Sunday, March 30, 2008


These days, when school budgets are increasingly being cut, art teachers and arts organizations are increasingly feeling the need to justify their funding. They insist that arts instruction is a valuable—even necessary—part of a child’s education. But is there evidence to back this up?

Why do we teach the arts in schools? Professors Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland asked this question in an article published last year in the Boston Globe. The answer is surprising. While we have all heard that students who are trained in the arts do better in school and have higher SAT scores, the authors found no proof that this is a direct effect of their arts training.

Instead, their research shows something far more important is going on when children learn the arts in a thoughtful arts curriculum. The authors found that “arts programs teach a specific set of thinking skills rarely addressed elsewhere in the curriculum,” and that these specific skills are becoming more important than ever in a rapidly-changing world.

The authors spent a year observing and taping what went on in five visual arts classrooms in the Boston area. They interviewed both teachers and students. They found that besides learning specific skills such as drawing and painting, students also learn “a remarkable array of mental habits not emphasized elsewhere in school. Such skills include visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes. All are important to numerous careers, but are widely ignored by today's standardized tests.”

Upon analysis of the data, they identified eight indispensable “studio habits of mind" that students learned in these classes. The authors state that, though these skills are not as easy to quantify in a test as reading comprehension or math, “each has a high value as a learning tool, both in school and elsewhere in life.”

In practicing observational drawing, for example, art students are trained to look closely and see past their preconceptions. This is a skill “central to a variety of professions, from medicine to law. Naturalists must be able to tell one species from another; climatologists need to see atmospheric patterns in data as well as in clouds. Writers need keen observational skills too, as do doctors.”

In addition to careful observational skills, art students are trained to envision possibilities and multiple solutions to problems. “Like observing,” write the authors, “envisioning is a skill with payoffs far beyond the art world. Einstein said that he thought in images. The historian has to imagine events and motivations from the past, the novelist an entire setting. Chemists need to envision molecular structures and rotate them. The inventor - the envisioner par excellence - must dream up ideas to be turned into real solutions. Envisioning is important in everyday life as well, whether for remembering faces as they change over time, or for finding our way around a new city, or for assembling children's toys. Visualization is recognized as important in other school subjects: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Education Standards both see it as essential to problem-solving, but art classes are where this skill is most directly and intensively taught.”

Innovation is another skill taught in art classes. Teachers encourage students to experiment, take risks, and capitalize on error. “Teachers in our study told students not to worry about mistakes, but instead to let mistakes lead to unexpected discoveries,” write the authors. This is another skill not often encouraged in other areas of school.

Art teachers systematically taught their students the skill of reflective self-evaluation. “Art-making is nonverbal thinking, and verbal thinking (often public and spoken) is a focal activity of arts classes.” Students “were asked to step back, analyze, judge, and sometimes reconceive their projects entirely…. In group critiques, students also learned to evaluate the work of their peers. Making such judgments ‘in the absence of rule’ is a highly sophisticated mental endeavor, says Elliot Eisner, a noted art-education specialist at Stanford University.”

The authors describe being “startled to find such systematic emphasis on thinking and perception in the art classes we studied.… We found that teachers talked about decisions, choices, and understanding far more than they talked about feelings.

By unveiling a powerful thinking culture in the art room, our study suggests ways that we can move beyond the debate over the value of arts, and start using the arts to restore balance and depth to an education system increasingly skewed toward readily testable skills and information.”

The authors describe how teachers of other subjects can successfully use methods similar to those used in an art classroom. Students may work on long-term projects that more closely mimic real-life situations. In one case, students worked in collaboration with a local college, learning how to analyze water in a lab so they could investigate the purity of the drinking water in their town’s wells.

The authors conclude: “For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking. If our primary demand of students is that they recall established facts, the children we educate today will find themselves ill-equipped to deal with problems like global warming, terrorism, and pandemics.

Those who have learned the lessons of the arts, however - how to see new patterns, how to learn from mistakes, and how to envision solutions - are the ones likely to come up with the novel answers needed most for the future.”

Friday, March 28, 2008


Tonight was the long-awaited opening of an artist's cooperative gallery in downtown Ukiah. It got a lot of local press....and when I showed up right after work at 5 pm, in the pouring rain, there was absolutely no room for another person to enter the (attractive, well-lit and well-hung) space! Stu and I went home, hung out for an hour, and went back...this time we made it in the door but it was too crowded and noisy to look at art or to talk to anybody! So we went across to the Brewpub for dinner and it was 5 minutes past the opening's closing time when we walked back down the street, and it was still too crowded!

