Art, Boyes Hot Springs, History, People, Personal History, Wonders and Marvels

Patrick McMurtry

Art is in the name of this Museum, and after all these years of existence, here is the first post about a specific artist. Sadly, it is occasioned by his passing.

Patrick McMurtry. 1947-2021

Gael del Mar (a perfectly beautiful name), was Patrick’s life-mate.I knew Gael first. We met at the Red Barn Store at Oak Hill Farm. Somehow we started talking about Frank Zappa (she must have had his music on the sound system.) “You like Zappa? she asked. “I have someone you should meet.” And so she introduced me to Patrick. Nearly every time we would see each other, we would talk Zappa and Beefheart. He was also interested in Sonny Barger, the Hell’s Angels front man. He loaned me a book Barger wrote, which led me to watch a lot of  motorcycle exploitation movies, which are really great fun.  Patrick had many great stories about the days of the Hells Angels and other rowdies in Sonoma Valley, which is where the Sonny Barger thing came from.

I walk around the neighborhood a lot and would often walk down Orchard Street hoping to see the garage door of Patrick’s studio open. It wasn’t a big garage, and it was packed with art, but he had a space carved out to work in. Then he and Gael moved over to 4th Avenue, which was even closer to our house. Again, I’d walk by and frequently encounter Patrick in front of their place. Long conversations would ensue. His last studio was out at the Art Farm on Grove Street. I visited him there in 2019, hung out talking, and bought a small painting (below).

In 2009 Jonah Raskin published “Field Days,” subtitled “A Year of Farming, Eating, and Drinking Wine in California.”  The author spent that year hanging out at Oak Hill Farm, just up the road from Boyes Hot Springs. Patrick figures prominently in the book.

Jonah writes:

“Patrick McMurtry was not the first person I met at Oak Hill. Nor was he the oldest person living on the property. But he had lived there longer than anyone else-longer even than Anne Teller-and so I will let Patrick be the first Oak Hill resident to speak in this book. Anne dubbed him “the historian of Oak Hill,” and rightly so. Equipped with a good memory Patrick also appreciated facts and the sweep of events. Like most good historian, he had a knack for telling stories vividly. To go by his enthusiasm, body language, and facial expressions, he might have been talking about events as momentous and the American revolution of the civil War..” {I can certainly vouch for Patrick’s ability to tell stories vividly!}

“Of course, Patrick’s ancestors had come from Europe, and they belonged to that generation of early pioneers who put their stamp on California. They farmed, raised chickens, and cattle, grew grapes, and cut down trees, milled them, and sold the lumber”

“’My father worked for Shell Oil, and my mother worked at the high school,’ Patrick said. ‘They became party animals and alcoholics, but a great-aunt who had a farm in Paradise, California, continued the family tradition, and learned about agriculture from her.’”

“Born in 1947, Patrick watched the rural world vanish. In the 1950s, he witnessed the strange transformations of the American society of the post-World War II period, which forever changed the ways people worked and played, ate, drank, entertained, and existed.”

“Patrick graduated from high school and college and went the way of many a young man of his generation. He lived in a commune, grew marijuana, and protested against the war in Viet nam. ‘Those were trippy times’ he said. ‘There was Elvis, the Beatles, the hippies, and Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, which I actually went out and bought.’ Patrick laughed as though it was yesterday and he could still smell the pot and feel the passion of that time. The 1960s had arrived with a roar and changed the cultural landscape of the Valley of the Moon. ‘It was wild,’ Patrick said. ‘The Hells Angels congregated here; and up on Sonoma Mountain, Alex Horn a follow of the Armenian-born mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, had a farm. Hippies moved up there; Horn took their money and put them to work, which is pretty funny.’”

Patrick in the IT, 1984

From the June 20, 1984 Index Tribune article by Rhonda Parks:

In his studio hidden deep in the woods, Patrick McMurtry creates paintings inspired by a vivid imagination, like what a person alone is apt to see hiding in shadowed cubbys deep in the brush.

Peeking from his paintings are nocturnal trolls modeled after the folks he sees walking out of bars at night in Boyes Hot Springs. Patrick does a lot of walking and sometimes sees things like that.

He’s a bit mischievous, with a playful nature expressed as much in the “real world” as in his fantasy-inspired artworks.

The artist says…that his paintings reflect what it is like “going in a strange land for a while.”

While he’s painting, you might say that’s where his is-immersed in a strange land. But while some of his paintings are haunted with elusive characters, other depict life in a whimsical cartoon world. (These works ought to be accompanied by some of avant-garde singer Frank Zappa’s tunes, the artist says.)

In April 1981, Patrick showed at Composite Gallery.

When he retired from the Sonoma Developmental Center he got a pick up truck. The bumper sticker he put on the back seemed to perfectly express Patrick’s outlook.


In the photos below you see some of Patrick’s phantasmagorical works, which are truly unique.


These two videos about Patrick are available on Youtube:

Patrick McMurtry was a highly original artist, a great friend, and a valued member of the Springs community. We miss him a lot.

Index Tribune courtesy of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society

Passages from Field Days used by permission of author

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