By Marlena Medford
A cheery yellow house with a white picket fence sits at the corner of Fresca Court. A path lined with blooming flowerbeds leads you inside, to a sunlit foyer filled with art. The paintings on these walls share the storybook-like quality of the home in which they are hung. One painting, for example, depicts a quaint village on a riverbank, while another shows a dirt road winding into a picturesque countryside. The trained eye would quickly recognize these as textbook examples of impressionist paintings, and one might take them to be the works of greats such as Monet, Pissarro or Sisley. These paintings, however, are the work of John Modesitt, the owner of this Solana Beach home.
Modesitt has spent decades studying Impressionism, and now 40 years later, his work hangs on walls across the world, including the Butler Institute of American Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the auction rooms of Christie’s in London and Paris. Modesitt recently spent a few months on the shores of the Loire River in Amboise, France, where he finished a collection of 30 paintings. These artworks will soon be shipped off to public and private collections overseas, but before they leave Solana Beach, Modesitt is inviting the community to come view the collection.
“These are all paintings of places I like to be,” Modesitt said gazing at one painting of a lush riverbank with a small boat in the distance. “That boat was there for just a few moments,” he said pointing to it. “I remember I had to quickly capture it in the painting before it sailed away. Each one of these paintings has a story behind it.”
Modesitt hopes to share those stories with anyone who is interested in hearing them during his month-long home exhibition.
“I see this as a chance to build a sense of community, because neighbors should know each other,” he said. “Part of the joy of art is showing it, and being able to talk about it.”
And when it comes to talking about impressionism, Modesitt is your man. He discovered a passion for it when he was just 12 years old, thanks in part to his father, who worked as a nuclear physicist but was “simply fascinated” by art and therefore had a stellar collection in the home. It was, in fact, his father’s poster collection of French impressionist paintings that planted the seed for Modesitt’s career.
“I just knew I was born to be an artist. I couldn’t get it out my head. It was like, ‘Give me the brush, give me the paint.’ It was that clear to me.”
Modesitt started studying art at Santa Barbara City College under painter Robert Frame, and by the early ‘80s he moved to New York City, where he soon became disenchanted with the domination of modern art in the galleries and non-disciplined approach to painting. Modesitt elected to go against the grain, dedicating several years to the Renaissance practice of copying the artwork of masters. He spent days at a time copying artworks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago, learning about the work of great Impressionist painters literally stroke by stroke. Though it was a painstaking process, it was critical for him to learn true Impressionism, which is so uncommon in today’s art world that Modesitt has been the only living artist in some shows.
“I wasn’t given much talent, but I was given a tremendous amount of passion. It made for a torturous journey,” Modesitt said of his 40 years as an artist. There were bouts of burnout, and years he wanted to put down the brush for good. But he kept returning to the easel, often thanks to encouragement from his wife, Toshiko, whom he met while working as a glassblower to pay the bills in New York City.
Modesitt and his wife have lived for more than 20 years in Solana Beach, where they have raised their daughter, who is now attending Torrey Pines High School. When he’s not walking his dogs around Solana Circle, Modesitt is likely walking the back-country of France, where he keeps a studio. Modesitt retreats there to paint, which he jokingly calls “going into monk mode.”
“When I’m out there painting, it consumes me. It’s trancelike. I will put in 17-hour days that feel like an hour. I camp out with my materials, and as long as I have enough energy and baguette, I keep going.”
Modesitt said it’s especially easy to fall into his “monk mode” in the remote reaches of France, where inspiration is nearly everywhere you look. The village he most recently lived in was built in the year 509 and is unspoiled by modern time, making it a paradise for an Impressionist painter. Impressionism is all about idealism, or “as a child would say, ‘it looks like Disneyland.’” For that reason, you won’t find any cars in Modesitt’s paintings, but you will find castles. It’s this fairytale quality that first captured Modesitt’s heart when he was 12, and it’s what has fueled his passion all these years.
“Why impressionism? Because it’s a different world, and that’s where I want to be. If I never sold anything, I’d be happy because what matters is that I’m doing what I meant to do.”
If you are interested in viewing Modesitt’s latest collection at his home, please contact him by calling 858-232-8906 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Modesitt and his artwork, check out