San Francisco

“Thirty Sculptors”; Charles Gill and Robert McLean

Berkeley Gallery

This unusual cooperative gallery, backed in spirit by every artist in the Bay Area and in fact by twenty, has put together the finest sculpture show in northern Cali­fornia this year (i.e., before the massive all-California show at the Oakland Museum). A few names were omitted, most­ly for reasons of exigency, but the show is largely representative of the varied climate of action the sculptors in north­ern California have created. The show was set up by the artists who turned the considerable difficulty of mounting nearly seventy pieces in a gallery into a fait accompli.

Although the exhibition is outstanding as a show, there are not that many excellent pieces in it. Mel Moss and Manuel Neri both exhibit plaster figures. Moss’ torso is hung from a rope and nailed to a post on one side. This mount­ing forces the roughly carved torso to participate in a jarring piece of show­manship that somehow manages to work on both a sculptural and emotional level. Neri’s figure is seated on a wooden frame. It is part of Neri’s recent attempt to translate the figure painting of David Park and Elmer Bischoff into sculptural language. This piece is somewhat hesi­tant, because he relies too heavily on the immediacy of the process to carry off certain ideas that are, by now, con­ventional. (Neri’s most recent work has superseded these conventions and has its own startling vibrancy.)

A partial roll-call from San Francisco brings up Rodger Jacobsen, Robert Hud­son and Cornelia Shulz (whose work is at this time indistinguishable from Rod­ger Jacobsen’s). The other works from this group are good and give at least a hint of what Frank Lobdell’s influence, as drawing master at the S.F.A.I., has done to welded sculpture in this area. It is a whole new look at the medium. For some old looks there are Charles Ross (who is a much better sculptor than his pieces in this show would indi­cate), Ted Odza and the ubiquitous Fred Sauls (a terrible sculptor whose work manages to turn up everywhere from the 82nd Annual to theater lobbies). For other looks there is Zogbaum. His pieces here are somewhat over-refined and not up to his capacity to synthesize gran­deur and mechanics in a personage that is none the less humanistic in feel (as opposed to David Smith’s, for example). Sidney Gordin seems to have abandoned sculpture altogether for a meaningless, decorative surface. This is all the more shocking when one considers the high ethical purpose of his early construc­tivist work.

The cast work is also a mixed bag of tricks. The best cast piece in the show is probably David Lynn’s, which should have been raised on a pedestal, since it must be seen horizontally. It is a curved aluminum band mounted over a magnificent wood and iron base. The piece is a little too small for the base, especially since Lynn plays down any one center of interest in favor of an all­over approach. Peter Voulkos shows a cast table-shape with forms upon it. The small piece looks early and tenta­tive. (The pot he also exhibits is the best ceramic in the show.) Harold Paris exhibits a French Provincial chair, the fourth in a series. Considering the fact that at least one of these chairs is a good sculpture and that it was avail­able, there was no excuse for him to show this altogether poor work.

Both James Melchert and Stephen de Staebler exhibit genital clay shapes mounted on wood. It is unfortunate that de Staebler did not ignore instructions and show one of his large lyrical pieces. The piece shown is poor and misleading because de Staebler does not work with scatology in mind. Melchert’s, however, is fine and funny. It parodies the an­thropomorphical traits that clay often acquires when it is being modeled. At the same time it exists as simply a witty, elegant combine that has been constructed with a great deal of plastic imagination.

Arlo Acton and Alvin Light both as­semble wood scraps. Light should give up on driftwood, which he persists in using as the spine of the piece, or he should mutilate it sufficiently so that it functions with the work, not against it. Both he and John Baxter (who com­bines stones with wood) use found ob­jects that are better-looking before they are assembled. Arlo Acton’s piece is typical and although it is handsome and imposing, like much of his work, it is too busy. One can only hope that Jere­my Anderson will get off the psychology kick and put his remarkable talent for selecting and carving beautiful wood forms into a more unified surreal ef­fort—as he has done in the past.

The show is sophisticated and excit­ing. It is a sharp retort to the museums and galleries in San Francisco and the Bay Area who, for lack of either intelli­gence or integrity (Oakland Museum and Richmond Art Center excepted), have left the artists to their own devices to assemble an outstanding exhibition that expresses the complex character of their work.

Charles Gill is an excellent instance of the difficulties and possibilities facing a considerable number of young painters in the East Bay. Divorced from the Lobdell tradition at the San Fran­cisco Art Institute (which has crippled many good young painters on the other side of the Bay) and bored with the fossilized abstract expressionism that continues to stream out of the Univer­sity of California at Berkeley, these painters are engaged in a painstakingly honest search for their own idiom. Clay­ton Pinkerton, Nancy McCauley, Dicren Injeyan, Richard Crawford, Morris Yar­owsky, Richard McLean and Charles Gill represent some of the involved artists. Most of them have had some associa­tion with the California College of Arts and Crafts, a second-rate becoming first ­rate institution that has no canonized method of painting. All these artists draw, in one way or another, upon contemporary outside references, partly due to a refusal to succumb to any established high art subject matter. The similarity of their work to pop art is wholly coincidental and misleading because these artists wish Jo create a fine art stance—but one of their own choosing.

Charles Gill takes his iconography from commonplace externals, usually newsmakers (Hitler, Marilyn Monroe, Christine Keeler). Gill deliberately centralizes his images. When he has to break up a canvas he repeats the image. This localized way of painting, aggres­sively asserted by many of the artists, has opened up varied opportunities for each of them. For Gill it means isolat­ing his subjects and painting them ver­tically, which often gives them the look of icons. Gill seems diffident about his format because he occasionally tries to “legitimize” it by elaborately simulating Francis Bacon or Nathan Oliveira (who, in fact, really did influence Gill in many ways). At the other extreme, Gill tries to make his work resemble movie stills. None of this is necessary for his statement. His greatest limitation is his technical excellence as a draftsman. His ability to take a likeness is so as­sured that it even gets in the way of a few of the drawings (which are the strongest works in the show; outstand­ing are three lithographs). In his paint­ings he uses drawing as a crutch and has not yet made a personal color mode part of his iconology. Gill’s method of investigation is laborious and the re­sults are as yet germinative, but look as if they will crystallize soon.

Robert McLean is an indifferent junk sculptor who makes much of his work far too cute. His best pieces are cast bronzes, frames with objects planted on the edges––but this he gets from Harold Paris. McLean is young, a recent graduate, and his sculpture has all the foibles common to students. He is not ready to show yet and probably would not do so, if it were not a sign of dis­grace not to step from the academy into a gallery. (This is a very bad habit in northern California that should be stop­ped as it has led to numerous cases of arrested development.)

Joanna C. Magloff