As Chief Curator Dan Cameron scours the depth of OCMA’s collection for the exhibition California Landscape into Abstraction: Works from the Orange County Museum of Art, he continues to discover rich artworks that add important understanding of the museum’s artistic holdings. Recently, he discovered that through these artworks one may achieve greater insight into the evolution of artistic styles from naturalistic landscape painters and those of a more modernist inclination in Southern California. There is a charged relationship between those two schools, one which proved to be a catalyst for a lot of adventurous ideas over several decades.

As a museum that collects from both ends of the spectrum, it seemed like there was more OCMA could bring to this conversation and Dan has curated an in-depth exhibition drawn entirely from OCMA’s collection to demonstrate this evolution. Over the coming weeks and months, highlights of his discoveries will be presented here.

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Barse Miller (1904–1973)

Migrant American (1939) is a fantastic example of the type of paintings that were done at the tail end of the Great Depression. With its touches of surrealist dreaminess, it’s actually a powerful affirmation of the historic role of migrant labor in this country’s history. A wrenching narrative is captured with cinematic clarity: the breakfast sitting half-eaten, the miner’s tools lying untouched, the huddled figure striding purposefully toward the breaking morning sun just cresting the hills.

Miller was born in New York City to successful parents and traveled in Europe for several years studying art before settling in the Los Angeles area, where he began showing the paintings he had made abroad. The works won awards and recognition from local artists, and he became a member of the California Water Color Society. What sets Miller’s work apart from that of other artists in the group was his interest in painting people and urban scenes as well as images of the natural world.


Nicholas P. Brigante (1895–1989)

Sand Haze (1961) probably captures the premise of the exhibition California Landscape into Abstraction: Works from the Orange County Museum of Art as well as anything else, because the landscape quotients and the abstract quotients are equally balanced. Brigante is known as one of the earliest and most prominent modernists in Los Angeles, and although he used a variety of mediums, he is best known for his work with watercolor or ink. He was born in Padua, Italy, and his family came to the United States when he was a young boy.

He began his studies at the Art Students League of Los Angeles in 1911. During the 1930s Brigante became well known for several figurative series based on the theme of workers and the West and for a proposed federally sponsored project, a nine-panel mural on the struggle of humankind. By the mid-1940s he was composing allegorical and figurative scenes inspired by automatic drawing and moving toward an increasingly spiritual idea of abstraction based on his response to nature.