Barbara Tapp has driven through a suburb adjacent to hers for years, but while taking the Strada 31-Day Challenge in January, she uncovered a fascinating, emotionally charged story.
The Oceanview neighborhood in West Berkeley, California, is undergoing gentrification. Steelworks and factories are making way for high-end development projects. “I’ve met people who have lived there 30 years and are so distressed with the ultramodern condos that are taking away their working-class neighborhood,” says Tapp.
What started out as a painting challenge to push her to paint more, and to perhaps win a Strada Easel from the manufacturer, turned into something very different. The series of oil paintings she did expanded over into the next month. Tapp found herself bonding with the Oceanview neighborhood. And the compelling story of the tumultuous changes helped her work through changes in her own life regarding her health—Tapp has rheumatoid arthritis.
“Who knew, but through this project I have found the real or authentic me,” Tapp says. “Honestly, it is so rewarding. At the end of each day of painting, I take a long walk along the streets looking for my next story. I saw three more today.”
Tapp says she’s documenting the change in a specific area, from Gilman Street to Virginia Street, and 6th Street to Frontage Road, “just being a casual observer.” She talks with the residents, learning the stories of street campers, artists, factory workers, business owners, car mechanics, architects, and developers. She learns their routines, be it dog walking or picking up the recycling. She hears their concerns and learns their history.
“What was for 30 years an area I avoided has become familiar and welcoming,” says Tapp. “This is an area less traveled by the public but frequented by the people of the streets, some of whom I have now met. I have shared so many interesting conversations. It is an honor to have been brought to this moment in time where I was fortunate enough to have signed up to do the 31-Day Strada Challenge, and to face a scary future living with rheumatoid arthritis. Those factors contributed to this neighborhood revealing itself at a time of huge unbridled change. I am lucky to be there at the right time, inspired and loving painting outdoors.”
An increasing number of plein air painters realize that aside from finding beauty in the scenes they depict, they are also documenting the changes in our world. And, sometimes, those changes instigate changes within the artists themselves.
“Spending 38 days in the Oceanview district of West Berkeley has allowed me to peel back the layers,” Tapp sums up. “I make daily discoveries, and what was once a strange unfamiliar place has become welcoming to me. My brittle shell of disconnection has been broken and replaced with trust in others and hope. I have much more to tell of this area.”