PRINT September 1964

Three San Francisco Sculptors

THE MOOD OF HIGH MORAL ELEVATION, dedicated austerity and mysterious power which has dominated San Francisco painting for the past decade has resulted, perhaps, in a even stiffer resistance among the artists and in the academies to the changes which have taken place on the American art scene since the advent of Rauschenberg, Johns, the Pop Artists and the increasing prominence of the Hard Edge and “field” painters. It has been difficult for Bay Area painters to grasp the new mood, not only because of the deep-rootedness of the attitudes instilled by the Abstract Expressionist generation, but because of the spotty exposure which the new work has been given in San Francisco.

The critical situation in which San Francisco painters have been placed vis-a-vis the new developments on the painting scene differs markedly from the manner in which Bay Area sculpture has sprung to life during the past few years. Sculpture, which, with a few exceptions, had never seemed quite able to tailor Abstract Expressionist concepts to its own needs, suddenly came into a new flowering, drawing its sustenance from many of the new ideas which began with the neo-Dada movement. In San Francisco, the prolonged influences of Bruce Conner, Manuel Neri and Wally Hedrick fed a constant stream of new possibilities into the studios. In other parts of the Bay Area, the clay workers—Peter Voulkos and James Melchert—and the bronze-casting school at Berkeley led by Harold Paris (and Voulkos) experimented with a different set of possibilities. The interplay between these two groups has been a source of fascination to Bay Area viewers for the past several years, coming to a culmination, perhaps, in the huge Oakland Museum exhibition during the summer of 1963.

Since then, the best viewings of developments in Bay Area sculpture have been the Annuals of the San Francisco Art Institute in which the work of Robert Hudson, Arlo Acton, Seymour Locks, James Melchert, Peter Voulkos, Harold Paris and others have been shown to their best advantage.

The three artists featured here represent what can loosely be called the San Francisco group, as opposed to the Berkeley bronze-casting group. Elements of neo-Dada, suggestions from Pop Art, assemblage, junk sculpture have all found their way into their work, which is dominated by the employment of humor as a major value. It is a humor which is raucous, dirty, mimicking and subtle, and which is the life line of the best sculpture being produced in San Francisco.

Philip Leider