San Francisco

Twelfth Annual Oil and Sculpture

Richmond Art Center

For many years the Richmond Annual has enjoyed a popularity among local artists that is usually reserved for larger and more famous shows. Partly because the gallery sets no constricting size restrictions and partly because the jurors were given complete freedom of choice, these shows have always attracted a much larger and more professional group of entries than might be expected at an art center of this type. Its reputation is, however, only local, and, although the show is open to any California painter, and the jury commonly includes at least one member who “makes it” on the New York scene, most of the entries come from either the East Bay or San Francisco. This year 393 artists submitted 425 works. As usual the majority of the entrants were students, but a number of more mature and successful artists, including many members of the faculties of nearby colleges, also submitted; thus the jurors (Mel Henderson, Robert Beetern, and John Grillo) were provided with a fairly broad cross-section of the area’s better art. To judge from the final selections—nothing much is happening locally.

One was almost immediately struck by how pretty this show was—how tasteful and chic everything looked. Crossing all categories of style and expression in both media, the overpowering quality was of a formal character that can only be described by that awful word, attractive. Two prize winners, Richard McLean’s, “Offering” and Norman Lockwood’s “Flotation,” set the tone of the whole show. (Whether this represents the taste of the jury or the character of local art as a whole, is hard to determine; although the Salon de Refuses arranged by the students at Oakland’s College of Arts and Crafts offers some commentary on that issue.) In at least half the show, surface prettiness was accompanied by a shallowness of expressive content, but there were a few works in which decorativeness was a positive feature and not merely a synonym for pretty. In John Richard’s “Battle Form,” smallness of scale and size and a formal subtlety appropriately suggested the quiet charm of a Morandi still life. Thomas Akawie stained and worked large pools of color so lovingly that he belied his “action painting“ format, but did not become simply decorative. Arne Hiersoux’s large collage, “Cassandra’s Kiss,” conceals a really “undecorative” vigor of movement and strength of construction behind considerable surface charm.

Among those few which were neither plastically nor emotionally banal, a few merit special comment. William Geis builds up swelling and twisted plaster forms that verge on the organic without crossing the line. He manages a sense of humor without sacrificing seriousness of purpose. Karen Devich’s red-and-blue-decorated metal construction, “Bastille Day,” is more obviously entertaining. It looks as if it ought to move or make noises—its energy is contagious. Two sculptors who work in clay, James Melchert and Stephen de Staebler, appear to be related in that their work carries overtones of moral judgment. De Staebler crusts a sarcophagus-shape with black and scatters old “bones” around. The imagery is pretty obvious, but the work has a plastic sensitivity and inventiveness that raises it above most of the other works in this genre. Melchert relies on the more purely sculptural qualities of interplaying surfaces and voids. His oddly truncated and bulky piece is one of the strongest things in the show. Two other sculptors base their statements on older (but not necessarily more “dated”) traditions. Ramon Oeschger’s “Wood Growth” is just what its title suggests—an image of organic growth. F. Vredaparis in “Kanal Figure” reveals connections to Europe-centered attitudes of expressive abstraction. In the painting, “Crossness,” Tom Holland explores the boundaries between painting and sculptured relief. Thick paint is almost modeled into curving ridges and the format is constructed in two overlapping layers—the lower one a cross. Although the formal problem reflects “pop” art interests, there is a solemn, almost iconic aspect to this work that is distinctive. Robert Hartman’s “Monchar,” by contrast, is a vigorous statement in the Abstract Expressionist idiom, showing that there is still something to be said this way. Stephen Kelemen’s “Wanton Beast” is a long tailed “monster” with a powerful diagonal thrust. Awards were given to Richard McLean, Charles Gill, Tom Holland, Philip Linhares, Norman Lockwood, Stephen de Staebler, Robert E. McLean, and James Melchert.

Bruce Boice