930 Begins exhibiting with the California Water Color Society
  • 1931 Wins an award of Merit for his watercolor, Wilshire Blvd., at the 12th Annual juried exhibition of painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art
  • 1980 Death in Corona del Mar, California at age 82
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • The E. Gene Crain Collection (Laguna Art Museum)
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1930-1947 California Watercolor Society
  • 1931 Painters and Sculptures Los Angeles
  • 1931 Artists Fiesta, Los Angeles
  • 1930s Laguna Art Association
  • Los Angeles County Fair
  • Nova Scotia Society of Artists Annual Exhibition
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • California Watercolor Society
  • American Water Color Society
  • VII. AWARDS

  • 1931 Wins an award of Merit for his watercolor, Wilshire Blvd., at the 12th Annual juried exhibition of painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles Museum
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Anderson, Susan M. “Dream and Perspective: American Scene Paintings in Southern California”. American Scene Painting: California 1930s and 1940s. ed. Ruth Westphal & Janet Black Dominik. Westphal Publishing, Irvine, California: 1991.
    2. 2. Anderson, Susan M. Regionalism: The California View: Watercolors 1929-1945. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California. 1988.
    3. 3. Anderson, Susan M. “California Watercolors 1929-1945.” American Artist. V. 52. August 1988. P. 48-53.
    4. 4. Biography from CalART.com. AskART. http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/biography.aspx?artist=6387. October, 19, 2008.
    5. 5. “California Holiday: The E. Gene Crain Collection” Independent Art News. Laguna Beach, CA, United States of America http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2002/03/18/29748.html. November 23, 2008.
    6. 6. California Watercolor. Charles Payzant Biography. www.californiawatercolor.com. October 19, 2008.
    7. 7. “Claremont Fine Arts.” American Art Review. Vol. 14 July/August 2002. p. 16.
    8. 8. Falk, Peter Hastings. Ed. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of American Artists. Vol. 3. Sound View Press: Madison, CT. 1999.
    9. 9. Life in California: 1930-1959: Scene Paintings from the Sally and David Martin Collection. Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara, California. September 25, 2008- January 19, 2009.
    10. 10. Memorial Pending for Artist Charles Payzant. Los Angeles Times. November, 26, 1980.
    11. 11. Moran, Edward. “Dick and Jane Readers.” St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_tov/ai_2419100382?tag=content;col1. November 17, 2008.
    12. 12. “News of the Art World”. ProQuest Historical Newspaper Los Angeles Times. March 15, 1931. Pg. B12.
    13. 13. Nichols, Peter M., A.O. Scott, Vincent Canby. The New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. Macmillan, 2004.
    14. 14. Starr, Kevin. The Dream Enters the 1940s. Oxford University Press US, 1997.

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