San Francisco

Art Holman and Ruth Asawa

San Fran­cisco Museum

The graphic work of Mr. Holman here exhibited, in which the pastel crayon predominates, falls into three chronologically sequential phases. The exhibits are untitled and may be identified only by dates of composition. The earliest phase (1959) may be desig­nated as the “color-fabric” phase, in which, but for a narrow margin, the en­tire rectangle of paper presents an ho­mogenous, hazy surface of some basic hue, through which, like fibers in a tweed swatch, miniscule threads and points of various colors are more or less uniformly distributed; the “lithoid” phase (1960–61) explores intersecting planes and edges, suggestive of the irregular polyhedroid corrugations of jagged mountain boulders; and finally (1962–63), the ”Garden" phase, elabor­ates the botanic forms of leaf, stem, petal and pod.

The delicate prismatic diffusions of the “color fabric” phase and the pre­ciously lyrical technique of the “gar­den” phase are a little too self-con­sciously—and statically—exquisite. The lithoid studies, presented as a series, offer interesting variations in tonality. Particularly striking as a contrasting pair, although separated chronologically and by placement in the exhibition, are the works date 4/27/61 and 10/4/60. In the former the rocklike surface is stated in bold mineral colors, mossy greens and blue greys, and the vertices and edges are implied; in the latter, the planes are faintly suggested as pale, striatous, slate shading, while rugged edges are boldly stated in ink as sparse, vein-like linearities.

Miss Asawa works in ink, and her presentations in this exhibition offer mainly two approaches. In the first, the outlines, as well as the weave, loops and swirls of antique wicker-and-rattan chairs are elaborated as involved mo­saics of precisely spaced and executed small rectangles of ink. The overall im­pression is of those designs that can be produced by filling in patterned al­ternations of squares on a piece of graph paper. The work is detailed, how­ever, and becomes fatiguing to the eyes, as intersecting sequences and concen­tric whorls of these little squares be­gin to ripple and spin a calculable ef­fect of closeknit black and white geo­metric mosaic, familiar to everyone from nursery books of optical tricks. All of this naive and conventionally il­lustrative cleverness has obvious allu­sion to such folkcraft as basketweave and primitive needlepoint. What little interest this naive and conventionally illustrative work engages belongs to that order of mild bemusement elicited by such curiosity shop novelties as the model Tyrolean chalet constructed of toothpicks, or the elaborate heraldic design precisely etched on the head of a pin. As with all such things, one feels that the patience and care,—or perhaps more accurately, the compul­sive preoccupation—expended is con­siderably disproportionate to the essen­tial triviality of the ends achieved.

The second method essayed in Miss Asawa’s showing consists in non-ob­jective jumbles of ink-blobs and fibrous linearities somewhat reminiscent of Rorschach test cards. But, again, the idea is so monotonously and busily overexpanded that the Rorschach cards seem by comparison artistically sophis­ticated.

Palmer D. French