San Francisco

“The Painted Flower”

Oakland Art Museum

In the East Bay anyone with two square feet of earth grows flowers. This exhibit, held in conjunction with the annual California Spring Home and Garden Show in Oakland, takes cogni­zance of that fact. Although much of the abstract art of the area reflects the impact of its surroundings, this show leads one to suspect that fruitful use of natural imagery is not found in local flower painting.

The works in the exhibit are largely either commercial or inept. Conrad Fre­theim, Henrietta Berk and Robert Yel­land display a gooey abstract expres­sionist technique. Sally Barber paints her garden after Tworkov. Baila Feld­man takes her greenery from Guston. Gloria Brown’s White Iris, is a take­off on early Grace Hartigan, suitable for home or office. John Casey’s March Plum, is loaded with pink and lavender and comes out oh so tasty. The deriva­tive and decorative quality of so much of the work is certainly not willful, but the result of an inability to develop personal styles and a lack of sincere interest in the subject. In order to paint flowers well, they must be a meaningful segment of that world the artist chooses to see.

In light of this, the jurors, John E. Richard, Mrs. E. M. Polley and William Gaw, did right in selecting Howard Hack’s Still Life, Spring, for the purchase award. Hack treats his bou­quet in the virtuoso manner descended from Dutch flower painting, but sur­rounds it with a dense, green, airless miasma. Since the flowers are wilting and the colors are garish the result is morbid and amply conveys Hack’s per­sonal idiom. However, Hack’s mode of expression is too literary. The minute treatment, the subject, the colors and intention all quickly reduce themselves to verbal equivalents, leaving behind no essentially plastic features.

––Joanna C. Maglott