Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barbara Kleinhans
The Tiny Show
Studio Gallery

A few years ago, I sat in awe at a presentation by Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the 1000 mile Iditarod Sled Dog race in Alaska. Despite her toughness, Riddles looked and sounded like a perky “Oh, darn, I burned the muffins” Wisconsin housewife, while she talked about getting dragged behind her sled in a blizzard. Frostbite seemed as inconvenient as getting a flat tire in front of a Michelin store.

That same “danger with homey warmth” sensation came to me from the paintings of another Wisconsin native, artist Barbara Kleinhans. Kleinhans uses knives rather than brushes to create realistic abstract paintings of countryside scenes reminiscent of her youth. My favorites are the ones that look like a farm at the tail end of a snowstorm, with a barn, shed or stand of trees in the distance. I am drawn into the scene, and believe “If I can make it to the trees, I might survive and be home for hot soup.”

Kleinhans has several paintings in the Tiny Show, a collection of paintings and other works of art, all less than 7 inches by 7 inches, from 110 local artists. Tiny runs thru Dec 24 at Studio Gallery in San Francisco.

By Phil Gravitt

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hewett Collection of African American Art

The collection, put together by a African-American couple of modest means, was built over a lifetime of collecting. Vivian and John Hewitt were married in 1949 and began collecting immediately. They used wedding gift money to buy art on their honeymoon and never stopped throughout their married life.

"Art enriches life, enlarges life, expands life," says Vivian Hewlett and this somewhat small but comprehensive exhibit is an eloquent testament to that belief. Located on the third floor of the museum, the exhibit features 54 works assembled over a half-century, from 1949 to 1998, and offers not only important twentieth-century art but also a survey of African-American culture and society.

The exhibit includes works by Romare Bearden, regarded as one of the greatest American artists of his generation, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the first African-American artists to achieve acclaim in both America and Europe. Contemporary artists are also represented, among them Jonathan Green, a 1980s graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The works by Tanner are not first rate, in my opinion. There are three pieces and while they round off the collection in a historical sense, they don't add much artistically.

Romare Beaden is represented by several juicy color lithographs and collages. It was a real pleasure to be able to get up close and see how his collages fitted together like the most intricate puzzle. "Jamming at the Savoy" (1988) sings like a jazz riff with light and dark shimmering in the piece. The sole Jacob Lawrence piece, "Playing Records" captures the essence of hipster cool.

Ann Tanksley (b. 1934) was one of the artists that I was completely unfamiliar with and I found her work completely captivating. Her palate glows with color. Her simplified forms are influenced by the Mexican Muralists but her palate is pure Matisse.

This is an intimate collection of small- to medium-size pieces that could be displayed in an average size house. Taken as a whole, they show a wide range of artistic responses to African American life in the last 50 years. There are some pieces which reflect the grimmer aspects of that experience but the but the emphasis is on joy and the resilience of the human spirit. I couldn't help thinking of Timothy Buckwalter's recent comment when he was able to see the Fisher Collection. According to him, the collection could have come out of any art magazine of the 70's and didn't have much of a personal focus beyond testosterone. The Hewett's collection is the antithesis of that - the life time's labor of love for two people who loved art and were intimately involved in the vibrant African-American artistic culture of the last 50 years.

There has been a series of gallery talks on Wednesday; the remaining ones are:
Nov. 26: Classical African Sculpture and Cubism
Dec. 3: The Voice of Jazz as Artistic Muse
Jan. 7: African American Art Not Mainstream? Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting!

