Saturday, January 31, 2009

Avoiding Super Bowl Sunday

If you are not a football fan, there are many delightful ways to spend Sunday. Instead of being glued to your TV set, watching sets of grown men, pumped up with steroids and padded into behemoth tanks chase a tiny ball around a muddy field, try some of the following at the Asian Art Museum (and it's a free Sunday!). Celebrate the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Ox at the Asian Art Museum with free admission to a whole series of events from Chinese classical dance and music to a storytelling tour of the galleries.

Then, be sure to check out the small but complex and exquisite exhibit of the Islamic cultures of Asia. This exhibition of approximately sixty paintings, manuscripts, ceramics, textiles, metal wares, historic photographs, and even puppets highlights their superb artistic traditions. My only criticism is that I wished for more historical information on the manuscripts. For instance, I would have loved to read translations of the poetry and an explanation of the various calligraphic styles. Since I am a calligrapher, I am fascinated by the calligraphy of different countries and the manuscripts were in obviously different styles - from script that must have been written with a one-haired brush to other ones that were bolder and more stylized. But it's a small quibble; go and be amazed at the skill and the beauty.

AND then, if you still have the energy, watch the ongoing demonstrations of Japanese Bamboo arts (Thursdays through Sundays, January 29 through February 8, 2009 from 12:00 noon – 4:00 pm, North Court). The third floor of the museum has a small but perfect display of bamboo baskets.

If you walk down the corridor a bit, you come to one of the most overlooked parts of the museum but genuinely spiritual parts of the museum. The piece is easy to miss as it's in back of a partial wall, at the entrance to one of the bridges linking two wings of the museum. The wall creates a rectangular alcove and in the middle of this alcove is a simple, rough black rock sculpture with a shinning surface. The surface is not glass or polished rock but is created by water, slowly pumped through a hidden opening. I always sit at the wooden bench build into one end of the small room and breathe in peace.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Diebenkorn at Berggruen

One of the many wonderful things about this show is how you can trace Diebenkorn's trajectory from abstract painter to figurative and back into abstract imagery. The show is a lesson in a painter's path, encapsulated in a few well chosen pieces. His early abstractions include his Berkely series began in 1953 with their loose, organic imagery and intuitive style

His surfaces tell you much about how he works. He leaves in the revisions and corrections, leading to a multi-layered canvas of deceptive simplicity which reveals its underlying complexity when you look more carefully. "Getting it right" was Diebenkorn's chief objective and he did not mind revising things to realize a composition where everything is essential -- nothing is left out.

Diebenkorn was particularly stuck by the pentimenti (traces of underlying pigment) in some of the Matisse pictures, and, Livingston wrote, “These visible traces become an indispensable part of the viewer’s experience of immediacy and lend the work a king of provisional (though never unfinished) quality.

But the abstracts came to him too easily and he was concerned about creating beautiful but empty surfaces. So, he (and other like minded painters) began to return to figurative and objective painting -- straightforward, objective studies of scissors, cups, books, and other everyday items while retaining his painterly surfaces and variations on geometric design motifs.

With figuration, he said, "a kind of constraint came in that was welcomed because I had felt that in the last of the abstract paintings around '55, it was almost as though I could do too much, too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against. And suddenly the figure painting furnished a lot of this." On another occasion, he said, in regard to this specific constraint, "The figure ... takes over and rules the canvas."
In Woman in a Window (1957), the figure sits with back to the viewer, deep in thought. The shapes are simple, vivid, unified by geometric elements, simple but not simplistic.

At Stanford University, Diebenkorn fell in love with the work of Edward Hopper: “I embraced Hopper completely….It was his use of light and shade and the atmosphere….kind of drenched, saturated with mood, and its kind of austerity….It was the kind of work that just seemed made for me.” In his figurative work, shown at the gallery, he could lay claim to being far more than a disciple of Hooper but his logical successor and, in significant ways, a better painter.

Reflections on the Painting of Richard Diebenkorn: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, Gregory Eanes
Danto, Arthur Coleman. "Richard Diebenkorn.(Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York)." The Nation 266.n1 (Jan 5, 1998): 29(5).
Livingston, Jane. The Art of Richard Diebenkorn. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University of California Press, 1998.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Will Marino
Bees, Tickets and Dartboards

If you are wandering around the San Francisco financial district, deposit yourself in the Concourse Gallery in the lower level of 555 California Street, and admire the paper constructions of Santa Cruz artist Will Marino.

The Concourse Gallery is a short, wide hall lined with a series of angled glass cases mimicking the exterior architecture of the building, formerly the Bank of America headquarters.