Now, I'm not sure exactly what to call this place; the signs all say Art Center Ukiah, but now it seems to have morphed, between paint job/signage and actually opening, into something called The Corner Gallery...anyhow, here is the skinny on art stuff, with a review of the show to follow next week sometime:

Beginning in April, Ukiah will be doing First Fridays, with these galleries open from 5 pm to 8 pm. Most of them are mostly crafts (ceramics) but hopefully will have other media represented, and the Grace Hudson Museum will also be participating. The full list is:


Given the difficulties I've noted with past galleries not really staying open more than two years (the one at the community college doesn't count, as it is not a commercial enterprise), I'm very curious to see how this scene develops....

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander, New Mexico, 2001

What’s the best thing about Lee Friedlander?

A couple of years ago, when I was lucky enough to see his current retrospective, now at SFMOMA, in another venue, I would have said: his imagination, his formal and structural imagination. I can’t think of another photographer who so consistently amazes us both by the vantage from which he approaches his subjects and by the amount of information not only included but often perfectly harmonized within his pictures.

Now, though, I’d say: his sense of humor. Or maybe I mean his joie de vivre. Either, I guess, because they’re inseparable. Not just from each other, but from his visual imagination as well. Lee Friedlander loves this world, and shows it not just by including more of the world in his pictures, but by allowing it to arrange itself so happily.

The preternatural combination of these elements in Friedlander’s work really snaps into focus when you think of other photographers known for their sense of humor. No one doubts that Elliott Erwitt, say, was a funny guy with great joie de vivre, but Erwitt’s humor lived in his subjects, or in his juxtapositions of subjects - you know, big dogs and small dogs. Same with Gary Winogrand - no one ever forgets the cow licking the cowboy’s face.

Friedlander’s humor, in contrast, is in the very structure of his pictures. In the same way that a particularly catchy and syncopated rhythm can make you smile, a good Friedlander leaves you almost giddy with appreciation. It’s a gift, isn’t it? From the world to him and from him to us.

(At SFMOMA until May 18; also, at Fraenkel, America by Car, until April 26.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Charles Campbell Gallery Closing

This is sad news indeed. The Campbell Gallery represented the glory days of Bay Area painting and when it was the Campbell-Thiebaud gallery, showed such greats as De Feo, Brown, Diebenkorn, Neri, Olivera, and of course, Wayne Thiebaud, among others. I remember it back in the 60's when I went to the Art Institute. The place was then a private apartment where we had the best parties.

The gallery has never been the same since the partnership broke up and the last few years have seen a painful decline in quality. In a way, I'm glad to see the place close before it disintegrated any further. April 5th will be the last day of operation and closes a glorious chapter in the Bay Area art scene.

Deep Calling to Deep

I'm in love with Bridget Henry and her work, and I don't care who knows it. If you're looking for objectivity here, well, wrong tree, is all I have to say.

That disclaimer having been made, let us consider dreams. Truly there is nothing more tedious than hearing strangers' painfully minute accounts of their dreams--it was my house, but it wasn't really my house, and the windows were made of pink and turquoise Play-doh. Who among us has not prayed for early death to release us from similar recitals of meaningless detail? Your dream, however, or the dream of a loved one, well, that be a horse of a different color. Those details are gems that bespeak a rich inner life. (Heheheheheheheh.)
I think about dreams a lot. I remember my dreams and keep a dream dictionary by my bed. (Sometimes I am horrified by the obviousness and sheer banality rolling around in my subconscious, e.g., all those roller coaster dreams when I was in that one relationship. That's just plain embarrassing.) The times I am crankily bemoaning all what gone wrong in my childhood, I would do well to remember that what went so very right was the cleaving to the subconscious, and the resulting understanding that we humans carry this beautiful, terrifying inner universe furnished with symbols.

That came from a daily family ritual of describing dreams, and also, from being steeped in religious tradition, which is nothing but symbols--the blood of the Lamb, the loaves and the fishes, water-into-wine, the Bride of Christ. The Gates of Heaven and the Pits of Hell. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (who, by the way, spent an inordinate amount of time persecuting me in adolescence. We all have our demons).

So my sudden and intense response to Bridget Henry's work is a kind of soul-to-soul (in the immortal words of Stevie Ray Vaughn) recognition, rather than just an accident of appreciating the pretty. Deep calling to deep.