The Museum of the African Diaspora is located at 685 Mission Street at Third Street in San Francisco. Museum hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (closed Monday & Tuesday) and Noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, details on gallery talks and a map of the area, visit or call (415) 358-7200.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thomas Ingmire at SFCB: What to get for Christmas

If you live close enough to attend this event at the San Francisco Center for the Book, then this is a must see! Thomas will be presenting original work, discussing his methods and tools, demonstrating some calligraphy and will have prints and small originals for sale. Thomas Ingmire is one of the foremost masters of modern calligraphy and a leader in the current revival of that most ancient art form. He was the first American elected to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His work has been in galleries all over the world and his hand made books are exquisite examples of the art. If you want to see more of his work, the Harrison Collection at the SF Public Library has a wonderful collection of his (mostly) older pieces.

The uniqueness of Thomas Ingmire’s art work lies in its relationship to the traditions of calligraphy. Elected in 1977 to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators, Ingmire was the first American and first person outside of the United Kingdom to receive this honor. Teaching since l978, he has conducted workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and several countries in Europe as well as in Japan and Hong Kong. The recently published Codici 1, edited by Ingmire, reveals insights into his teaching and working philosophies on modern calligraphy. Please check the following websites:,,

San Francisco Center for the Book, Tuesday, December 2nd, 7 - 9 pm, Book Arts Salon, free.
SFCB, 300 De Haro Street, SF, 415-565-0545,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dinnerstein at Frey Norris in San Francisco

I discovered Harvey Dinnerstein about 2 months ago while visiting the De Young Museum. The painting titled “Sundown, the Crossing” (above) was hanging downstairs by the special exhibit area (if I remember correctly). I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. In the work a crowd of people stands looking off the back of a New York ferry. The painting, created in 1999 is large, 74 x 84”. It was a gift to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by the Frey Norris Gallery. The figures stand making eye contact with the viewer giving one an eerie feeling. Many looked familiar, Gauguin, Monet, Whitman, the artist himself; then there was a couple, children, the figure of death, the devil, people from various cultures from around the world in traditional dress and others. It seems to be a tribute to the people who have influenced the artist’s life. Perhaps the ferry represents transitions, memory, and loss. Is the body of water they cross the river Styx? This painting invites symbolist narration! This impressive work will be on display at the De Young through the end of November.

Shortly after seeing “Sundown, the Crossing” I learned the Frey Norris Gallery would be exhibiting a retrospective of the artist’s work. On display until December 14th this show contains 30 works from 1956 – 2008 including oils, pastels, and drawings.

Dinnerstein, 80, is recognized as one of America’s most important figurative painters. He is known for his recent narrative paintings of urban New York City and his realistic life-sized portraits.

The focal point of the show is the painting “Underground Together”. Here we see a cross-section of New York City’s diversity. Men and women of many cultural backgrounds standing together are glimpsed momentarily as the doors to a subway train open, revealing the crowd. Of the many people staring out at us we see the artist himself and the poet Walt Whitman.

The gallery is also selling a beautiful hard-bound monograph published by Chronicle Books titled “Underground Together, The Art and Life of Harvey Dinnerstein” with introduction and essays by Pete Hamill, Gabriel Weisberg, Raman Frey and Wendi Norris. The book is gorgeous. It contains more than 200 images of Dinnerstein’s work from his art career spanning more than 50 years.

Visit the Frey Norris Gallery at

(Images borrowed from the Frey Norris Gallery's website)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Martin Puryear at SFMOMA