Marino’s mixed media creations start out as rolls of tickets or colorful dart boards. After knocking out the center of a dartboard, Marino unwinds all the paper rings. As he rewinds the paper, he pulls and pushes the paper into long, horn shaped spirals, as well as bowls, cones, domes and arches. Marino often adds found materials and objects such as a jack-in-the-box metal container to the base of a spiral, and small round items to the tip.

The colored edges that made up the dart board patterns, and the printed words and characters on the ticket rolls, form new patterns as the spirals stretch out. When complete, Marino adds additional color and fuses the forms with a gel medium.

For other constructions, Marino rolls the paper into what look like small multicolor cinnamon rolls, and installs them in wood frames or interesting boxes, occasionally inserting bees between the rolls.

Recent works by Will Marino will be on display through March 14, 2009. Marino is represented by Cain Schulte Gallery, and the curator of exhibits at 555 California Street is Casey & Associates.

Also in 555 California are paintings by Maxine Solomon, on the Plaza level, and Art Books of Henri Matisse, in the gallery at the Concourse entrance to the B of A bank branch.

By Phil Gravitt

Abstract and Figurative: Highlights of Bay Area Painting

This is the one, must see, most stunning exhibit in SF right now. These are the artists that broke with the prevailing canon of 1950's art that abstract art was the be all and end off of art. They developed their own unique style which combined the bravura stroke of abstract art with a focus on shapes, people and things. One of the artists, Richard Diebenkorn, will probably go down in the pantheon of 20th century art as one of the greats but he wasn't alone. The show at Berggruen includes seminal work by Elmer Bischoff, Theophilus Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, David Park, Wayne Thiebaud, James Weeks, and Paul Wonner. Many of the works included in Abstract and Figurative are on loan from museums and private collections and have rarely been exhibited to the public

The "movement" (if you can call it that) began 1949, when a young painter by the name of David Park “gathered up all his abstract-expressionist canvases and, in an act that has gone down in local legend, drove to the Berkeley city dump and destroyed them. When Diebenkorn, who was in New Mexico at the time, saw Park's first painting in the new style (Kids on Bikes, 1950), his initial impression was that he was retrogressing, that he had chickened out.

But little by little, the twelve who could be considered to constitute a movement started using the free brushwork of Abstract Expressionism with new ways of engaging with the object in the world and putting their vision on canvas. Furthermore, the new focus would also take into account the Bay Area's (and California's) sense of place. For Park, the acceptance of external subject matter brought a new freedom.."With subjects, I feel a natural development of the painting, rather than a formal one." He pioneered the way for the Figurative painters to "exploit the metaphorical possibilities inherent in the human form and in representational imagery generally." They stood aside from the egotistical posturing that abstract expressionism can fall into and celebrated the ethos of struggle and self-discovery in engaging with the visual world in a new way.

Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1943 to 1980
at the Berggruen Gallery: January 8 – February 28, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach Poster on a Chair in My House, 2009

Richard Misrach’s new pictures are gorgeous and strange. They admit of one conclusion, and one conclusion only. The man is a god.

But what sort of god? Is he an art god? A photography god? Or just a god of seduction, with cloven hooves, maybe, and a tail?

Misrach is certainly seductive, with a deep and refined intuition of the relationship between high art and what sells, and an uncanny ability to find the sweet spot between them.

And there’s no question he’s an exceptional photographer. Look at the light. What photographer wouldn’t kill for light that serene and clear?

But these new pictures are something very different. Photographic light? Color? Representation? All gone. In their place, Art. With a capital A. Art for art’s sake.

Photography for art’s sake.

They are of two basic types: dream landscapes and all over compositions. In between are some slightly pedestrian experiments in the transformation of colors, beautiful but perhaps not on the level of the others, which are transcendant.

All art calls to mind the work of other artists. What’s striking about Misrach’s new pictures is that the associations are painterly, not photographic: Tanguy, Pollock, and Rothko, among others.

Among photographers, the closest connection is probably to Man Ray, not just in technique but in the intent to create a new art form.

All in all, the most interesting photographs I’ve seen in a long time. At Fraenkel, until February 28.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Girl Project

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Liz Hagen, the owner of Venetian Red – a fellow artist, writer, blogger and neighbor! The e-mail told me about the Girl Project, the idea of Kate Engelbrecht, a photographer, who is sending disposable cameras to girls in the US, collecting the photos, and then curating them for an exhibit/installation. Humans have long been fascinated with female adolescence. The promise and hope behind their eyes… the purity and romanticism youth represents, the razor thin line between immaturity, maturity, innocence and rebellion. (The Girl Project Statement)

In today’s world it not only piques our curiosity—it feeds our insatiable need for drama. The supposed lives of teenage girls have become modern entertainment. Our ideas about them grow from what we read about Lindsay Lohan in The New York Post or what we saw on last week’s episode of The Hills. We learn what they like, buy and wear and what they believe, think and do… and just as quickly as we get our fix, we fail to understand the complexity and truth behind the very group we obsess on.

