The installation at the Crocker contains several early works made while a young Ligare still had strong influence from surrealism, abstraction, conceptualism, and realism. These early investigations include detailed pencil drawings of markings in sand as well as thrown draperies, whose titles named after Greek Islands became the gateway for Ligare’s career-long pursuit of mining ancient Greco-Roman ideology for concepts relevant to contemporary society. 

The Crocker Art Museum currently exhibits David Ligare: California Classicist, a career retrospective for the Monterey County based artist and scholar. The exhibition is on view now until September 20 after which it will travel to the Laguna Art Museum opening October 17th. In 2016, it will travel to the Georgia Museum of Art and then finally to the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

The installation at the Crocker traces the development from earlier works made at the cross roads of surrealism, abstraction, conceptualism, and realism that blossomed into David Ligare’s full scale investigation of the resurgence of classicism and its relevance to contemporary life.

The exhibition begins with Penelope, who also graces the cover of the accompanying hardcover exhibition catalog, 264 pages published by Papadakis Press in London. The exhibition and catalog leads us to the view that Ligare has merged the landscape of California with the Myths of the Mediterranean to create a kind of Arcadia incorporating both the ideal and the other.

The larger of the two gallery spaces offers many of Ligare’s most significant large-scale figurative paintings are brought together for the first time. It was incredible to turn in the space and see these three masterpieces together: The Landscape with an Archer, a enormously tall painting depicting an archer firing an arrow directly upwards off the canvas, The Horse and Rider painting, showing a man of African Heritage riding a white horse on a beach with a quote by the ancient Greek poet, Pindar, written below, the complex Achilles and the Body of Patrocolus, a composition that traces it origins to a relief carving on the side of a Roman sarcophagus that also inspired paintings by Raphael and Titian.

Throughout the exhibition, whether it’s a figurative narrative, still life or pure landscape, Ligare’s mastery of precise depictions of the qualities of golden hour light is so mesmerizing, that it is nearly impossible to not think of his paintings the next time you watch the sun’s warm light close to sunset. Ligare had made a conscious choice in the late 70’s to use time of day as a conceptual meme in his work. The late light to him is the moment of incredible beauty that carries with it the realization that the sun will soon be down and the light will be gone. This concept is in directly related to a painting by Nicholas Poussin, painted in 1637 depicting Shepherds contemplating a tombstone that reads “Et in Arcadia Ego;” Death is (also) in Arcadia. It is the great paradox of human existence; that we live our lives while fully conscious of our own mortality. Ligare is an important figure in recurrent classicism carrying the torch that has passed from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Renaissance, through the Baroque to Jacques Louis David and Picasso. He serves up important foundational ideas such as the integration of diversity, hospitality towards strangers, perceptual skills and linear perspective as a system of agreement. His mythologizing of the Central California landscape reiterates the concept of the pastoral mode that has a lineage from Theocritus and Virgil and later through John Steinbeck to Ligare.

From the Crocker: “David Ligare (born 1945) creates perfectly ordered still life, landscape, architectural, and figurative paintings that occupy their own poetic world. The complete range of his subject matter is represented here in this retrospective exhibition of nearly 80 works. Although often grouped with California's Photorealists, the very unreality of Ligare's paintings and his underlying interest in antiquity belie such a label, and the perfection of his unblemished subjects and hyper-purity of his paint application seem more unearthly than real. In achieving these qualities, Ligare looks to the ancients for guidance and references the formal relationships found in Classical sculpture and architecture. And yet, his paintings are firmly based in the specifics of California—and the Monterey region in particular, allowing Ligare to create art that is richly layered, broadly universal, and yet specifically of our time and place.” - Crocker Art Museum

David Molesky

For more information about David Ligare, visit