Puryear was born in 1941, the son of a postal employee and an elementary teacher. He originally wanted to be a scientist but earned a Fine Arts degree at the Catholic University of America. After graduating, he joined the Peace Corps and spent time in Sierra Leone where he taught a variety of subjects but also developed a profound respect for the craftsmen that he met. After his two years in the Peace Corps were up, he moved to Sweden and studied at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. Eventually he returned to the US and earned a Masters of Fine Arts at Yale in 1971. All of this varied experience eventually led to his accomplished handling of natural (and some not-exactly natural materials) as well as his approach to sculpture with roots in Scandinavian Design, Minimalism and African Art.
“Though he would be the last to deny that in past years the art world, like most things American, has been disfigured by racism, Puryear does not find his own blackness an impediment. "Right from the start, I thought, No one can keep me from being an artist." He speaks of feeling the inaccessibility of Africa. "There is an incredible pain," he says, "that we black people feel at not being able to reach back and touch the country of origin the way that every other hyphenated American can and does. Being there made me realize how inescapably American I was—not African. You know you must embrace your identity as an American, not wallow in the idea that you're some kind of displaced, tribal person. Here you have responsibilities to your Americanness as well as your blackness."”
Robert Hughes wrote that Puryer is “A master of both modernism and traditional crafts, he creates sculptures that are a synthesis of beauty but free of cliché.” I couldn’t agree more (not that I’m tempted to disagree with Robert Hughes, the doyen of art criticism and my personal idol. Puryer’s work is well displayed at SF MOMA. For once, the museum has given a traveling show enough room for the pieces to breathe and claim their psychic space. Each piece shows a respect for the craft and the skill to use materials as diverse as various woods, leather, brush, carvings, tar, wire and mud.

“Puryear has always been troubled by the art/craft division in American culture. "At bottom it's a class issue really," he says. "‘Art' means thought; ‘craft' means manual work." But it's never so simple, for craft means thinking with (not just about) material. "In Japan you'll never see that kind of snobbery; potters and carpenters are honored there as living national treasures." (review by Robert Hughes, Time On Line Archive). . As one who loves science fiction and the creation of imaginary worlds, I couldn’t help but think that some of these beautiful objects could have come from alien Amish-farmer folk from one of the 28 new planets discovered outside our solar system. He combines organic, biomorphic shapes with those what hint at something more familiar but are unfamiliar enough to puzzle and engage you. I found myself looking and then, looking again at work that's serenely beautiful but not boring, exquisitely crafted but showing the hand of the maker.

Through January 25, 2009

Hugues, Robert: Time interviews on line

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grace Hartigan, RIP

I was saddened to read the obituary in today's New York Times of painter Grace Hartigan. But she lived 86 very full years.

I was really taken with the photo of her - "one tough cookie!" was my comment aloud - as happens so often with women artists, she held her own as painter and personality among such peers as Pollack and DeKooning, but is largely unknown today.

The obit is peppered by some marvelous quotes. For instance, in later years she got lumped in with Pop Art, which (like many Abstract Expressionists) she despised. But she said:
"I'd much rather be a pioneer of a movement that I hate then the second generation of a movement that I love."

On the one hand, a nice quip, but on reflection, a pretty interesting idea worth pondering.

There is an interesting 1979 interview with her that's in the archives of the Smithsonian, a long oral history, really. Quite a life. To you, Grace.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Fauves at SFMOMA

Matisse, Madame Matisse (Femme au Chapeau, 1905)

"Paysage du Midi, 1906"

I went to see the Puryer exhibit at SF MOMA which is serenely beautiful but these hot, passionate pieces seemed more appropriate for our hot weather. I visit and revisit the permanent collection at SF MOMA. It certainly has it's weaknesses - the lack of women painters, for instance - and the lack of depth in certain parts of the collection. But the Matisse and the Derain are among my favorite works. Whenever I can't understand something modern, I remember how these works were mocked and the artists insulted when they were first displayed. It makes me wonder how much of late 20th century art will be viewed in 100 years. Will the museum goers of the future love Matthew Barney, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons the way that some of us love Matisse and Derain? What do you think?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lynne Rutter
Centennial Children’s Mural
Burlingame Main Library

Entering the 100-year-old Burlingame Main Library is like entering a church. Big, solid, majestic, and quiet. Except the defibrillator is where the holy water should be, and the confessionals have been converted to drop boxes for returned books and videos. Unlike most libraries, the entrance is large, clean and neat, due to the brilliant idea of locating the free flyers, magazines and school catalogues to the interior. Another unique touch is honoring the major donors of the building restoration by printing their names on the drawer tags of old library card file drawers, mounted on a wall. Additional donors are displayed on the leaves of bronze vines wrapped around two columns flanking the drawer wall.

