Art Overload! SF Open Studios (and the Anderson Collection)

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Since last Sunday (after my performance at the Y2K8 Looping Festival), visual art as taken over. October is Open Studios in San Francisco, where artists open up their studios to for public visits. I took advantage of the opportunity to get acquainted with local artists, mostly in the neighborhoods in walking distance, and the local art scene.

Taking in so much art and so many artists in such a short period of time is quite overwhelming, and I will only be able to describe a small fraction of what I saw. What makes a particular artist memorable and noteworthy is not only the quality of his or her work, but the conversations and personal connections. In some cases, I remember artists whose work may not fit my own aesthetic, but whose meeting was memorable. It was also the setting, and how their work fit in with my vision and sense of the neigbhorhoods.

Potrero Hill, The Mission District, and Bernal Heights

My first day out was last Sunday during which I visited several large studios in the Potrero Hill and Mission districts. The first stop was Art Explosion Studios. Here I met and had a change to talk with Amy Seefeldt; and Victoria Highland, whose large city-scape on a hill in front of a bay (where have I seen that before?) was one of the better large-scale paintings I saw. Heidi McDowell had an interesting large-scale painting featuring a young girl at Lassen National Monument, which I visited last year. The recent work of Melisa Philips is perhaps closer to my own interests. One of her paintings featuring stenciled text is shown to the right. I have discussed here on CatSynth in the past my interest in text within visual art, and whether the words and letters are simply visual elements or retain their meaning. Melisa Philips and I had an interesting conversation about this topic. Additionally, her earlier work includes some of the more interesting female figures I encountered on this particular day.

It is hard to tell specifically where Potrero Hill ends and the Mission begins, and many of the venues on this particular trip sit in that ambiguous area of old industrial buildings dotted with lofts and art spaces. Within these spaces, I encountered not only traditional fine art, but other media as well, some which would have been traditionally classified as “craft.” There were several jewelry makers, for example – there is a fuzzy dividing line at which things like jewelry become art, perhaps when they become more an item to collect and display, rather than to wear. There were the chandeliers by “adventurer” Derek E. Burton, which were quite intricate and intriguing, and although they are completely opposite of my personal style and the style of CatSynth HQ, I enjoyed hearing Derek’s story and his passion for his work. Aliza Cohen presented mix-media art, but it was her wool pillows that caught my attention. I did also encounter more traditional media, such as the photography of Christine Federici that incorporated some architectural and space details, as well as a mixture of natural and artificial textures.

Interestingly, it seemed that “modern” art, which is my main interest, was a distinct minority among the works encountered on this first trip. Certainly, there were many artists working with abstraction, but overall it did not have the stark geometric or textural qualities that I have come to expect.

When searching for “abstract” on the main website, the work of Pauline Crowther Scott showed up on the list. Her works features images of cats. Cats and abstraction seem like a good combination, so I made the trip out to her home studio in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. The trip to the narrow and sometimes vertical streets and older houses in this neighborhood in the southeast of the city, on a somewhat chilly late afternoon, was an interesting experience in itself. Scott’s work was much less abstract than I had expected (she was in fact surprised by the designation), but she did have several works featuring cats that were added to earlier (and indeed somewhat abstract) images. One example was Three Cats on a Bedspread.

South of Market and Mission Bay

This weekend featured open studios the South of Market (SOMA) area, which is my own neighborhood. Overall, the works I encountered were decidedly more modern, and often seemed to take inspiration from the industrial and urban surroundings. Indeed, the mixed media works of Rebecca Kerlin draw upon the highway overpasses, such as I-80 and the approach to the Bay Bridge, that I have featured in many posts here at CatSynth, such as in this Wordless Wednesday post. Her work incorporates photos of familiar landmarks and details into mixed media pieces.

One of my longer pieces about walking in SOMA included this photograph featuring an onramp to the Bay Bridge over Bryant Street, near the landmark Clock Tower:

It turns out that building in the foreground contains several artist studios. Among the artists at this locations was Paule Dubois Dupuis. Her work includes large abstract modernist paintings, the type of art I am currently quite interested in. Some of her pieces also included stenciled text, another common theme among works that draw my attention. In addition to the art itself, her studio is in quite a location, with windows that look out onto the bay, the industrial/office buildings and the highway supports, depending on the direction of one’s gaze. I was inspired to take this photo:

At Clara Street Studios, I encountered the work of Jerry Veverka, whose work involves plays on architecture and geometry, with some surrealist elements. I had seen an example at the SomArts exhibit, and was particularly drawn to his “Impossible Cities Series,” an example of which is displayed to the right. (Click on the image for a full size version at his website.)

