“My work is about time and space and where I happened to be at that moment,” says Dreher, whose art documents his journey as an artist and the ever-changing landscape.
A longtime Concord resident, Dreher is lecturer, curator, teacher, singer and prolific artist. He grew up in Providence, R.I., in a working-class family. His art exploration began in high school, influenced by his high school art teacher, who took the class on field trips to the art museum at the Rhode Island School of Design. He also discovered the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Telling his parents he was going to a movie, he would take the train to Boston and look at the paintings of masters such as van Gogh, Degas, Seurat and Sisley. Some favorites were the Monet paintings in the rotunda, where Dreher would sit mesmerized for hours, trying to figure out how Monet captured the light.
“Kids in inner-city neighborhoods don’t get exposed to that stuff. I had to expose myself,” says Dreher.
After high school, he applied to the Rhode Island School of Design. This was in the 1960s, and Dreher thought it would be really cool to go to school there, have a beard and grow his hair out. He was accepted and graduated with a BFA. Dreher majored in sculpture but started to paint after graduation.
While Dreher was doing graduate work at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., visiting lecturer and New York abstract expressionist Jack Tworkov encouraged him to continue to paint.
Edward Hopper is another of Dreher’s heroes. Thus, many of Dreher’s first works are urban architectural landscapes. He paints rooftop views from apartment windows, interesting house fronts and building architecture.
Invited by friends who had moved to California, he got a job in San Francisco. Taking BART to work every day, he used a small Leica camera as his sketchbook. He painted BART stations, the Orinda Theatre, San Francisco buildings and other subjects he could view from the train.
Dreher says he sees potential paintings all around his East Bay, once creating nearly 20 architectural landscapes based on buildings he discovered at Saint Mary’s College. “Concord has tons of visual material, particularly some of the ’50s architecture,” he notes.
His locations and subject matter moved from urban architecture to painting outdoors on rural landscapes after he met Pam Glover, a plein-air artist who introduced him to the beauty of Martinez.
Some recent changes in his life have ignited that artwork for him. After surgery for cataracts, a lifelong deficit in his depth perception improved. Now he looks at cloud formations in a new way. Hills take on a whole new perspective.
“I’ve never seen like this, and it just gets better,” he says.
Dreher also recently moved into a new work studio next to the Epperson Gallery in Crockett, finding it an inspiring place to work. He has completed about 32 paintings in the past 10 months, and he feels he is just getting started.
“Every one of the thousands of paintings over the last 60 years has contributed to the paintings I am creating now,” Dreher says almost in amazement.
He is proud of his latest works, which you can see at a show with fellow artist Loralee Chapleau that opened June 15 at Gallery 621, 920 First St., Suite 203, Benicia.
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John Nakanishi is treasurer of The Concord Art Association. He is an acrylic painter and a ceramic artist. When John isn’t creating art, he coaches soccer for East Bay Eclipse, a competitive soccer club based in Moraga. He is also an avid trail runner, enjoying runs from 5 miles to 50K.