Saturday, March 31, 2012

International Mail Art Exhibition and Exchange

Last November some of my work went up to Canada for the International Mai Art exhibit in Vancouver at the Richmond Art Gallery.  The non-commercial show is one where artists send work and in exchange get work from other participating artists.  This week three cool pieces (see above) arrived in my mailbox.

You can see much of the work from the show on the gallery’s tumblr page.  More of Penelope Harris’s work can be seen on her blog.  I love the idea of using monopoly money (I think I might have to borrow that idea).  Edwin Roberts piece is two-sided but I can’t find any additional work on line.  Ruby Rymer is another fan of maps and old high school yearbooks.  Another example of her mixed media work can be seen here. 

I like how this is working out and need to keep exchange small pieces of art.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Yes, there is still art at the art museum.

Left: Untitled (Coit Tower), Center: Untitled, Right: Untitled (Powell Street); all 1964

Yes, you can find art at the museum, but it remains a challenge.  So many museums, including the de Young, have succumbed to disneyfication.  More and more it’s the hyped up mega-shows.  The current attraction at the de Young is noisy, dark and claustrophobic.  It feels like one of countless cool shops I wandered into in Europe during the 1980’s.  As shop, it’s cool, but as art?  We’re moving beyond exiting through the gift shop to a world where the entire exhibit looks like a shop.  Throw in animatronic mannequins and I wonder if they are remaking the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil

Not surprising, the real treasures remain in permanent collections and in the understated, under promoted smaller exhibits.  Ignore the hype and stay upstairs.  There is a stellar show on the main floor.  Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 is the “don’t miss” show at the de Young right now.  I discovered Tress when I found the book Fish Tank Sonata and have been following him ever since.

The de Young show is a body of work from early in his career when he was fresh out of art school.  Tress spent the summer of 1964 in San Francisco photographing everything from the Barry Goldwater Republican Convention to a counter campaign rally for Ringo Starr (!) to civil rights demonstrations on Van Ness.  This is like a last glimpse of “olde tyme” San Francisco before the Summer of Love, the Castro in the 1970’s and all that followed. Most of these photos haven’t been exhibited since 1964.  If you can’t get to San Francisco to see the exhibit, the accompanying book is well worth picking it up.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Map and Guide

Map and Guide, mixed media on canvas, 24”x24”

I take a few road trips a year and they always include national park visits. I save the brochures as personal souvenirs and have used the map parts in previous collages. This is my first piece where I used national park guides exclusively for collage material. It’s based on the Japanese, Yosegi textile pattern that I have used as a model for previous work.

National parks have continually been a source of inspiration for my work (see the national park section at This particular piece includes guides that I have saved over the years. It is especially personal as well as acting as a mixed media autobiography.

Prints based on Map and Guide are also available from Society6.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Red Art on Stage

In the Tony Award-winning play Red at Berkeley Rep, renowned painter Mark Rothko (David Chandler) engages in a battle of wits with his assistant (John Brummer, at left).

Photo courtesy of All images © Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

This week I attended the West Coast premier of John Logan’s play Red at Berkeley Rep. The play takes place in the studio of Mark Rothko. The only characters in the play are the artist Rothko and his young studio assistant. The play spans the two-year period when Rothko was working on a commission for murals for the then new Four Season’s restaurant in New York’s Seagram’s Building. The murals were never delivered and the large commission payment was returned. The play explores the timeless theme of the relationship between pupil and teacher. It also is about the generation gap, and particular the conflict between successive generations of artists.

There is no need to further review Red. The play began its run in London in 2009 and then moved to New York where it picked up plenty of awards, including six Tonys. It’s an excellent work, and in the hands of the Bay Area’s top theatre, you’re guaranteed one of those this-is-why-I-go-to-the-theatre experiences. What makes the play extra special, for us artists, is that Red can be described as an enhanced experience.

Portraying an artist on film can be tricky (and is not always successful). On stage it can be an even greater challenge. In Red, the illusion begins with Louisa Thompson’s set. She recreated Rothko’s New York studio and one could say she created the third character for the play. The first thing we noticed walking into the theatre where the walls leading up the stage were covered with leaning canvases — all works in progress. The expanse of flat stage was a spare mess with a handful of artists’ tables and carts crammed with paints, brushes and other supplies. We were in the studio.

It’s nearly impossible for any actor playing a painter to convincingly paint on stage. Rothko’s process allows for the rare occasion where it can be done. While no actor could do a finished work on stage, an actor can portray Rothko laying down layers of ground or under painting. The stage crew can recreate believable, half finished, Rothko works. The only big “action” scene (see photo above) is when Rothko and his assistant apply the first layer of paint to a big canvas. I realize for practical purposes, water-based paints were used, but the only think missing was the smell. I love the smell of oil paint. There needed to be some opened containers of oil paint on those tables to infuse the studio/stage with that wonderful smell. Although, being that it is Berkeley, someone would have had an issue.

As theatergoer, Red is great. As both an artist and a theatergoer it was a rare and brilliant experience. If you’re in the Bay Area, you have until April 29th to see Red.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Impatient Passengers

The Impatient Passengers, mixed media on canvas, 10"x10”

It never fails to amuse me the way as soon as the plane lands, some passengers feel they have to whip out their phones and call someone, anyone, to announce that they have landed. If you didn’t know better, you might think some dignitary has landed for a state visit. And then we get to the gate. The plane doors are still closed, yet so many leap up, struggle to yank down their luggage and stand in the aisle waiting, and waiting, and waiting. On my most recent flight there was a problem with the jetway at our gate at LAX. The plane was early but all the passengers had to wait an extra 20 minutes. They all remained standing. And this is why I prefer a window seat and just read my book.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I’m Having an Affair with Sacramento

Tomorrow will be 22 years. I always celebrate the anniversary of the day I moved to San Francisco. And, after 22 years, my relationship with the city I love can be like a marriage. I can’t imagine life without San Francisco. At times it feels like we’ll be together forever — that is usually a good thing. But of course, there are those days when San Francisco drives me crazy.