The high beamed ceilings and textured plaster walls of the picture book room in the Duncan Children’s wing were the perfect location for the murals of artist Lynne Rutter. On entering, you realize you’ve left the staid old adult world and arrived in “storybook land.” Commissioned by The Burlingame Library Foundation, the murals harken back to the great storybooks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the founding of the Library during the “Golden Age of Illustration.” Rutter and her team painted the murals on canvas in her studio, and then glued them to the walls, with additional painting done on site. The smooth canvas against the textured walls adds depth and dimension to the characters in the murals.

The characters may bring particular stories to mind for some viewers. Rutter used generalized characters so they can be illustrations for different stories rather than specific to one. This allows viewers to imagine whichever story fits the scene in their head.

Above the entrance to the storybook room is a mural of what looks like a Russian Prince on a magic carpet.

To the right, a boy dressed in costume, possibly from Kazakhstan or The Great Steppe region, looks up at a castle in the clouds. He could be travelling on an incredible journey, part of a fantasy world, or carried away in a dream--just like the children scattered around the room, absorbed in large colorful books.

Rutter designed the murals to incorporate the architecture, grates, doors, and arches of the room as part of the work.

On the largest wall is a girl with very long red hair, looking out a painted window. She is patterned after Melisande, a story first published by English author E. Nesbit in 1909. Looking up at her is an Aladdin-like Prince wearing a turban. Near an archway at the corner of the room are two girls looking on, one similar to Snow White. At the base of the wall is a rough stone entry to an 18-inch deep alcove leading to a doorway, where children often congregate. A boy sits atop the doorway, reading. Rutter’s “stonework” is so realistic you are not sure if you are inside or outside.

The three-sided end of the room features windows to the street and several mission style sofas. A large old bench and angled reading table is perfect for storybooks. The table is flanked by medieval theatre flags, also murals, creating a theatrical setting around the spot, and announcing "story-time,” a popular event at the library. There is plenty of floor space for kids to sit around, listening and squirming, on the story-like green vine patterned carpet. To one side are several child-size round tables and chairs.

Rutter says, “The room is the book and the wall murals are the pages. The murals inspire the imagination of what is in the books.”

If children could enter the room through a “Chronicles of Narnia” wardrobe, that would complete the experience.

By Phil Gravitt

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio

Andy Goldsworthy, British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who creates his work from natural and found objects has produced a new piece for San Francisco. Titled “Spire” the sculpture can be found in the Presidio, just inside the Arguello Gate and across the street from Inspiration Point. The work was commissioned by the Presidio Trust and constructed in late October under the direction of Goldsworthy.

I stopped by the site today with artist Anna Conti. It was easy to find the spire. The 37 steel armature supported cypress trees pointed its way to the sky in the clearing before us. We had to jay walk and then follow a makeshift path through the trees to the sculpture. It stands in the middle of a fenced in area, obviously not finished and open to the public. Surrounded by heavy moving equipment, a large pile of rocks, and upturned soil the work stands as a sentinel, reflecting the majesty of a church spire and the Transamerica Pyramid. As we studied the piece we wondered how it was supported. The Goldsworthy pieces we have seen in the past were all made to be temporary, this seemed intended to be a permanent piece. It wasn’t until I got home and looked up the project on the Internet that I learned the trees were taken from the site (older trees cut down for reforestation), and secured below ground in a metal and concrete base. This will not be a Goldsworthy sculpture that blows away in a thunderstorm!

One of the interesting discoveries in visiting the site was the 40 or so impromptu found wood sculptures surrounding the outside of the fence. I don’t know if Goldsworthy, his assistants, students, or fans of his work created the pieces but they were a wonderful surprise.