Every morning of Henry's childhood, her mother would ask, "What did you dream about?" Which question put Henry in the habit of traveling the landscape of the subconscious, what she calls the unexplored territory of human existence, and which can only be explored accidentally, through uncontrolled acts--like dreaming. And so of course this part of her life became a big part of who she is and how she sees and interprets what happens around her. She carries symbols around with her, thinks in images, sees language in pictures: "When I hear language, I see it. Sometimes listening to music, a picture will flash into my head."

A Catholic upbringing meant that Henry's first experience with art was religious--the stained glass, robes, incense, statues, and candles, all those accoutrements that the Catholics get to flash in the face of Low Church envy. For Henry, the sacramental aesthetic was moving, and its influence lasting. Even after leaving the Church and spending some time being angry about what she'd never known about as a child, what you might call the dark side of Catholicism--the history of persecution, the anti-Semitism, the Inquisition--the iconography remained, not as the focus, but as a structure for the storytelling.
When she went to college, Henry wanted to study psychology, thinking that psychology meant the subconscious. If she had read Jung in those days, the archetypes would have probably kept her interested. But instead she became disillusioned, and turned her attention to art, "which gives immediate access to the subconscious." In her art, she salvages elements from Catholicism and uses the religious style and iconography as a pedestal to elevate the common experience to myth and symbol. And not just Catholicism, but the characters and motifs of folktales, fables, legend, and mythology, whatever symbols can be pressed into service to tell of suffering, struggle, perseverance, grace, awakening, transformation, redemption.

Henry identifies herself as more of a symbolist than an artist. She tells a funny bit about multi-artist shows, that she can stand back and predict which art will draw which people as the attendees stream in the door. Henry's woodcuts attract the teachers and students. Readers all, I bet. Anyone who likes a good story. Her works tell us the stories of our lives. Who has not experienced love and suffering and heartbreak and separation and longing? Who is not grateful for art that helps you interpret and make meaning out of your own experiences?

Watching the news or hearing some account, Henry finds herself thinking, "I want to reject that version," and then rewriting and telling the story a new way, giving a new ending, maybe an ending that leads to grace or redemption or transformation, or maybe just one that is comprehensible.

Or nearly comprehensible--and this is the part that is so difficult to articulate when talking of one's response to any kind of art, that one might feel an intuitive connection and even understanding that seems impossible to express in words. There are the layers of meaning, and even if you have an idea of the artist's intention and her thoughts, and the images give you some superficial understanding, the layers of meaning bring you back to look at pieces over and over, because you know there is more that you missed, and more to understand. Not that I can say I fully understand it. As with dreams and poetry, the mystery is part of the draw.
I asked Henry if she ever fell in love with her art. She thought about it for a second, and said that her relationship to everything in her art has changed. She used to fall in love with it more. Now, the work she falls in love with tends to be work that is most personal, that is less for public view, maybe work with new media, the work she suspects would probably get the least positive response from others.
Bridget Henry lives, works, and teaches in Santa Cruz, California. You can see more of her work here and here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"My Kid Could Paint That"

Movie Review

A few weeks ago the documentary film “My Kid Could Paint That” came out on video.

Here is the scenario: A 4 year old girl, Maria Olmstead, sees her father painting one day and wants to give it a try. Mark (the girl’s father) gives her a canvas and paint and she creates something abstract, beautiful and unexpected. Many paintings later the work winds up on the walls of a friend’s cafĂ©. People are interested in buying, including a gallery owner. Less than a year later Maria has an art opening in New York City and is a major success. Maria becomes famous overnight and eventually her paintings sell for up to 15 thousand dollars. Without revealing too many details, the director Amir Bar-Lev, who has become a friend of the family in the process of filming, begins to question the possibility that Mark has some level of involvement with Maria’s paintings after watching a 60 Minute II segment on Maria. Bar-Lev sets his goals on filming Maria creating one of her paintings to prove her abilities. His presence is a distraction to her and this task becomes very difficult. In the end we are left to decide for ourselves whether or not these works have come from the hands and mind of a babe.

This was an interesting film! Maria’s paintings do have a maturity and beauty to them. It brings up many questions about the definition of art, beauty and the art market. What does it mean when a child sells paintings for 15k? Is that fair, is it right? If the dad had a part in painting them, are they still valuable? Is it cheating if the dad makes suggestions on what color to put where? As an painter myself, it makes me a little angry to think that people would pay 15k for a painting just because a 4 year old who has gotten media attention painted it. On the other hand, I teach art to 5-8 year olds and am sure I’ve seen a few Matisse, Dubuffet, Klein and Kandinsky look a-likes worthy of some monetary value. I don’t have the answers.

