Art Is Capturing the Moment of Life — Painting Plein Air in San Francisco’s North Beach with Lucia Gonnella

For many artists, plein air painting that is, outdoors, is a fully immersive experience unlike creating art in the studio. And what better place for plein air painting than one of San Francisco’s most colorful, historic neighborhoods, North Beach. Seeing color, light and shadow in the environment, being part of the landscape while painting is an ephemeral and uniquely personal act of creation for North Beach artist Lucia Gonnella. Lucia likes to paint outside for many reasons; she likes to interact with people and is energized by the fully emotional response she has to the places that attract her, or more accurately she says, “the places that choose me.”

As a North Beach resident Lucia spends time carefully choosing her scenes. At first it might be simply a door or a window, then — perhaps a dark alley provokes a sense of mystery. A combination of form and color catches her attention and inspires a certain mood, and with that experience the work begins, at once an act of liberation, taking on the identity of a rebel, interpreting the moment rather than just duplicating lines and color — the scene becomes her own. She says her work is an effort to capture a synthesis rather than reality. In addition to that, Lucia says she gets a chance to stop and talk with the locals, and the process of working outdoors energizes her, and maintains her positive spirit — she is likely to be delighted at finding what is at every window and door. The practice has changed her way of seeing, and changed her life.

Often Lucia will publish her work as a collection, in a book along with her poetry. To her, “Art is to seize the moment of life and related sensations; the morning light, the shades in a flower, perfumes, plants, people going to work… everything changing every second continuously in color and form.”

Many artists, including the French Impressionists began painting outdoors in the 19th century when paints and easels became portable. And it’s no coincidence that much plein air painting has an impressionist or expressionist feel.

Working in the environment, artists have a limited time to capture the light and colors they want and the process is spontaneous. They will often work quickly, painting gesturally to capture the essence of a place, a moment in time.

Looking at Lucia’s North Beach art, one sees the way in which her work examines the relationship between the material and layers of meaning, transforming location in a hurried world into a perception, a glimpse of life. In this way we really enjoy how the artist infuses her work with a subjective authenticity, a distilled or extracted sense of reality.

Lucia says painting allows her to “concentrate and come closer to reality and express a research for a healthy life through positive colors.” She says in addition to painting on location, she is also fascinated by magic and dreams, and along with cityscapes and landscapes, paints nudes, flowers and horses using acrylic, oil and watercolor.

Lucia Gonnella at her art studio

The artist was born in Bari, Italy growing up in a family of artists, and spends her painting on the streets of North Beach, in Italy and Hawaii. She took up painting and drawing at an early age, born in a family of artists, her father taught her oils when she was seven years old. Later, she studied design, composition and nude at the Academy of Brera in Milan and pottery at Cova School in Milan. She began exhibiting her work in Italy, has continued to exhibit in solo and group shows in San Francisco, and is available to work by commission.

Lucia also writes poetry, and those who frequent Cafe Trieste in North Beach may have seen her sing there on occasion. Below are a few of her poems, capturing in words what she expresses in her visual art.

About her life and work, Lucia Gonnella says, “Art is to seize the movement of life and related sensations: the morning light, the different shades in a flower, the changing of colors, all sensations connected with people, perfumes, the surrounding plants, the flowing of time, everything changing every second, continuously, in color and forms.” Find out more, and see more of Lucia’s beautiful artwork at and visit her Facebook page.

Light flows
the valley.
a man riding a horse
is crossing the valley.
Fever attacks him
he sits under
a tree to
calm his burning thirst.
He crosses
other valleys
other trails
where never another man
went through.
The sun is burning
his mind
and sight.

During the night
he falls asleep
under a sycamore.
refresh him.
He knows
he will not always be
somebody is waiting for him
somebody loving him.

But there
in his loneliness
he finds again himself
he finds again his lost
he finds again
for himself
his own


Along the bitter
I found again
a confused trail.

I saw again pale wheat fields.
Down there
the ocean
was rolling.

A truthful voice
was still looking for me.
I was a pale confused
going again through
hidden trails.

I was looking for new
new things.
Here it is, I was looking for,
I was looking for
a hidden voice said
I was on the right way.