On November 14th an exhibit related to “Spire” opens at the Presidio Officers Club. It contains drawings, photographs, a model of the sculpture, and information bringing more insight into the project. The show is free and runs through May 3, 2009. I don’t know exactly when the sculpture itself will be officially unveiled to the public, but it is scheduled to open after the planting of new trees in the area between now and the end of December.

More information on the show at the Presidio Trust:

Interview with Goldsworthy by San Francisco Chronicle's Kenneth Baker:

Bill Martin, RIP

Bill Martin, whose paintings combined “surrealism and 19th century American landscape painting” (Kenneth Baker, SF Chron) passed away on October 28th from complications of lymphoma. I took a class from him ages ago and wish that I could have taken more. Our styles could not have been more different but he was a gentle man and a great teacher.

The painter, a full-bearded, 6-foot-5-inch redhead, told Baker that one of his formative experiences was seeing a landscape by the Hudson River School painter Frederic Church at San Francisco's M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. Dazzled by Church's depiction of light, Mr. Martin decided then and there he wanted to paint like that.
Born in South San Francisco, Mr. Martin got his bachelor's and master's of fine arts at the San Francisco Art Institute. Over the years, he taught at the Art Institute, UC Berkeley, San Jose State University and College of the Redwoods. In recent years, he taught a weekly figure-drawing class at the Mendocino Arts Center.

Mr. Martin was a beekeeper and avid player of the Chinese game Go. He loved to paint the coastal flora of Mendocino and the dramatic landscape he saw from the window of his home on the headlands overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He usually painted on round or semicircular canvases, which he felt gave the viewer a greater depth of view. His work was shown at museums around the country and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Among other places, his paintings can be found in the collection of the Oakland Museum and at San Francisco International Airport. (from the obit at SF Gate - link below)

"There seem to be two distinct but compatible directions in my art. The first is concerned with the depiction of imagined realities. The other is the depiction of perceived realities. By observing the existing subjects I am drawn to paint, I find new underlying currents in my own subconscious. Thus in my art I explore the conscious, subconscious, and the intercommunication between."

~ from an interview in the introduction to "Lost Legends"

Mr. Martin published three books: "Paintings 1969-1979," "The Joy of Drawing" and "Lost Legends." In recent years, his son said, he concentrated on paintings based in nature but dealing with metaphysical notions of mortality and "the life after life."

Mr. Martin's life will be celebrated from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Mendocino Arts Center, 45200 Little Lake St., Mendocino, CA 95460. Donations in Mr. Martin's memory can be made there.

His On Line Gallery: (images from the gallery)
Bill Marin also maintained an excellent Internet site to teach oil painting.
Full obit at the SF Chron web site:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Resonant Spaces: Ellen Fullman, Walter Kitundu & Kaffe Matthews
Headlands Center for the Arts

Years ago, when SFMOMA was across the street from City Hall, I toured a mind altering exhibit titled “Tokyo—Then and Now.” Some rooms were dark, with strange arrays of light and electronics. I remember one room was pitch black, with a narrow bridge running diagonally across the electronic neon river that had once been the floor. After my brain exploded, I staggered, neondated and lobotomized, out of the museum onto the street. With bloodshot eyes and squinting from the sunlight, I rolled up my program into a cup and sat on the sidewalk by the exit to the museum. As people came out, I begged and pleaded, “What have I seen? Can you spare an explanation, and a dollar, so I can go back in and retrieve my mind from the audio rental?”

This past Sunday we met friends at the Headlands Center for the Arts, where my brain detonated once again. I had been initiated into the world of Resonant Spaces, performances of electro-acoustic music and electronic sound improvisation by three artists in residence.

On the drive home, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the evening. Being more mature now, instead of begging for an explanation, I made silly and sarcastic comments. Later, I recalled a similar situation in the fourth grade, when I pulled Rebecca Bennett’s pigtails because I couldn’t figure out how to tell her I liked her.

Trying to get to sleep Sunday night, I realized I felt challenged by the performances, since my brain wanted to talk with me about them all night long. As opposed to, say, sleep.