Personally I thought many of the paintings were very beautiful, better than a 4 year old could produce. The film reminded me of all the artists who are working so hard to be pure in their painting, to bring back the vision and directness they had as a child. There is a quote by Picasso that goes “It takes a lifetime to become a child”. Perhaps Maria will retain the enlightened wonder of youth. Only time will tell.

Both images were borrowed from:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

John Zurier: Night Paintings @ Larry Becker


March 1- April 19, 2008

Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia


John Zurier: Night 21 & Night 26, 2008, distemper on linen, 30 x 20 inches each

Although I haven't seen, and unfortunately won't see, the show in Philadelphia , I was fortunate to see all of the paintings at John Zurier's Oakland studio during a Sunday afternoon studio viewing before all of the work was packed and shipped, a unique and generous event.


Distemper is pigment in warm glue. It is easy to spread across broad surfaces, quick-drying, and changes color and is matte when dry. Matisse used distemper a few times around 1911-13, and Vuillard used it more frequently, having learned the technique when making theater backdrops. I remember Zurier first talking about using distemper as early as May 2006, and I saw the first three or four of these in his studio in December 2006. At the time he didn't know that this motif and approach would develop into the large body of work it has become.

In this beautiful and rigorous current work Zurier applies distemper on raw linen with brushes and spatulas. Brushed and scraped, worked into the linen in layers, the paint is actually quite flat and dry looking, but the end result is enormously rich and vibrant, with surprising depth. His touch is direct yet sensitive, fast yet considered, plainly apparent and exposed, yet sensitive, daring, and more than a little mysterious.

Much more than simply a series of dark paintings, each work has its own intention and focus, its own palette, marks, and space, and its own mood and quality of light. The paint is often patchy or splotchy, exposing the linen and allowing it to function as another color and also as a background, which creates both an airy deep space to enter and an open, flat, factual material space to confront. Many of the Night paintings seem to begin with a narrow turquoise or blue stripe anchoring the left side. The stripe provides the viewer with a structural element, a stable, knowable thing we can hold onto like a handle, as we find our way into the darkness of the painting.

These two qualities, the airy darkness and the blue handle, are analogous to two characteristics of looking or walking without light. Think of what it is like to be in the dark: you wake up and open your eyes, but you don't see just darkness; instead, your eye is trying to use all the light it can access to see something, and you often see things that aren't there.

When walking in the lightless dark, when the power is out or it's the middle of the night, what do you do? You put your hands out in front of you to make sure you don't bump into something, or try to find something to hold onto to find your way. These paintings provide that experience. They aren't really abstractions but realism, much as Turner presents the viewer with the experience of a storm, and-- let's push this a bit-- how Velasquez explores the complexity of mirrors, Edvard Munch shows the way a burst blood vessel effects his vision, George Innes evokes a season and Albert Bierstadt invokes vastness, Giacometti gravitates towards compression, and Twombly spreads out a panorama.

Obvious precedents for these paintings might be the big three, Rothko, Newman, and Still, whose paintings use simple form and shallow, open, almost barren space to lead the viewer from confrontation with vast and broadly painted surfaces towards the observation and contemplation of emptiness that moves into emotion, from thought to idea, and back to the painted surface. The viewer's primary experience and self-consciousness is a central subject, a kind of looping narrative: look; internalize; recognize; explain; validate.

Of these three precedents, the Night paintings are closest to Rothko's more classical touch, surface, and space, as opposed to Newman's and Still's blunt, on-the-surface marks. But Zurier's scale is unlike the more commonly known grand, encompassing environments of these three artists; like Newman's landmark painting, Onement I, these paintings, in the vicinity of thirty by twenty inches are close, mirror-sized, immediate— intimate, reflective, personal.

What do these paintings do that other paintings haven't? What value is there in a painting that prompts a personal, visual, and physical experience of darkness? Is darkness the same as emptiness: barren, hollow, unfilled, uninhabited, unoccupied, abandoned, deserted, exhausted? Returning to the idea of being in darkness, of walking through a dark house at 3am, driving on an unlit road alone, or walking in the woods on a moonless night, we know that these are situations in which we strain to see; we see things we aren't sure are there, and we struggle to find something familiar and recognizable. In this kind of tense situation we are left to our senses, unaided, trying to find our way. It is quiet and we are with our own thoughts. Stub your toe on the leg of a chair and you know that darkness is not emptiness. Even in the company of others we are alone, unstable, trying to keenly use our senses to navigate the space we are in and our relationship to it. In Zurier's Night paintings, the left blue stripe is an anchor, something to hold onto, let go of, and return to as we see into and enter each painting's unique main body of layered, rich darkness. This is not a conceptual, language-centered experience, but one that is visual and phenomenological, about consciousness and being.

