Stop and think about where you live — Walla Walla, Dayton, Waitsburg, the surrounding areas. This is home. 

But for others passing through, it’s a destination spot, a place to vacation, a tourist experience. What’s ordinary and everyday for us is new and exciting for them.

Capturing that ordinary and everyday, in conjunction with new and exciting, is the artistic challenge for Summer Barcenas, a lifelong Walla Wallan who visually chronicles her European travels in acrylic paint on big, big canvasses.

“The main theme of my art is wanderlust,” Barcenas says. “I want to open people’s minds to the journey, the exploration and the beauty of each culture, country and place.”

Bitten by the travel bug when her family uprooted itself and journeyed throughout Europe for two years, Barcenas returned for another year as an exchange student in France. 

During her sojourn there she haunted the Louvre, Picasso, Matisse and Magritte museums. 

She sought out perches over picturesque landscapes, where she opened her sketchbook and drew. She took endless photos of everything, with the intention of recreating the feeling, the emotion and the color of her experience so that others, too, could experience it.

And by the time she returned to Walla Walla, she wanted, really, only two things:

“I requested to be met with dill pickles and thin mints.”

That’s one, even though it’s sort of two.

The second thing she wanted was to retreat to her art room and paint.

“When people look at my art, the bright colors, textures and strokes of the paint, I want them to feel something,” Barcenas explains.

“I want them to feel the emotion that I pour into each painting, because every piece of art is dedicated to a moment in my life when I was full of emotion.

“Awe, wonder, excitement, tranquillity, everything. I want people to feel those emotions, to step into that painting and experience it for themselves.”

Barcenas has been drawing, sketching, painting and creating from childhood. 

Her decision to paint large came about when she was raising money for her travel exchange student year. 

That’s when her mother, Nancy Barcenas, whom Summer describes as having a “go big or go home” attitude, purchased 25 canvasses up to 5 feet by 4 feet in size.

“I tried my luck on a canvas working for the first time with acrylic paints and a surface that big. I repainted the painting six times.

“When I finally had an art show at age 17 to raise money for my year abroad, that painting was the first to sell.”

Through her paintbrush, Barcenas believes, she can travel anywhere. 

Describing painting as not a hobby, but a way of life, Barcenas mentally returns to the places she has seen, discovering, during this revisit, things that she didn’t fully appreciate before.

“As I paint, I am mesmerized by the beauty I may have missed. I recreate these places that I long to go back to, painting them exactly as they were on the most perfect of days.

“So later, I can stare at my canvas and remember.”

The very process of painting is one of exhilaration and satisfaction, Barcenas says. 

Each stroke of paint on canvas adds to the story that the artist is painting and the possibilities of what and how to paint are endless. This is the “rush” of being an artist.

“Being an artist isn’t easy,” Barcenas says. “But it’s not always a choice. It’s who you are.

“Creating art is what fuels your soul and you can’t imagine doing anything else. That’s how it is for me. It’s how I’m wired and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance writer who co-owns Steve Henderson Fine Art and SteveHendersonCollections.com with her husband, Steve. She welcomes correspondence at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com.

Recommended for you