Even though these were sound creating performances, I was left with visual images of the artists more than memory of the sounds they created. The following is a neophyte memoir of the evening. Please visit the web sites of each artist, or discuss with people more familiar with the electronic sound genre, and armed with musical vocabularies, so as to better appreciate these artists and their bodies of work.

Each artist was set up in one of three old Army barracks now housing the Headlands Center for the Arts. The 100+ person crowd moved between the buildings for the one and a half hour performance.

The first venue was in the top floor gymnasium of the first building. The aged walls and worn wooden backboard held the history of basketball games played 50 years ago. Artist Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument stretched the length of the room, with acoustic wooden box resonators at one end. It was like a giant 174 string Fender Stratocaster. Numerous lanes, allowing several artist players, separated the many sets of strings, which were c-clamped at different lengths like a capo on a guitar.

Fullman walked slowly and carefully, forward and backward, about half their length, resting, pinching and rubbing her fingers on the strings to create various resonating sounds. Her hand and finger movements were projected onto the gym walls by the two wireless cameras strapped to her wrists. Fullman was accompanied in the first piece by Theresa Wong on cello. The room was still and quiet, except for a brief moment when half the audience jumped out of their skin after someone dropped a metal bottle of water on the floor. For the second piece, Wong and another person played the strings holding curved wood blocks, accompanying Fullman.
(Fullman photos credit: John Fago/Other Minds Festival)

The second artist, Walter Kitundu, had already started his performance by the time we made it to the third floor of the second building. Kitundu is a bird photographer among many other talents. This performance, which I call Acoustic Birdcage Meets Woodworking Ninja Pianist, troubled me. A flock of small birds participated, and were electronically participated upon, while caged at the top of an elaborate wooden musical contraption. I kept thinking, “Didn’t Proposition 2 just pass, guaranteeing renters rights for birds?” A nearby audience member read my mind, and mentioned Prop 2 doesn’t take effect until January 1. It was captivating to watch. Since Kitundu was just awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the birds are probably in the musicians union, it must be ok.

Moving to the third building, speakers surrounded the audience, who in turn surrounded a small table holding a Mac laptop and several small sound engineer boards. When Kaffee Mathews entered, the room was darkened except for a desk lamp by the Mac. The best seats are directly behind Mathews, to better be near the center of all the speakers and watch her screen. From the side, I could see too much of the compact fluorescent light bulb poking out from under the desk lamp shade. I was fascinated as her head bobbed up and down as she moved with the reverberations floating around the room, manipulating the sound equipment with her left hand and clicking the mouse with her right hand, the pointer on various spheres and screens on the Mac. The sounds varied from electronic whale to loose speaker wire, and the door closing tone on the L-Taraval MUNI line. An audience member mentioned “…channeling Pink Floyd,” so I wasn’t alone seeking comparisons.

The evening ended with an incredible dinner downstairs, by Chez Panisse alum Chef Juliette Delventhal, in the barracks style Headlands' Mess Hall. The inexpensive, locally grown & organic food alone is a good reason to become a member and support the Headlands Center for the Arts and their extensive artist in residence program.

by Phil Gravitt

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sausalito Artist Frances Galli 90 Years Old and Still Painting

Suzy Bucholz and Frances Galli
Suzie Bucholz and Frances Galli in Suzie's Studio

On November 5th friends at the ICB Building in Sausalito helped Frances Galli celebrate her 90th birthday. Her husband of 67 years joined us and many women spoke of Francis as their inspiration, mentor and role model. Frances has always been an artist with over twenty years in her Sausalito studio. She met her husband when they were both working for Patterson and Hall, an art agency in San Francisco that handled work for the high profile advertising agencies of the day.

