Raimonds Staprans began drawing views of boats and water from his house in Riga, Latvia, as a child. Escaping first from Latvia, and later from Germany, Staprans emigrated to America with his family in 1947. At the University of Washington, he studied with Alexander Archipenko and George Le Brun, who had a profound influence on him. The artist had his first San Francisco exhibition at Maxwell Galleries in 1955, following master’s degree studies at UC Berkeley. Now in his late 70's, he still actively exhibits in both Europe and the United States.
In its hot, vibrant color and vigor of line, Staprans' work bears obvious connections to the works of the Bay Area figurative artists of the 1950s and 60s, particularly, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Roland Petersen. Legendary S.F. Chronicle art critic, Alfred Frankenstein, once described Staprans' landscapes as "among the finest examples of nature-in-abstraction being produced hereabouts."
Staprans' work also shows the inspiration of Wayne Thiebaud's highly schematized compositions and candy-colored palette. But beyond this connection, Staprans looks back to the flattened space and stylized forms of Matisse and Cézanne.
Rigorous geometry, a vigorous line, and a strong emphasis on order, both compositionally and coloristically, are hallmarks of Staprans's painting. n.1 Staprans himself has stated that he is "an abstract painter whose objects are recognizable and sometimes quite realistic, but [in reality] they are all … constructed from the ground up in absolutely abstract terms.… There is very little truth in [them]."2 His boxes, landscapes, and rolling fruit are, in the words of Art in America critic Michael Duncan, "settings for compositional tussles that have an essential logic and meaning."
An accomplished playwright, Staprans’ writing explores the tension between fact and fiction, totalitarian ‘reality’ and human truth, set against his Latvian homeland’s 20th-century history. His play Cetras dienas junija (Four Days in June), about the last days in office of pre-Soviet occupation President Karlis Ulmanis was a cultural and political watershed in Latvia in the late 1980s and played an important role in the county’s democratic revolution in the early 1990s. In 2003, Staprans was awarded Latvia’s highest civilian honor, the Three Star Medal, the equivalent of the United States’s Presidential Medal of Freedom.
At Hackett-Freedman to May 1st. This will be their last show open to the public and while I am extremely saddened to see the gallery close, it's appropriate that they end with with this stunningly beautiful exhibit.
1. Michael Duncan, "Raimonds Staprans: The Philosophy of On, Under, Nearby, and Through" in Raimonds Staprans (San Francisco: Hackett-Freedman Gallery, 2003)
2. Interview with art historian Paul J. Karlstrom for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
3. "Raimonds Staprans: The Philosophy of On, Under, Nearby, and Through" in Raimonds Staprans, p.3.