Updated: Aug 29
In a recent interview on the Aart Podcast, artist Maria Josenhans highlighted the difference between painting a "postcard" and painting a "painting." The "postcard" is the most obvious, the first painting that you think of when you see a landscape. It is the clear silhouette of the mountain or the expansive vista over the hillside. It is the beautiful view that represents the idea of a place. You can put on a postcard, send it to friends and family, and everyone will recognize where you have been. The "painting," on the other hand, is what you paint after looking past this most obvious, postcard motif. It is what emerges when you let go of the idea of what you "should" paint and allow yourself to become immersed in the scene in front of you.
As an artist who often paints San Francisco, I feel the weight of the expectation to paint "postcards." The city is full of them - from the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Painted Ladies, to Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid. I feel lucky to be in a city with so many beautiful landmarks, but at the same time they pose a challenge. These places have have already been captured and interpreted through the eyes of many artists. They are so iconic that one can fall into the trap of simply painting them as they have been painted time and time again, rather than painting what is true to our visual experience in the moment.
For this reason, I often look for the image beyond the postcard. Instead of painting the most obvious landmarks, I focus on lesser-known parts of the city I find personally meaningful. I paint the corner stores that I walk by each day, the street bathed in golden light that I pass on my way to dinner, the view from my window of my neighbor's house at dawn. These scenes reflect my personal relationship with the city, giving space for my voice to emerge. It draws from my lived experience to create a deeper, more subtle, more intimate connection with the motif.
The result may not be widely recognizable. The causal observer may not even realize it is San Francisco. But the resulting image will have a sense of potency and intimacy that I often find more compelling than any postcard.