San Francisco

David Park, Tom Holland and Byron Burford

Oakland Museum and Richmond Art Center

Tom Holland’s show is prefaced with biographical remarks, among them his strong influence from the ideas of David Park in 1958–59. Burford’s show also is prefaced by biography, chiefly a list of other exhibitions and awards. (Holland has no other one-man shows and is short on awards). To review both shows in the context of the Park show at Oakland is appropriate because all are in the east bay. It is especially fitting because they all are (as art must be in the east bay) institutionally, rather than commercially, sponsored; and Park was never commercial property during his lifetime.

David Park has become to the Bay Area public the image of the artist who made good. The goodness is proved by color reproductions in Time, Life, Art International and even in Artforum. Ironically, the man whose greatest act was to abandon the attempt to make good in order to begin to make himself has made good publicly on a scale which would be only embarrassing to one so modest and so sensitive as he. Modest as a man, and modest also in the scope and the demand of his art. In a sense also tragic as a man, because the moment which he chose to become modest was also one which many little people choose to turn against the grandeurs and dangers of American post-war art, in turning, they took him up as their standard bearer. Though embarrassed by the nudity of his figures (only insufficiently obscured by heaviness of paint and modernity of composition) they could take comfort in his assertion of the reality of the middle class and of its closed horizons of safety. As he asserted his life and accepted the validity of his past (even the face on the box of cornflakes) they could somehow monetize and accept the false images and pathetic hopes fed them by mass-communication and education, by mass-living and the now faded slogan of “the century of the common man.” And he was not so powerful or demanding or peculiar a painter as to leave behind work which would sound sourly in the hymn of whipped cream which they have sung for him. So, to see his show is to be reassured, or bored. It depends on who you are. Only a few will remember his exciting, stimulating and modest mind, which chose at last to be true to itself.

Which brings up Tom Holland, who says that he was (is) strongly influenced by David Park’s ideas when he studied with him in Berkeley in 1958–59. Park has been hoisted into fame because of his desire (said to be an idea) to paint the people of his life. But Holland is influenced by a real Park idea—that art comes from the experience of seeing, and so when he sees the stuff of primitive Spanish colonial, it goes into his art. Further among the real Park ideas was that form should be as simple and as direct as possible. And so Holland makes a cross and, being simple, does not artify it with “expressiveness” or with “form.” Park also spoke for a sense of the material of painting and of color embedded in it. This sense of color has not been yet communicated by any number of color reproductions in mass-circulation magazines. Holland has this color and this material (even in the lids of coffee cans which occur here and there in his works). Park was willing to follow his art anywhere, even onto a box of cornflakes. Holland will follow his art even into paper projects for kindergartens and paintings that become objects.

In the other gallery at Richmond is a show of paintings by Byron Burford, guest instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts this summer, and a painter in the humanist tradition. To turn from the people of David Park to those of Burford is to turn from a painter in many respects self-taught, an individualist in the old American coon-skin tradition, to a painter who is conscious heir of the last several centuries. Burford’s technique, his visual form and his representational scheme all are very complex. As heir of the ages he is in competition with the past and so it is relevant to turn toward Goya or Delacroix or Turner or Correggio or Francis Bacon. Turning to the past, one finds, depending on what one seeks, greater visual excitement or greater understanding of the human predicament than in Burford who remains an epigone. There may yet come new wine for the old bottles of humanism, even Burford may be the vintner. But not here, not now. Park may tire the culturally sophisticated (except those who have sickened of their sophistication) and Holland may be merely a designer of hearts and crosses with hatching; but each, by stepping out of the race with history, has been able to step into the present and the achievement of a work of intrinsic value.

Fred Martin