San Francisco

Dorr Bothwell, Nancy Genn, and James Grant

De Young Museum

Miss Bothwell exhibits kaleidograms entitled, Watchwords and pictorial motifs en­titled, Mendocino Fences. In a man­ner sometimes reminiscent of tapestry and sometimes of mosaic, the Watch­words present busy geometric patterns, distinctly Byzantine in color and char­acter: woven in the intricate traceries, or obscurely stenciled in the interstitial “negative spaces” are stylized letters spelling such words as, “Love,” “Peace” and “Joy.” One gathers from the gallery statement that Miss Bothwell fancies this treatment is novel and constitutes a positive use of the principles of sub­liminal advertising.

Of the Mendocino Fences, only one may be taken seriously as a painting: The White Gate (1963). This is prac­tically a pure “lattice” abstraction, pre­dominantly in green and white, explor­ing in painterly terms the esthetic of the visual experience without senti­mental or literary references. The other works in this series fall into the cate­gory of stylistic illustrations. The styli­zation is somewhat Gothic in character: fenceboards tipped with decoratively carved fleur-de-lys motifs are rendered against meadowscapes or seascapes stated in stained-glass mosaic luminosi­ties of rich blue, pale crepuscular yellow and deep, vivid green. Within illustrative terms the work has an undeniable nos­talgic charm, harking back to a mood first evoked for most of us when we gazed dreamily through child’s eyes on the idyllic and magically glowing land­scapes of Maxfield Parrish’s illustra­tions in story books.

Miss Genn is preoccupied with close­knit vermiform arabesques. Some large, hideous canvases explore this idea in terms of a stage-flat, slap-dash of wriggly paint daubs. Various bright col­ors are employed, but with such uni­formly distributed, “homogenized” inter­spersement, that the overall effect is of a crude and inflexionless color-fabric. Somewhat more finesse and thought are apparent in ttie smaller paintings on paper, where the jumbled writhings are of more tenuous linearity and varied density. A statement entitled Montalvo actually achieves a little lyrical nuance.

Miss Genn also exhibits an abstract expressionistic paraphrase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, in cast bronze. The adaptation of this figure as the base for a pulpit lectern was craftlessly improvised. The reading stand (unfortunately wider than the wingspan of the figure) is visibly bolted to an underscaffolding of machine-lathed brac­ing and brackets, in turn welded to the neck of the sculpture. Its lyrical up­swirling lines thus grotesquely and cum­bersomely capitated, the figure seems squat, compressed, and rather comic­ally cherubic, and the artifact as a whole, top-heavy. Conspicuously lacking is the harmonious unity of conception, design, material, execution and function that would have imparted simple ele­gance and aspirative contours more con­gruous with its contemplated ecclesias­tical use.

Mr. Grant’s collage-paintings have been devised with considerable intellectuality, subserved by a subtle and consummate craftsmanship. Variations in surface are “structural” and topologi­cally architectonic rather than sensu­ous. Mr. Grant denies that his works have conscious reference to nature or to “landscape.” The larger canvases, however, seem abstractly “panoramic” as though, through the window of a space vehicle, one were viewing the mysterious topology and chemistry of spectacular configurations in some un­earthly terrain. This effect is heightened by the fact that these works have no “compositional” cohesion either in syn­tactical terms or with reference to the rectangle of the canvas. Varying thick­nesses of pigmented burlap, in conjunc­tion with unique dispositions of color­mass and shape, are employed to create an eerie space of peculiarly “fractured” stereoscopic dimensionalities. The smaller works have more immediate im­pact as a totality. Although still not a “frame of composition,” the picture rectangle here functions dynamically as a compressive barrier against which the “active space,” conjured by Mr. Grant’s methods, seems to be expanding, as energies of tremendous velocity, collid­ing with explosive force, are propelled toward the viewer.

These exhibits provide interesting contrasts in macrocosm and microcosm. The rather sophisticated “function-the­oretical” esthetic of this work is unique. Mr. Grant has devised an idiom that seems to impart visible embodiment to quite mathematically conceived modali­ties of abstractly contemplated energy and space. It was, therefore, not sur­prising to find that he had a rather in­tensive and accomplished background in the physical sciences before turning to art as a career.

––Palmer D. French