Stan Galli
Frances' husband, painter Stan Galli in Frances' studio before party

Dani Leslie Aiko Elaine
Dani Roach, Leslie Allen, Aiko Morioko, Elaine Gentile

Frances and Stan spent twenty five summers in Italy and two full years in Rome and all of this "Italian" is reflected in the colors and subject matter of her paintings. But these are only the facts. Here's the real story:

Frances, at ninety, still drives from her home in Kentfield to Saualito almost every morning to work for several hours in her studio. She's sharp and she's amazingly beautiful. She participates in all our Open Studios and has a bunch of new paintings each season. Frances is sweet, funny and helpful. We all want her for our best friend. But most important to me is that she has added twenty-five years (at least) to my painting life. I could never find a role model when I was young. The women painters in New York were still married to male artists and they served their husbands. Only later did the Helen Frankenthalers and Lee Krasners become known and successful on their own. What a relief for me, The Oldest Woman on the Web, to finally want to emulate this older woman committed to painting all her life! We love Frances and celebrate her life!

Frances Galli Painting 1

Frances Galli Painting 2

Frances Galli Painting 3


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Visiting the Asian: Chao Shao-an

Naturally, I had to introduce my friend to another one of my favorite Chinese painters: Chao Shao-an (Chinese, 1905–1998). His bold and spontaneous brush strokes, inventive compositions and use of vibrant colors all raise his paintings way above the often mediocre and tepid compositions of other modern Chinese painters who have attempted what he has - to meld Chinese tradition with a more modern sensibility. We were walking through the galleries and I was beginning to be concerned that his works weren't on display after all but we turned a corner and found the little alcove there his pieces are hung (note to Asian - maybe he deserves more open space?)

Chao Shao-an "To learn from Nature but be inspired by inner sensibility"

Visiting the Asian, #3

After lunch we decided to visit the new exhibit of Islamic arts. I'm a calligrapher as well as a painter so I'm very interested in that art form. Both the Middle Eastern and the Asian cultures have valued calligraphy as a valuable art form, something that we have lost with the advent of the printing press. The examples they have on display are priceless but (unfortunately), the website is lacking in images of the pieces that I liked the most. They had pages from 12th - 14th century Korans, where the writing must have been done with a single haired brush. Each page probably represented months of work - from the writing, the marbled paper, the gold leaf decorations. I wish that the captions had included translations of the text and maybe some explanation of how Arabic is written. Several of the pieces showed distinctive and different styles and again, I would have loved to have read more about the different styles of calligraphy. As a western calligrapher, I know the difference between medieval Blackletter, Carolingian and Chancery cursive but Arabic writing is not something that I am at all familiar with. In this case, I guess Wikipedia and Google are my friends.

The press release did mention Mohamed Zakariya (American, b. 1942)and when I Googled his name, I found his website with many beautiful examples of his calligraphy.

Muhammad, Peace and Blessings Upon Him (Arabic)
The name of the Prophet and his prayer of blessing. This piece appears in the PBS production “Muhammad, The Legacy of a Prophet.”Celi sulus script/Ebru borders and gold division rulings

Ottoman Poem 1
“Do not say ‘Who will guide me on the path of love?’ Just get on the road and God gives success.” This poem is a mulemma, an Ottoman poetic form that has Arabic features.
Sulus script

Visiting the Asian, Chosing a favorite, #2

As for me, I don't think I can choose. I can narrow it down somewhat but even that involves painful choices. Should I choose the gorgeous chunky necklace with huge gold beads separated by pieces of age-blacked ivory? The two fragments of pottery, just every day vessels used for storing olive oil but with delicate Greek writing following the curve of the jug, still bearing the personality of the writer after all these centuries? The gold cup with geometric decorations? The gold crown? How to choose? What to choose? What would you choose?

