San Francisco

Frederick Hammersley and Julius Wasserstein

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

Polarities of abstraction here. Hammersley, a pure geometrist, has a gay and colorful show with aspects of a signalman’s washday. The canvases line the walls in an array of classically ordered, clearly defined, flat-colored geometric shapes: triangles, rectangles, circles in triangles, circles in rectangles, even double circles with interlocking parabolas. His idiom seems to have been born of the same need for clarity in art that prompted David to lead the return to classicism and order at the turn of the 19th century. Everything is controlled: by direction and counter direction, position and juxtaposition. Everything, that is, but the idiosyncrasies of human vision—that pulsation when confronted with large areas of unmodulated color and too straight lines which vibrates colors, bends lines and creates other sizzlements of its own. Or does he control this too, by anticipating just such reactions?

Wasserstein is at the other end of the abstract axis. Where Hammersley, Ingresian classicist that he is, abhors the revealing brushstroke, Wasserstein piles on the paint, pushing and knifing it into great slabs and ridges which he calls paintscapes and which suggest landscapes or seascapes. His color is rich, velvety, active of its own accord and further activated by texture. And here is where Wasserstein faces a problem: his paintscapes become just that—virtuoso, performances of color and texture magnificent at first viewing but barren of content. The huge red curves appearing in enough of his recent works to become something of a signature symbol may be a bid to regain control of a situation he feels is getting out of hand.

Wasserstein’s show brings up some special questions pertinent to a number of our local artists. How often should an artist show in a given area? Are our established painters, at the risk of overexposure, keeping new talent from being developed through exhibition? And by means of exposure, alone, are they getting more publicity than their work warrants, by way of newspaper and magazine analysis? Newspapers, especially, are obligated to report, with or without critical evaluation, and by means of repeated mention alone can build the reputation of an artist.

Wasserstein’s rich complexities can take a lot of eye-wear, but their interest is not inexhaustible. And with less exhibition he might take time to develop deeper-surface penetration, thereby maintaining the respect he has thus far justly earned.

Elizabeth M. Polley