The exposed linen and varying densities of paint made by the layered, scraped, patchy paint make for an intensely visual experience. Looking into these varying densities is similar to how we try to see in the dark; our eyes use every bit of light available, and when there is little or no image to fix on we can see how our own eyes can project onto the dark screen before us images of the vitreous, the clear jelly-like substance which fills the space in the eye. At the same time the exposed linen contrasts with darker pigment, making possible a situation other than the night, as if one sees through and past darkness towards a light source, like being in a darkened room looking through heavy curtains or blinds out onto a sun-filled day, or how bits of light fade into a new day, or fade out at day's end. In this there is quiet, something internal, solitude.

This final idea— seeing past darkness towards light— may not be Zurier's intention, but it's important to acknowledge that these paintings can stand up to multiple associations. His Night paintings are interesting because they reference human experience, but also because they enable a profoundly visual experience. These beautiful yet tough paintings show us and trigger a contemporary and timeless existential experience.

See Zurier's statement about working with distemper at Larry Becker Contemporary Art.

The exhibition of JOHN ZURIER NIGHT PAINTINGS has been selected by Director Okwui Enwezor to travel in its entirety to the 7th Gwangju Biennale in Korea in September 2008.

CCA Open Studios Sunday, April 6th

CCA MFA and BFA Open Studios

Undergraduate painting/drawing students and Graduate students in the Architecture, Design, Fine Arts, and Writing programs open their studios to the public. Maps of studio locations will be available at the entrance to the main building.

Sunday, April 6, 12-5 pm

San Francisco Campus
1111 Eighth Street,
Near Carolina and 16th street in Potrero Hill
San Francisco, CA 94107-2247
Info: 415.551.9213

CCA website:
Undergrad open studios website:
Google Map

For the first time in CCA's 100 year history, the undergraduate painting/drawing department is taking part in the Annual CCA Open Studios events, which has historically been limited to graduate students.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


The current show at Ukiah's Grace Hudson Museum, up through April 20, is "SING ME YOUR STORY, DANCE ME HOME," a show of visual art and poetry from Native California. Over 30 current Indian artists are represented in a show that includes 2-d and 3-d art, poetry, baskets, jewelry, and multimedia.

A real highlight for me was discovering the work of Rick Bartow. He is of the Wiyot tribe and his work is deeply involved in the spiritual and symbolic transformations of his culture. His two large pieces in the show, "Predator's Dream" and "Mortal Crow" each feature a crow or raven as a strong presence interacting with and affecting humans. They have the boldness and strength of the best of German Expressionist graphic work.

My web search for more information on Greg Sarris revealed a lot about his career. Apparently he has done a lot of performance readings of his story of the Coast Miwok spiritual leader, but unfortunately I couldn't find the text on-line and it was way to long to copy it down off the wall. Suffice it to say that "When My Great Great Grandfather Tom Smith Caused The 1906 Earthquake" is a delightful tale.

Another descendant of Tom Smith is represented in the show, painter Kathleen Rose Smith. Her watercolors of "Salmon Swimming Upstream" and "Coyote's Roundhouse" (the latter her painted interpretation of a dream of Tom Smith that has been passed down through the generations) are outstanding.

I forgot to note the name of the artist who created an intriguing and successful multimedia piece in which voices of tribespeople play through a modern making of a tribal artifact. Darn. I did remember to write down Kathy Wallace's name; she is a basketmaker in the Hoopa Valley tribe but in this show had three necklaces used in tribal rituals, elaborately beaded works incorporating elements from the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.

On another note: If you were intrigued by my writeup of Huichol art, many of the pieces that were in the Grace Hudson Museum show are currently on exhibit over the hill in Booneville, at the Booneville General Store (also a great place to buy freshly-made on the premises organic baked goods, breakfast and lunch). Julie, the owner, tells me they will probably be up another month. So if you are headed through there on 128 or 253, stop in!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Oliveira at Crown Point Press

In my art rambles, I often forget to go south of Market, which is a shame because there are two fine galleries there, Crown Point Press and Aurobora Press. Crown Point is currently showing a new series of etching of Oliveira’s work, beautifully displayed in their large, well-lit galleries. The work is based on his interpretation of the human figure and most of the larger pieces are in shades of red and orange. The only problem with the show is that the glare from the windows makes it difficult to see some of the larger pieces. So, maybe it’s best to visit on a cloudy day; I confess that I didn’t have the courage to ask the staff to lower the blinds.

