PRINT Summer 1964

A Succession of Visitors

THE SOUTHWEST COASTLINE OF THE United States is often thought of as an unpredictable land of deserts, citrus fruit and film. The folk lore of the residents has it that it was at one time entirely populated by blonde movie stars. The fortunes of the film industry have vaned in recent years with aircraft, satellites and electronics tending to diversify one of the most important industrial and agricultural resources of the nation. A variety of cemeteries are well cared for and some of the suburban communities are reputed to be largely supported by the aged and retired. Perhaps the primary reason for this community’s growth has been its mild and predictable climate. While the influx of young and old has tended to pollute the air, the mildness and uniformity of the weather has not been affected thereby.

The unprecedented growth of southern California as an economic and industrial force in the U.S. has brought to it a formidable population of professionals and intellectuals in every area of finance and industry, government and university life. This thriving middle class element makes up one of the largest markets for products of taste and discretion, including art, in the United States. The population of artists, architects, musicians and writers is no less startling. Originally the film and radio industries provided an endless supply of superior jobs for writers and musicians, actors and technicians. With later years recordings, TV, and new, industrial markets have tended to keep up with the ready supply of talent and creativity. Withal, the mild climate and the ease of life have remained the most important elements in population growth and industrial change. This has not been overlooked by artists. In the early years of the century southern California became a kind of mecca for the painters who later were dubbed the “eucalyptus school.” The creator of Synchrony—Stanton MacDonald-Wright—came to southern California after his rebel years in Paris during and before the first World War, and continued his researches, with his old Synchronist colleague, Morgan Russell. Wright developed a new interest in the East and visited the Orient in his search for a transcendent expression. Morgan Russell taught for a time at the Chouinard Art School and then returned to France until after the second war.

In the 1930s Hollywood heralded the arrival of the distinguished experimental filmmaker, Oskar Fischinger, who later was honored with a prize at the Venice Biennial and the grand prize at Brussels in 1948 for his solo efforts as a film artist. Despite his primary devotion to film, Fischinger continued to paint with power and passion and continues to show in local galleries. Not much was made of the arrival of the distinguished German painter, Hans Hofmann, when he came to the Chouinard School to teach in 1931. His record of inspiration was enviable and eventually resulted in his decision to move his permanent home to the United States. Great pioneer artists and teachers like Alexander Archipenko, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and David Alfaro Siqueiros followed the pattern and taught and lived and worked in southern California in those depression-ridden days of the 1930s, providing an exciting and stimulating art life for the kleig-lit city.

1940 saw the arrival in Hollywood of a small, bespectacled man named Man Ray, who had every reason to expect a warm welcome. Born in New Jersey fifty years earlier, Man Ray was one of the most celebrated American artists, a gifted painter, distinguished photographer and filmmaker and charter member of the Dada and Surrealist movements. Man Ray spent eleven unrewarding years in the Southland with little recognition for his three major one-man shows at the Los Angeles County Museum, the Pasadena Art Institute and the Copley Galleries, Beverly Hills. In 1951 the artist returned to Paris, where he has remained with the exception of trips for exhibitions.

The late ’30s saw an influx of able Europeans into the Los Angeles basin, including Rico Lebrun, Knud Merrild, Hans Burkhardt and Eugene Berman. Lebrun taught in Santa Barbara and later at Chouinard and the Jepson Art Institute, exerting a major influence. Knud Merrild’s position was very important in Los Angeles during the ’30s, and he exerted an influence on the leaders of the milieu. Hans Burkhardt, a student of Arshile Gorky, established himself in the film studios and as a painter has continued to grow with the years. Berman made his home in Hollywood during the war years and immediately after, but has returned to New York and Europe after exerting a considerable neo-romantic influence on the art of southern California in the ’40s.

The temperate climate would not have been enough to draw artists to southern California without a sturdy market and established collectors. With the growth of such major galleries as Frank Perls, Paul Kantor, Felix Landau and Esther Robles a number of changes became observable. Artists found the prospect of visiting Los Angeles suddenly attractive. Major exhibitions of Miro, Tamayo, Marini, Gorky, Dove and the German Expressionists, assorted School of New Yorkers, Karel Appel, Alan Davies, and others, brought about a dramatic new interest in the Hollywood climate. The Dwan Gallery, beginning in the late ’50s, arranged for exhibiting artists to visit the Coast on the occasion of their shows and sometimes to work in the glorious light of the Malibu coast. Dwan visitors have included Yves Klein, Larry Rivers, Nikki St. Phalle, Claes Oldenburg, Tinguely, Ray Parker, Arman, Ad Reinhardt, Martial Raysse, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Bob Rauschenberg, Stanley Twardowicz, Sven Luken and others. What began in a natural reserve grew into interest and then enthusiasm for the community and its life.

Some local artists shared the initial sense of reserve and even permitted it to ripen into hostility for the conquering heroes from the East. With the passage of years, the repeated visits and the lengthened stays, an obvious change has been noted in the Westerner’s reactions to the occupation forces. A new and disarming truce exists in which the more worldly community participates freely, finds satisfaction in communication and new friends and barter made.

The Tamarind Lithography Workshop was founded in the late ’50s in Los Angeles by Mrs. June Wayne with the help of a sizable Ford Foundation grant, which has been renewed in later years. One of the primary goals of the program has been the training of printers in the complex art of lithographic printmaking. Visitors to the workshop as guest artists, visiting for an 8-week period, have been another new influx of exciting talent and stimulating esthetic questioners, like Richard Diebenkorn, Esteban Vicente, Adja Yunkers, Misch Kohn, Josef Albers, Romas Viesulas, Sam Francis, Sonia Gechtoff, James Kelly and Hugo Weber. Many of the artists have had one-man shows while visiting in southern California, and, while busy during their stay, have had the opportunity to relate to local artists and the milieu.

Occasionally the artist-visitors have commented that they find an openness and an unformulated quality to the art milieu which they are not used to in their native cities or countries. They indicate that they find a frontier quality in the community which is attractive and stimulating. Almost all of the Dwan visitors and all of those at Tamarind actually work during their visits and many remark on the quality of California light which they find to be an invigorating element for their work. Others discuss such matters as the plethora of “Thrift Shops” where “found objects” abound, and almost every visiting artist mentions an openness he finds attractive. A number of visitors have announced their intention of making southern California their part-time home, allowing for visits elsewhere and provisions for exhibitions in the great centers of Paris, London, New York and Japan. Men like John Chamberlain, Nathan Oliveira, Sam Francis and Alberto Burri have indicated their interest in living in the area by establishing residences within the past year. Tinguely and St. Phalle expect to visit from time to time and Oldenburg has expressed a similar intention.

Occasionally a visitor will remark that he finds Los Angeles to be “more American” than any other U.S. city. This is a challenging consideration. In a world of mobility and easy transport, there is no question that it is the city of the automobile and of ceaseless movement. In a nation of consumers it seems also to lead in both consumption and waste. Artists are sensing important forces operating in this center and they are beginning to find the symbols to express them.

Gerald Nordland