This is another piece of hammered gold where the ancient artisan both understood his materials and the form he wanted to create. The underside of the bowl (which you can see in the case) is as beautiful as the front side. What drew me to this piece was not only its beauty but how this form has been echoed in Islamic pottery for centuries.
Phiale, Tillia tepe, tomb IV, 1st century, Gold, Ø 23.0 cm ; Ht. 4.0 cm Musée National
I love seal rings and this one is simply exquisite - I know that I'm using that word a lot but there really is no other way to describe it. This tiny seal is carved with a griffon and the stone has the most luminous shine. (Tillia Tepe, tomb V1st century, Chalcedony, 3.1 x 2.8 cm Musée National)

This sundial called to me because of the modern feel - ancient but with simplicity that's ageless. It's a piece that would fit in Noguchi's Sculpture Garden where the ancient carver respected his materials and wedded that knowledge with an understanding of both form and function.
River Deity standing on a makara , 1st Century. Begram, Ivory (45.6 cm). This exquisite piece just calls to me. The beautifully carved face, the sensual body, the skillful handling of the drapery - she's both an alluring nymph and a Goddess.

Treasures of Afghanistan At the Asian, #1

Yesterday a friend of mine and I went to visit the Asian. She writes the delightful blog Zoomie Station (link on the sidebar), and has worked at the Honolulu Academy of Art and the SFAI so, aside from food, we have a shared interest in art. Besides she's just one of the nicest people that I know and a great companion for my bubbling enthusiasm for this exhibit. After we'd gone through twice, first to just look, second to pick out all our favorite pieces, she now put me to the most difficult test of all. If I could only choose one piece, which one would I choose? Now, that's the real $65,000,000 question - price adjusted to allow for inflation. This is the one that she chose. It's difficult to tell from the photo but this exquisite piece is so small that it would fit in the palm of your hand.

Statuette of a mountain goat:
Afghanistan, Tillia tepe, tomb IV
1st century. Gold 5.2 x 4.0 cm
Musée National d’Afghanistan – MK 04.40.399
All photos © Thierry Ollivier / musée Guimet

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Jennifer Ewing: Spirit Boats

Jennifer Ewing is a well known Bay Area muralist, as part of Ewing & Germano, with installations in many food and wine businesses as well as private homes. Every few years, Ewing also creates a series of paintings, sculptures and other works of art.

Ewing started the Spirit Boats series of mixed media paintings in January 2005, after her father passed away. Creating the paintings made her feel closer to her father, and helped her grieve over losing him.

The single boat in each painting represents a vision of our life journey now and when we leave this world and move into the afterlife, heaven, the unknown. The light source in each painting guides the boat. The several dozen paintings in the series vary in color, radiance, intensity, and focus. The Spirit Boats inspire the viewer to translate the vision of Ewing’s soulful work.

Some boats are clearly seen; others appear to be an apparition. One boat appears to be traveling slowly through a bayou, while another is floating on a starlit night through space, drifting toward the moon. In a similar painting, the background is not so clear, and the boat is dreaming, on a dark journey, in swirling confusion. Another floats suspended, as the earth moves below it, like Russell Crowe being carried, near death and envisioning his family, in the movie Gladiator.

A few of the paintings seem to directly represent the passing to another world. A warm sun glow, like a bright sunset, reflects off the water and surrounds the boat. Another portrays a boat disintegrating into particles and transported or beamed upward.

Some of the paintings are whimsical, as Ewing brought her father’s lighthearted nature into the work. One looks like a coconut shell floating in the ocean, in search of an island. Another seems to be half an avocado, dreaming of reuniting with its pit.

The waves and ripples generated from the bow of a slow moving boat, shimmering outward, like the effect of our lives and our actions, reminding us we do not know where or how far or what effect our lives and actions create.

Jennifer Ewing’s Spirit Boat paintings are on display now through the end of November at The Depot Bookstore & Café, 77 Throckmorton in downtown Mill Valley on the Plaza. Phone 415-383-2665. Open 7AM-7PM daily. Opening Reception is Tuesday Nov 4, 6PM-7pm.

by Phil Gravitt