The large prints are titled Rocker, Standing Figure and Bird. In Rocker and Standing Figure, Oliveira uses spit bite and soap ground aquatints to create rich hues and strong, bold contours. While the figure in Standing Figure is firmly anchored on the ground, the figure in Rocker is unstable with her legs extended in mid-stride. Rocker is a continuation of a series of prints and paintings in which a nude figure stands on a rocker. Oliveira has said that the Rocker group is about “moving back and forth, keeping your balance.” I personally liked the smaller pieces better because their informality and spontaneous line showed me the hand of the maker.

Crown Point Press
20 Hawthorne Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: 415.974.6273
February 14 - April 5, 2008
Images from the website; some text from the press release

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Studio Visit With Pierre Merkl

Portland artist and blogger extraordinaire, Eva Lake visited San Francisco recently and visited Pierre Merkle's studio. The video evidence is HERE:

Pierre's web site is HERE.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Northern California Artists: Matt Black

Matt Black, Saint's Day Celebration, Oaxaca, date unknown

Matt Black photographs the lives of agricultural workers in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Oaxaca, Mexico. That those lives are difficult the photographs leave little doubt, but their principal subject is not the difficulty but the community that persists in spite or because of it. And although Black’s connection with and affection for that community are also not his subject, or at least not overtly, they are plainly visible in the pictures, which are grainy, black and white, and haunting.

(thanks to olivier laude)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005

The current offering of Annie Leibovitz's work at the Legion of Honor, is much more than the title implies. The exhibition demonstrates a depth to Leibovitz's work and vision as a photographer that does not rise to the surface in her most popular and better known commercial work.

I've never been fond of Leibovitz's technically polished commercial photographs: the Vanity Fair covers paying homage to various icons of photography, or the celebrity portraits of the American Express ad campaign. Big production budgets can make any photographer look good. But all of that plays a very small part in this stunning exhibit.

One of the deepest impressions I came away with is what an extraordinary documentary photographer Leibovitz actually is. In particular her images of Sarajevo, 1993 and Rwanda, 1994, impact the viewer so that a single image will suffice, the message is clear.

A bicycle on a blood-staned Bosnian road.
(Photographs © Annie Leibovitz from "A Photographers Life" Random House, 2006)

Her black and white work is exceptional and so much richer than the color images in the exhibition. Each image is highly narrative and together say a great deal about Leibovitz's visual sensitivity.

An interesting feature of the exhibition is the display of several panels to which a variety of proof prints are pinned, illustrating the task of editing in the creation of the book A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005. Studying these panels lends some insight into her process and the significance of certain images.

Even more so than the book, this exhibition allows a very intimate look into a complex world through the vision of one of today's most celebrated photographers. There is no pretense and there is no shyness. It is an amazing thing Leibovitz has done. Through images of her family in times of crisis and joy, through images of the suffering of loved ones and strangers, and through portraits of the famous and the unknown, Leibovitz reaffirms the power of photography, and we are indeed moved.

A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005 is on view at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park through May 25th 2008

(Annie Leibovitz in her studio. Photo Credit: Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

All photos from

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Forty-eight hours ago I found out that my favorite quilter and my favorite mosaic artist are both in a show that opened tonight, so I made sure to be there - there being a new venue for art shows here in Ukiah.

It has been a mystery to me why the county seat of Mendocino cannot support a long-term gallery. The tiny village of Mendocino on the coast of course is a well known destination for folks looking for art. And up 101 in Willits, a third the size of Ukiah, they manage to support both a very nice gallery and an arts center. We have a museum, the Grace Hudson, that in addition to a permanent collection that features Hudson’s art, fantastic Pomo baskets, and miscellaneous historical artifacts, present special exhibits that are varied and always well curated and presented. But it seems like galleries go in and out every couple of years. I’m developing a working hypothesis on this (which will wait for another post). Meanwhile it is gratifying to report on a show at this new space, plus “coming soon” a long-awaited cooperative space.

The place is One Earth! Clay and Glass Studio, 310 Mason Street - a large industrial space well-suited for the production of ceramic and fused glass. I’ll be interviewing the folks there later this month and will post about that.