Two other photographers I also encountered at included familiar sights from both New York and San Francisco in their work, and I had fun identifying and discussing them. I have unfortunately misplaced both photographers’ contact info (and I cannot find them on the original list. Hopefully, I will be able to get in touch them soon.

Back at Soma Artists Studios (same location as Rebecca Kerlin), I saw an interesting progression the work of Flora Davis. Her early work featured oil paintings of cats, while her more recent work involves sheet metal. They were quite separate, indeed they were displayed in two separate studios. However, I think it would be interesting to place one or two of the smaller cat paintings next to her multi-panel metal works, and considering them as a unit. Indeed, it would summarize my experience as modernism, abstraction, geometry, and cats.

After an exhausting but rewarding walk around the neigbhorhood, I did have to time for a brief excursion south to some studios in the Mission Bay area, which includes much of the old industrial waterfront.

The view behind the studios at 1 Rankin Street onto the Islais Creek Channel were quite inspiring, even without the presence of art. Fitting with the environment, this studio featured metal sculptures. The large sculptures of Béla Harcos greeted visitors. No matter how much I am supposed to be looking for prints and paintings, I am still drawn to abstract metal sculpture. Rebecca Fox also had large works on display, and I able to glimpse her workspace and her collection of metal waiting to be used. The “artist blacksmith” Wolf Thurmeier has some smaller, even “miniature” abstract metal sculptures (what I would consider “apartment-sized”), forged from recycled metal.


The Anderson Collection

Quite by coincidence, I also had the opportunity this weekend to attend a private tour of the Anderson Art Collection. The collection is located in Menlo Park (south of San Francisco, near Stanford University), and features late 20th century and early 21st century American art. It includes over 800 works, spanning about five decades and several notable styles and schools, including color fields, minimalism, the New York school of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg). There were also recent computer-assisted works by Chuck Close, as well as emerging artists that the Andersons are supporting. One interesting discovery for me was Frank Lobdell. I will have to look for him on the outside. I found it interesting how some of his work resembled the Jasper Johns’ prints featured in the collection (especially the reductions in the very detailed brochures).

This visit to one of the premier private collections was an interesting contrast to many local independent artists over the past week. I would to think that my art experiences will continue to include both.

"Wayback" Wordless Wednesday: Green Kitties

First Thursday San Francisco

A number of downtown galleries in San Francisco stay open late on the first Thursday of the month, an event I have known about for a while (and even attended occasionally before moving to the city). Here are a few of notable items from the most recent “First Thursday”:

Now that I have large walls, I am actually looking for large abstract pieces, like the works of Ricardo Mazal at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery. Several of these would have worked quite well. Unfortunately, these “monumental paintings” come with “monumental prices.” I’m not one to put down all high-priced art automatically, but I do sometimes find the pricing of art to be a bit of a mystery.

Sometimes abstract is “too abstract,” even for unapologetic modernists. Such were the large monochromatic and gradient works of Ruth Pastine. These could actually work quite well, on large bare white walls, but they would get lost in an environment with other activity and texture. Such stark paintings need space to themselves.

More down-to-earth are the offerings of the Hang Gallery, from which I have acquired some artworks in the past. This months show at the Annex, called “Give and Take”, was one of the better ones I have seen in the while. It featured more traditionally abstract paintings (Hang often seems to feature contemporary mixed-media works in the Annex), such as the work of Phillip Hua. Although not as large as some of the others featured in this article, I could definitely see one of Hua’s paintings hanging in CatSynth HQ. His work is an interesting mixture of abstraction and “industrial grit”, with moments that seem recognizable.

One “recognizable” image was Back Up by Carolyn Meyer, also at Hang. I’m pretty sure this is yet another view of the I-80 freeway through my neighborhood, as I have describes in previous articles such as the recent March “walking tour” and our highway underpass photographs. But what does it mean to see a similar scene so “painted”? It’s something entirely different from the photos, or real life.

