San Francisco

Fred Martin, Tony Delap, Nell Sinton, Roy De Forest

San Francisco Museum of Art Corridor

Excellently displayed in the corridors of a museum usually noted for its unconcern with (or ignorance of(?)) those niceties of hanging which are important to providing a proper framework of visual impact, this exhibition is deliberately linked by the consistent small scale of the works, which average about a foot square. Since Pollock, large canvases have been the order of the day in America, incorporating as they have, notions of enclosing and assaulting the viewer in an environment of paint. The tradition of the small format, however, has not been ignored: at least one major American artist, Cornell, consistently works within this scale, as did two of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century, Klee and Schwitters.

The most genuinely radical artist in the exhibition is Fred Martin. He is completely in command of this small format; he works with cheap poster paint and pencil on common papers making no concession to sensuality of matiere or established plastic values. The clue to his art is his complete realism, something he shares with James Dine, but Martin was the forerunner. He is a provincial eccentric with a genuinely fresh vision, working completely outside the common traditions of contem porary American art. His work is without ego: he writes on one work, “Remember it is only ART.” His work is also anagogic: he seeks for the mystery of life in a blade of grass. The strength of his art is his dry, matter of fact, and totally personal vision.

Delap, who has recently adopted this small format as a consistent element of his art, is an assemblagist. His works contain coins, small pieces of old wood and metal, sides of matchboxes, Coke bottle caps, as well as cutouts from newspapers and other printed media. Littered with dirty pieces of crumpled paper and dark and somber in color, he could be likened to an up-to-late Schwitters, but with a certain freedom and looseness of organization derived from de Kooning and Marca-Relli. He sets out to deliberately make dirt into beauty and succeeds. His work is nostalgic, ephemeral and very engaging. But he is a miniaturist who has just arrived at an aspect of art that younger artists have already absorbed. In comparison to Llyn Foulkes, who recently filled two rooms at the Pasadena Museum with an enormous number of powerful, large and gripping images in this genre, he is merely a charming Johnny come lately.

Nell Sinton, normally a nature lover who abstracts images of gardens and flowers, benefits from this reduced scale which brings out a latent lyricism and inventiveness missing from her large works. She manipulates her material to produce a poetic and delicate surface, but in no way evinces germinal ideas. (But at least she is not afraid to be feminine, an aspect many women artists are terrified of, and as a result try to out-do men by an athletic display of vim, vigor and punch rather than depth of plastic intelligence.)

De Forest’s small constructions are not allied in any way to his three co-exhibitors, who all tend to be more graphic, and who shelter behind glass. He merely reduces his normal scale of up-to-date Barbola work, (a now probably forgotten but early do-it-yourself colored pastic paste that arty mums used to decorate mirrors, cigarette boxes and sea shells in pre-television days). Several paintings, notably Sonnet and A Long Day in Arkansas directly derive from Miró, particularly aspects of his Majorcan ceramics. De Forest, to judge by an earlier large and excellent painting entitled Furrier of the Antipodes (shown in the “Arts of the Bay Area” in this same museum), seems to lack both inventiveness and personality at this small scale.

John Coplans