The show is called Pieces. In addition to Laura Fogg’s quilts and Elizabeth Raybee’s mosaics, it features collages by Susan Hadley. She and her work were previously unknown to me, but it was her collage version of Mary Cassat’s “MaternitĂ©” that I saw upon entering the gallery, and I was knocked out by it. It would be easy to cross the line to gimmicky or kitschy in executing collages of familiar paintings. Hadley never even approaches that line. Like Raybee and Fogg, she has the technical chops to pull off her chosen medium with aplomb.

She graciously answered my questions in the middle of the reception. This series grew out of her original figurative collages. The chosen papers/surfaces were used as is, without further manipulation by the artist. She has done limited edition giclee prints for sale over the years, but until now has never presented the originals for sale. If I hadn’t just spent a bunch o’ money relocating and face tax time, I’d sure like to take one home with me - its as close as I’ll get to a Cassat or a Cezanne on my wall, and her handling of the compositions, colors and textures are just wonderful. Whether you know the source or not, each piece stands on its own merits.

The first friendly living human I saw on walking in was Elizabeth Raybee. Readers of this blog who were participating in San Francisco Open Studios in the - oh, ancient days! must be early 90s? - will remember her, as do I, from her Project Artaud home studio with its mosaic murals. At the time it struck me that there are some decent mosaicists but not that many who are actually good artists as in makers of pictures. Eight years ago, when I bought my house up here, I found out that Elizabeth had moved kit and kaboodle (that is, home and studio) up to Potter Valley. We’ve been intermittent contact since then but I haven’t seen her work for quite a while. There were some large, more traditional mosaic pieces, but I was particularly taken with the trio of small 3-D assemblages pictured here. They are more narrative and personal than what I recall from years and miles ago and I'm hoping to see more of them. We didn’t have a chance to chat about them, but I know we will catch up with her soon.
Laura Fogg seems to be having quite a year. She has written an eminently readable book about her day job (which clearly is much more than that) as a longtime orientation and mobility instructor for the blind. Her quilts, which for me set the standard for modern quilt art and directly inspired my landscape quilting, are winning awards and appearing in magazines. And Sunday, March 9, she will receive an award for her work in the arts at the annual Women's History Gala, hosted by the National Women's Political Caucus of Mendocino County.

It clearly is not going to her head. She was composed and smiling and happy to chat about the quilts on display. “Travis Ruins Another Perfect Dinner Party” reminded me, in formal terms, of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Its origin was more prosaic: Laura was taking part in a quilt competition based on a particular pattern (the repeating pattern around each plate). As you might expect from a freeform quilter, she was getting bored...hence Travis’ little outbreak on the lower right side of the quilt. I also include a detail of the lovingly composed sushi: the rice is sticky white rubber shelf liner.

Another standout piece is “Fogwoman,” taken from a totem pole in the northwest that really spoke to Laura before she found out it involved the creation myth of the Fogwoman. The varied fabrics on the crow, and how they are freely layered and stitched to create the conifers and fog are typical of her work and here are particularly evocative.

The exhibition “Pieces” runs through April 20th at One Earth!, 310 Mason St, Ukiah CA. Gallery hours noon to 6 pm daily.

Free Sundays at the Asian

From one of my favorite bloggers: SF Mike at Civic Center

Most art museums in San Francisco are subsidized by the local government, but they still charge local citizens quite a bit for entrance if you don't have an annual membership. Most art museums in San Francisco are subsidized by the local government, but they still charge local citizens quite a bit for entrance if you don't have an annual membership. The Asian Art Museum has also been offering free Tuesday admissions on the first of the month, through a sponsorship grant from Target stores, but they never bother with a surcharge for traveling exhibits, which is nice. Also, in a move that feels truly populist, they are changing their free day from first Tuesdays to the first Sunday of each month, starting in May (the 4th, to be exact).

This will allow working families to finally attend something together for free in San Francisco, which is a rare ocurrence. The other museums in town should take a look and follow suit.

And do check out the special jade exhibit between the Korean and Chinese wings on the second floor. It's amazing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Prison Project at Intersection for the Arts

Last Saturday Dave & I went over to the 16th & Mission area to see the Activist Imagination show at Kearny Street Workshop, but when we were told to cool our heels in the hall because they were having a class in the galleries, we decided to check out some other places instead.

Intersection Steps

Luckily, there are plenty of art spaces near 16th & Mission. And no shortage of activist art. Intersection for the Arts has the best show right now, "The Prison Project." It starts as you slowly climb the dark staircase to the gallery, and notice that the holes in the outer wall project a camera-obscura image on the opposite wall . . . an inkling of the outside world, but no more.