And now, I have to confess, I’ve been having an affair, with Sacramento. Yes, it’s true — I’ve been sneaking up I-80 for little daytime flings. I lived in San Francisco for 10 years and had never been up there. Sacramento was just a place on a fifth grade state capitals quiz. And then, I became Sacramento-curious.

It started with corn dog cravings and trips to the State Fair. Then I started to discover the art scene in Sacramento. Sacramento is able to support alternative spaces that are a thing of the past in San Francisco. Exorbitant commercial rents have choked much of the life out of San Francisco. Yesterday’s trip included a stop at Tangent Gallery (where I have shown work a few times myself). Next door to the gallery is one of my favorite cafés, The Coffee Garden. It’s a great neighborhood space where it’s all about the groovy garden out back instead of being a room full of drones on laptops. We moved on to Bows and Arrows for lunch. By San Francisco standards, it’s a huge space. They have vintage retail, a gallery space and a nice café in back — and again with a back garden. Sacramento taunts San Francisco with warm weather. The current artist being shown at Bows and Arrows is Ianna Nova Frisby. Her work includes embroidered images inspired but the illustrations on vintage sewing patterns (check out her website).

In 2009 I visited the Crocker Art Museum for the first time. I liked it and immediately added it to my list of “small” museums one should visit on the road. Since then, they renovated, built an addition, etc. Yesterday I got to see the new museum for the first time. The Crocker is no longer a small museum. They are about three times bigger with the room to show off more of their collection and host big traveling shows. The museum’s contemporary ceramics collection is arguably the best in the Western United States. It alone is worth a visit.

The older, original part of the museum was once the Cocker family mansion. Even then, it was designed to house the family collection of work collected on their grand tour of Europe. The work feels best in these old Victorian galleries. It’s a genre of work that is difficult to find in San Francisco. Most of the artwork brought back to San Francisco from those grand tours was lost when our mansions burned after the 1906 Earthquake.

Currently the mansion’s Gold Rush Era ballroom is filled with a Gong Yuebin’s installation titled Site 2801. It’s an installation of terra cotta warriors modeled after the ones made in China over 2300 years ago. But with this installation, a few modern, terra cotta soldiers are included. All 200 march in formation bearing nuclear missiles. The perimeter of the ballroom is dimly lit and, as we overheard one young visitor say, it’s scary.” Scary, powerful and worth a trip up to Sacramento just to see it. The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei is world famous. Weiwei has done nothing as subversive as Gong Yuebin’s installation. Fortunately the artist lives in Sacramento, if he still lived in China the authorities would have made him disappear long ago.

The ballroom also works well on many levels for this installation. We approached from the modern, new wing. The transition between spaces goes from a bright, white passageway into the past. It’s abrupt and effective and reminded one of the sci-fi experience seen on a Star Trek holodeck. Above the ballroom is another gallery with a balcony that looks down at the installation. In 1870 the intent was to be able to watch dancers below on the ballroom floor. In 2012 it feels like we’re looking into an archaeological dig.

Already impressed with our visit, we finally started exploring the museum’s new wing. This “small” museum has transformed into one too big for a single visit. The next overwhelming moment of the day was the exhibit Edgar Payne: The Scenic Journey. I’ve seen and liked Payne’s work over the years in many California museums. But seeing a massive show is an entirely different experience. It’s up until May 6th and I want to see it again. The show heads down to the Pasadena Museum of California Art next.

Yesterday’s trip to Sacramento makes me want to continue my affair. And like a proper mistress, I really don’t know her all that well, and I am yet to spend the night. I am not worried about being found out. One can’t get most San Franciscans to venture to Oakland let alone Sacramento. San Francisco will never know.

As for the Crocker Art Museum, It has grown from a museum worth checking out if you’re in Sacramento to a museum you should go to Sacramento to see.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cloisonné is starting to make sense

I confess to having only a passing interest in most antiques and decorative objects. When I am in a museum, I make for the paintings and generally ignore most of the knick knackery. For example, there is a room at the Legion of Honor filled with porcelain. I never go in there. I’ve ignored it for years until a friend with a baby and I discovered it is the perfect, quiet place in the museum to nurse a baby. No one will care. The room is usually empty. Though a few ladies in Dresden porcelain might be a bit scandalized.

Cloisonné is an exception. For some reason I have always been drawn to it. Years ago when I was studying in Switzerland, there was a big cloisonné exhibit at the Museum Rietberg in Zürich. Over the years I’ve seen many museum shows, this is one that has stuck with me.

Today cloisonné is most associated with China and most commonly seen in Chinese pieces like the ones pictured above. The process of setting glass, enamel and gems in metal is thousands of years old. It goes back to Ancient Egypt. It actually came to China more “recently” — about 700 years ago. There is a thorough article about cloisonné on Wikipedia.

Recently my grandmother’s collection of cloisonné found a new home in San Francisco. They have sentimental value and I also find them simply attractive. Some of the pieces are early 20th Century and a few were acquired on her trips to China. I unpacked them, placed them on top of a shelf and then sat back on the sofa to admire them. Behind the cloisonné is a recent piece of my own art. It’s made from about 3,000 small pieces of postcards. I sat there looking at the cloisonné and my own colorful work and began to understand why I am so drawn to cloisonné.