With the hope of reintroducing them to us, The Girl Project explores the lives of American teenage girls through images they create themselves. Using the raw, honest qualities of photography, girls reveal their self-perceptions in a daring act of intimacy- both behind and before the camera.

—Kate Engelbrecht, The Girl Project statement

If you know some girls who might be interested or people who work with girls who might be interested in learning more, here's the website and blog information.

courtesty of Liz Hagen:

All images @ The Girl Project

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jamie Vasta "Kills" at Patricia Sweetow

I was fist introduced to Jamie Vasta's work last year at her solo show at Patricia Sweetow entitled: Mustn't. I was completely blown away then and was so excited to see the new work. The latest show "kills" is also at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery from January 8th through February 14th, 2009. Initial responses - stunning, humorous, curious, a little frightening. Standing in front of all these images of young girls, proudly displaying their kills of deer and geese, I couldn't help but try to imagine my own 8 year old self in their shoes. I was (am) such an animal lover. I would have recoiled in disgust. I would have seen these girls as my mortal enemies. I wondered what their lives were like. I judged them, I imagined and judged there parents. I thought about the book I'm reading right now - The Song of the Dodo, which is about island speciation and how animals isolated to small areas, like what is happening in over-developed areas around the globe, are doomed to extinction. With our ever expanding population, we are dooming the natural world and with it, ourselves. I imagined each one of these kills as the last of their species. The animals in Jamie's paintings are so very dead, and the little girls seem so alive. I wondered, are they aware of their own inevitable extinction? Do they grasp their own mortality? Do they see these animals as trophies? objects?


The glitter work in this series is stunning. Jamie really knows how to push glitter around. At first I questioned the raw wood, or stained wood parts of the paintings in this series. They seemed less refined than her last series, as if they were rushed or not finished. I think the areas of rest in her paintings are just as important as the glitter parts, your eyes need a break from all that glitter, without the spaces, her work would seem more like objects instead of paintings. The story would be lost without a little breathing room. But these spaces, they puzzled me. The glitter parts of the pieces are so meticulously applied, why rush on the other parts. But then I thought about disintegration, and they do feel like they are disintegrating a bit. Like the world around the girl and the kill are dissolving before our eyes. Like the act of hunting and killing the animals, and a loss of innocence is the cause of the disintegration. The more I considered this idea, the more solid the paintings looked to me, the more they made sense. The images are of a type of disintegration. They need parts that don't quite make sense. In the end I thought all of her choices in execution made sense for the imagery. I think you can especially see that in this piece:


Jamie has managed to blow me away again. I wish I wasn't paying off student loans, I would love to take one of these home.

Jamie Vasta
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
77 Geary, Mezzanine
January 8th - February 14th, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Elena Zolotnitsky at Paul Mahder Gallery

I originally went to the Paul Mahder Gallery on Sacramento Street to check out several photographs recommended by a friend. When I entered the gallery, I was struck by the strong stare of a young girl in a small painting by Elena Zolotnitsky. Titled ‘La Menina,’ the painting appears to be many years old, due to Zolotnitsky’s use of gold leaf.

Mahder is showing Zolotnitsky’s portraits as well as still life paintings of flowers. Some of the portraits feature a somber boy or girl, the one in every school that may be the same age as the other kids, but is visibly older inside and out. Recall the stern child that never giggles, as seen in the serious dark eyes of Renaissance Boy below.

I would have liked to see Zolotnitsky’s paintings of flowers first, rather than the portraits, just to know what my original reaction would have been. After seeing her portraits, even the sunflowers seem to be telling the story of their hardscrabble life.

The faces in Zolotnitsky’s portraits may have searing eyes, as in Dorian Gray Series, above left, or Untitled, above right. Others have gray eye sockets and rubbed out eyes, like Grounded, below left. Still others appear to have no eyes at all, as in Raw, below right.

Zolotnitsky was one of the recipients of Visual Aid's first annual Jerome Caja Terrible Beauty Award in 2008. Caja, of the “Who needs canvas?” school, enlisted dishes and plates, plastic bottles, and flattened Styrofoam cups among other things as the backdrop for some of his paintings.