The Prison Project at Intersection for the Arts

It's a group show of work that looks at the personal and social costs of the California Prison system. The exhibiting artists are mostly local, some imprisoned, some not. There's no question that this show has a strong political point to make, and the documented research that went into it is impressive, but there's some impressive art making here as well.

The Prison Project at Intersection for the Arts

Scott McKinstry - "Untitled", acrylic on ticking canvas

A high percentage of the work is the kind that requires many hours of careful, thoughtful, obsessive, time-consuming work. No surprise, when you consider that much of it was made by people who have an abundance of time and lack the distractions of contemporary life (a situation many artists and religious contemplatives take up by choice.) The most stunning example of this kind of art was the ink drawing of William Noguera. They looked like the kind of stippled Rapidograph art that I haven't seen in 30 years, and Noguera's technique is leagues ahead of most of what I remember.

The Prison Project at Intersection for the Arts

William Noguera - "To Lie In Amsterdam" (left) and "Voices Will Carry" (right), ink on paper

A guard tower constructed of hand-made books, which are illustrated with linoleum block prints is a collaborative project involving many people at two different institutions. It's impeccably designed constructed - amazing to think that it was built by committee.

The Prison Project at Intersection for the Arts

The gallery provides plenty of take-aways, including a 40 page booklet called "Golden Rules - A Guide to the California Prison System", that provide more facts and figures than the average person can absorb in a single visit to the gallery, and promtional material for "Wear Orange for a Day!" (Tuesday March 11, 2008.)

More photos at BAArtQuake's Flickr group and at Juxtapoz

Monday, March 3, 2008

Seth Koen at Gregory Lind

Reblogged from Lisa Solomon (with permission):

seth koen

last week i went to go see my friend seth koen's show at gregory lind gallery . seth was a year ahead of me in graduate school so i've been fortunate enough to see his work progress for quite some time [we're in a critique group together as well].

i think what i love most about seth's work is the purity of it. he takes simple simple shapes - like circles and ovals - and makes me really pay attention to them. every small choice - in color, in material, in size, in placement - becomes oh so much more important.

the last few years seth has been crocheting. creating these soft sculptures that hint at masculinity [or the lack/deflation of]. the colors would remind me of sports teams, or tube socks. his work also often spoke to relationships... how things [people] might be tied together, who carries more weight... how we can be pulled taught, rest together, tied over distance, etc.

for this show seth decided to hand carve these really delicate maple sculptures. they are so thin. so fragile - and they cast amazing shadows [of course i was drawn to this]. they speak to the same ideas, but it's a perfect example of where your material choice matters most. hard rather than soft i begin to think about how the shapes and pieces relate in a new way.

but for me the most successful pieces were the ones that incorporated both the crochet and the wood. there is something so impossible, so wrong, so odd, so childlike about the combination that just grabbed me. i felt like the two components really worked.

seth koen 2

my favorite piece from the show.

you can see the entire exhibition here

it feels to me like seth is on that precipice. i think all artists like their latest body of work the best. it's like an instinctual gut reaction. for me it's rare when something "sticks" for an extended period of time. often times i find myself with one foot in an old body of work and one foot in a new body of work. trying to make that cross over between areas seems terrifying and new and exciting. seth is there - but his transition is graceful - and integrated. i'm really excited to see where he goes next.

More from Lisa Solomon here.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


There are fewer things, in the art world anyhow, more frustrating than seeing a show the day before it closes....but your far-flung Northern Correspondent will tell you a bit about it anyhow.
The other day I was in Petaluma and a friend graciously presented me w/ the gift of a print of this image by Karen Spratt. She said it jumped off the gallery wall and yelled at her to get it for me...and she was right, of course, and now it has jumped onto my kitchen wall very happily!
We had time after lunch to go to the gallery where the work was up as part of a larger group titled The Adventures of Venus and Hokusai. It is a fun and utterly unpretentious project, painted well enough to pull it off.

Electric Art at SFAI

From Hans Roenau:

Yesterday I went to the venerable San Francisco Art Institute on Chestnut Street. One of my objectives was to revisit Diego Rivera's large fresco, painted April - June 1931. Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City is one of three murals painted by the master in San Francisco. It is well worth a visit to the Art Institute.

Probably not quite as well known is the handiwork of a humble electrician. This caught my attention and I wonder if he/she was caught up in the spirit of the school, or was merely doing the wiring in the most efficient manner. We may never find out. Regardless, I was really impressed.

more of Han's observations here