And of course, we could not go without mentioning this delightful feline-themed work Spell by Ulrike Palmbach at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery:

It always comes back to cats here at CatSynth, doesn’t it?

This article was included in the April 9 Carnival of Cities.

Wordless Wednesday: Classic Box Abstraction




Wordless Hallowe'en


[click to enlarge]






SF May 13 Part 2: Picasso and American Art, and Brice Marden

i]As described in Part 1 of this series, I had an opportunity to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and view two exhibits that were going to close shortly thereafter. The first of these was Picasso and American Art, in which the influence of Picasso on American artists of the 20th century by placing works side by side. For example, several of Picasso's iconic Cubist works were displayed alongside works of Max Weber that they inspired. My favorite of the Picasso works in the exhibition was The Studio (1928):

This work is considered an example of Synthetic Cubism. Compared to earlier Cubism, this style is typified by more abstract shapes and simple lines, along with brighter colors. Picasso's Synthetic Cubism had a strong influence on several prominent American artists, including tuart Davis, Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. Below is Gorky's Organization (1933-1936), which is quite clearly influenced by (and indeed a response to) The Studio:

Artists such as de Kooning and Gorky were influential in creating the American art movement Abstract Expressionism, and their interest in Synthetic Cubism can be seen a direct predecessor along with other abstract styles. I also see works such as Organization as a bridge between Synthetic Cubism and the Surrealist work of Spanish (Catalonian) artist Joan Miro, and then through Surrealism back to Picasso's later work. Miro is among my favorite artists, and I did have an opportunity to visit the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona in 2005. I found many works with a similar (yet quite distinct) combination of sparse geometry and bright colors:

Actually, I had seen this same exhibition in New York last November at the Whitney Museum. It was interesting to see how the two museums presented the same exhibit. The main difference was the galleries themselves, SFMOMA was more light and open, while the setting at the Whitney was more intimate and somehow “quiet.” Additionally, the Whitney made the audio tour available at no additional charge. I usually don't do audio tours, but since it was “free” I decided I would sample specific parts and thus it influenced my visit.

Additionally, I found myself more drawn (during both visits) to the earlier works, mostly before 1960 (up through an including Jackson Pollock), and less interested in the pop art and 1980s styles in the last section. That being said, I do like many artists from the 1970s and later, and this is a good segue to the retrospective of Brice Marden. Marden began in the 1960s as Minimalist painter, and I think most viewers would agree with that characterization. His early work is primarily large monochromatic fields, often arranged in diptychs and triptychs, as in the Grove Series and D?après la Marquise de la Solana (1969):

The Guggenheim collection, which includes the above work, describes it as ” a response to Goya?s portrait of the Marquise, which Marden saw in the Louvre.” With that in mind, here is a computer-generated work in the spirit of Marden's early Minimalism using a photo of Luna as the source for a triptych of color fields:

All fun aside, I did find the large monochromatic works interesting in the context of the full retrospective, especially when several large examples were placed around one of SFMOMA's spacious galleries. The retrospective also gave the opportunity to see Marden's remarkable transition in the late 1970s and early 1980s with his interest in Asian calligraphy and his adoption of more complex images filled with organic curves. He continus to use this style to this day, as in the recent 7 Red Rock 2 (2000-2002), shown to the right. He did have an interesting digression in his work into complex series of crossing lines, such as the 4 and 3 Drawing, shown below. This was probably my favorite from the exhibit:

I suppose I don't really have a “conclusion” to draw here, except that as usual I walk away both appreciative and a bit overwhelmed and bewildered by major exhibits, and always go back for more.

CatSynth pic: synth studio, with cat

Another from our friend Knox Bronson at SunPopBlue:

This is a rather abstract representation of his “almost all-analogue synth studio.” Mars kitty can be seen in the bubble at the lower right (and in the enlarged clip to the right). The overall composition suggests a blend of the CatSynth banner with my Music of the (Blue) Spheres graphic artwork.

The original photo is from 2002, and Mars has since passed away. You can also see a close-up video at the original SunPopBlue posting.