A reception showing new paintings by Elena Zolotnitsky will be held Thursday, January 15, 2009 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at
Paul Mahder Gallery
3375 Sacramento Street @ Walnut
San Francisco, CA 94118

by Phil Gravitt

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Arts in SF

San Francisco is very fortunate to have a wealth of book and book-related organizations. This may be left-over from when SF was a mecca for small, independent presses; I worked for a few of them in my early days here in the city. Most of the small printing companies are gone but SF still has a flourishing book arts community and at least two great places to study the book arts.

This Friday, the SFCB will be presenting an artist's talk with Ala Ebtekar onThe Art of Stepping Through Time

Join 2008 resident artist Ala Ebtekar for a presentation about the process of creating the most recent publication in the Center's Imprint program. The edition consists of 30 signed and numbered copies, published by the Imprint of the San Francisco Center for the Book.

Later in the month, they will be exhibiting bookworks from fourteen professional artists working in South Korea and Japan today. And they have an ebay store where you can buy works from the Center - anything to help the arts in these difficult times.

San Francisco Center for the Book
300 DeHaro Street (entrance on 16th Street)
San Francisco CA 94103

On Monday Night, The Book Club will be having it's opening reception of "In Love with Words and Type" - a showcase of the works of the Heyeck Press.

The press has been printing and publishing fine limited editions of contemporary poetry and books on paper marbling since 1976.
"Awash in Color" marbling demonstration by Robin Heyeck | 6 pm

Book Club of California - Opening Reception on Monday, Jan 12, between 5-7 PM
312 Sutter, Suite 510 | San Francisco 94108

Verge grand opening TONIGHT in Sacramento

The Verge Gallery and Studio Project in Sacramento is hosting a grand opening party tonight (Thursday, January 8), and everyone is invited!

This month the gallery is featuring the work of Stephen Kaltenbach. You can view the official invitation at

Verge is the brainchild of Jesse Powell, a 28-year-old local software and internet entrepreneur. In the summer of 2007, Jesse leased the big, blue ex-Napa Auto Parts warehouse on the corner of 19th and V Streets in Sacramento and sent out a call for area artists to apply for free studio space. (Free studio space!! Many didn’t apply simply because they couldn’t believe it.) Jesse’s idea was to provide a place for a vibrant artist community to grow and thrive. He envisioned all of the arts coming together in this one space—visual and literary arts, dance, music, film, fashion—and the artists having the freedom to form collaborations or work solo.

Despite seemingly endless (and expensive) legal hurdles, Jesse’s vision gradually took shape. He worked with local artist Gale Hart to design not only studio spaces, but also a large gallery/performance space. Over the course of the past year and a half, the empty warehouse has been transformed into an extraordinary creative space housing a gallery and studios for about 20 artists. So far, at least 16 of them have started working here (see list below), and the public will have the unusual chance to visit these artists’ studios during the grand opening:

Omar Thor Arason (painter)
Rich Baumhofer (custom wood worker)
John Stuart Berger (painter)
Mitra Fabian (sculptor and installation artist)
Gioia Fonda (mixed media artist)
Ianna Frisby (ceramic artist)
Xico Gonzalez (multi-media artist)
Karen Horiuchi (fashion designer)
Michael King (illustrator)
Lisa Marasso (sculptor and installation artist)
Patrick Marasso (painter)
Jeremiah Mayhew (video artist)
Liv Moe (multi-media artist)
Natalie Rishe (multi-media artist)
Daniel Soto (wire artist)
Ramona Soto (mixed media artist)

When you visit, you’ll see that some areas are still under construction, but the artists are busy nestling into their creative spaces and getting ready to work.


Just a note: Even though this is our grand opening, the gallery at Verge has hosted several shows, including the amazing Circus Show in September. In addition to all the spectacular art (sales of which benefited an animal rights organization), there were carnival games and even a parade.

The Circus Show hinted at the kinds of events possible at Verge. It's a huge space, and it can be adapted for all kinds of uses. Right from the start, Jesse envisioned everything from art exhibits to film showings to fashion shows.

See more Circus Show pictures here:

Stay tuned as Verge grows and changes!

You can find a few more early Verge pictures on its Facebook page.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lecture on Eric Gill at the Book Club: Jan 5th

Come to The Book Club at 5pm this Monday - January 5 - at the beginning of our regular hospitality hours for another of our free Library Talks
conducted by Book Club Librarian Barbara Land.You won't want to miss this talk: Ms. Land will be showing us the Club's holdings of the work of the influential 20th century designer, Eric Gill.