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Upper West will present an opening reception this Sunday for Santa Monica artist Vicki McClay who will display about 20 of her paintings on the walls of the restaurant for the next three months.

The reception, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 4 pm to 7 pm.

The paintings size range is quite broad, from 12” x 12” to 36” x 60”.

McClay said she worked in oils because they have a great quality she especially likes.

“Oil paints dry slowly which allows me to apply multiple layers of paint in ways I feel are intrinsic to the images I’m creating,” McClay said. “As a result of the layering there is this sense of color and light coming through the surface.”

At the same time she said she strived to create a spatial ambiguity that is accomplished through the blending properties of the paint.

“By mixing, blending, and layering colors of varying densities at different times in the drying process I can achieve these effects of light, depth, and movement,” she said. “Because of the prolonged drying process and the techniques I use, I am usually working on several pieces at a time.”

She said these works have a recurring theme: the horizon in an ever-shifting landscape.

“I see them as intriguing dream-like abstractions which stem from my visceral reactions to the places I’ve seen in the world,” she said. “I grew up in the Upper Midwest, where it felt like you could see forever. It was a place with very distinct seasons and extreme weather that was in constant flux. Those vistas, which always promised both adventure and foreboding, have stayed in my mind and impacted what I continue to draw from the world around me.”

She said she was inspired by looking out at stark, crisp colors that can in a moment disintegrate into a muted fog.

“I see the world as shifting constantly, its color and light are so fleeting, and what I try to do is capture a moment of that conversion,” she said. “Many of these are re-imagined places and times I have experienced in my extensive travels, transitions I have seen and then brought back to mind, altering a sensation of the place to convey a more interpretive landscape. I think the paintings evoke a sense of rolling in or moving out or perhaps the distillation of an entire day passing. They create a shared experience of light and color shifting throughout the day and throughout our world.”

The name of this Upper West exhibition is “Latitudes.”

She said she chose this title to reflect the freedom to interpret the work.

“There’s room to seek and imagine what is happening in each painting,” she said. “Latitude also implies portions of the world, a part of the earth yet suggests liberty, space and opportunity. I like to feel that sense of scope in the paintings I create.”

When asked what she enjoys most about being an artist, McClay said she loved to observe what is around her, let that percolate and evolve inside her and then to dream up imagery from those perceptions.

“When I work, I let the painting start to define its own life, I don’t try to imagine something ahead of time and then transcribe that image,” she said. “I begin to discover what each painting is becoming during my work on it. While I am working on a canvas, while it is drying, when I add another layer, the painting is telling me what it needs to become. And I love working with color, with light and the mystery, which is each work I make. I unearth each painting during the process, I discover it somewhere between memory, eye and hand.”

The exhibition is a partnership between Upper West restaurant and local company The Beach Vault.

Upper West, which is located at 3321 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, is open for lunch from 11:30 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday and open for dinner seven days a week from 5 pm.

For more information, call 310.899.4422 or visit www.art-vault.com andwww.theupperwest.com.