Lasting Impressions

Manhattan Beach artist Vezna Gottwald brings to mind such adjectives as organic, enchanting, instinctive and connected.

Manhattan Beach artist Vezna Gottwald brings to mind such adjectives as organic, enchanting, instinctive and connected.

It makes sense then that her impressionistic paintings, created en plein air as well as in her local studio, can be described with the very same words. A raconteur who does not depend on language to convey her tales, Vezna transforms blank canvases with vigorous brushstrokes and potent colors. These two characters collaborate to reveal stimulating landscape and still life narratives that seem to purposely exclude visuals of people, suggesting that nature and even inanimate objects —when infused with the dynamism of an artist’s interpretation — possess life forces on par with their human counterparts. Now that is a story worth telling and seeing.

“I communicate the feeling of an environment by discovering the elements that make up its atmosphere,” explained Vezna. “Colors present themselves out of a mist, for example, as if they are fleeting molecules, and they may disappear as quickly as they appear. Still they are there, if only for a moment. And the painting lives in that moment.”.

The artist is currently engaged in a moment that will likely, upon completion, be entitled Tuscan Poppies. While the need to paint the canvas came to her during a long-awaited trip to Italy, Vezna is working on the piece in her studio. She is recreating the scene that showcases the vibrant, blood-red variety of the flower from a photograph she shot while in Tuscany. This use of photography is a common practice for a painter, as it allows the artist to return to a precise place and time again and again without having to be limited by any inhospitable weather conditions or schedule restraints. After all, a masterpiece is not produced overnight. Sometimes four or more weeks of painting are carried out before a work of art is considered complete and finally signed by Vezna. And all the while, other fascinating subjects are vying for the artist’s attention.

Above: The Crackerbox House (inspired by Vezna’s home garden)

Above: A Break in the Storm

 Above: Vezna

For Vezna, a nature lover and avid surfer, such subjects abound in the alluring seascapes of the South Bay. She shared, “When I come upon grass swaying on an ocean cliff against the light of the sky, it makes me stop, gasp and breathe.”

This truth is portrayed in her painting entitled Coastal Color, Rancho Palos Verdes. The energetic brushwork in this piece not only makes living characters of the atmosphere’s intangibles — the air, temperature, light and sound — but it also readily communicates the emotional tone of the setting as experienced by the artist.

And Vezna’s vivid color selections substantiate her enthusiastic desire to give the ephemeral elements in nature a permanent record of existence. All of her intense hues are unique, as they are never simply squeezed from tubes of paint that sit in her easel tray. Rather, they are born of her very own concoctions that bring two or three colors together, revealing the artist’s deep connection with the feeling behind each particular shade. As Vezna approaches the canvas with the immediacy of a modern artist, her colors are discovered on the spot, just as her paintings are discovered with each decisive gesture of her brush.

Art was the cornerstone of Vezna’s upbringing. Even her name, which is derived from the name of Vesna, an ancient Slavic goddess of spring, possesses an artistic bent.

A native New Yorker, Vezna grew up in Manhattan where she was raised by parents who were commercial artists. By the time she was four years old, the family was making its home in a former sewing factory situated on the top floor of an industrial building in Midtown. While the Gottwald residence did not have a television, it offered myriad opportunities for Vezna and her younger brother to experience, and of course experiment with, art and music.

Above: Field of Poppies, Tuscany

Above: Coastal Color, Rancho Palos Verdes

The environment certainly influenced Vezna, who began to work seriously as an artist when she was in the seventh grade. While in high school she studied with Aaron Kurzen, a gifted teacher who helped her assemble her best works and earn a scholarship to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the alma mater of other family members. Upon graduating from RISD, Vezna put painting aside for almost a decade while she established herself in a successful career as a commercial film director. She decided to pick up her brush once again only after having a spiritual awakening at a Mark Rothko exhibit in New York City.

Soon after, she moved to California, took up surfing and started expanding her portfolio as well as her artistic community. Vezna’s boyfriend contributed to the process by building her the Manhattan Beach studio in which she works. With pitched, whitewashed ceilings accented by generous skylights, the studio brings the outdoors in for the artist in residence.

When Vezna painted The Crackerbox House (en plein air), she did not have to travel far from her studio. The home featured in the piece sits just a stone’s throw from her workspace and holds a special place in the artist’s heart. The warmth she feels for the dwelling is readily conveyed through the appealing texture, color and ultimate serenity of the painting. Her relationship with the home helps her showcase it as the idyllic California beach cottage, complete with a collection of ubiquitous surfboards and a striped towel that is presumably drying in the rays of the warm sun. As is usual in Vezna’s paintings, no particular people are seen inhabiting the environment, but a human spirit is definitely present. Initially, this spirit may seem to flow completely from the artist. But as observers experience the painting, their spirits will certainly add another dimension to the life of the scene. How is that for a lasting impression?

To inspire your spirit, view Vezna’s paintings online at And to further engage your soul, arrange a visit to the artist’s Manhattan Beach studio by calling 310-963-4072 or emailing the artist at [email protected]

Vezna on her favorite places to paint in the South Bay

1. The Trails, Rancho Palos Verdes (accessed from the Trump National Golf Course): “At the trails you are surrounded by Southern California’s coastal wilderness. It’s beautiful.”

2. Abalone Cove Shoreline Park: “You can explore deserted coves with sea caves and see seals sunning themselves on rocks.”

3. Vezna’s garden in Manhattan Beach: “People say it looks like Hawaii. The garden is lush and a little wild with flowers and a canopy of trees. The house is a 1920s beach bungalow painted a bright aqua green, and we have surfboards everywhere, on the roof and alongside the garage.”

4. On the beach: “Mostly take photos and work from them in the studio, such as last winter when I went out photographing during every storm in order to have reference for my rainstorm paintings.”