Los Angeles

“Early Modern Paintings by California Artists”

Long Beach Museum of Art

It is good to realize how much was going on here before Los Angeles became either an art center or a market. The artists whose works appear in this show were obliged, in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, to ship their work East to show and gain recognition. Many of them are still painting here today and no longer have to cope with this problem. While the purpose of the exhibition may have been to present for our reconsideration certain concepts and tendencies that bear directly on the art of today, the shadow seems cast rather backward than forward. Though there is a clear continuum of style which marks the work of the more famous of these artists, the general tenor is nostalgic of a time when painters looked at things less gymnastically and saw them more beautifully. A small oil by Charles P. Austin of a Henner-like beatnik beauty seated on a striped bedspread simply could not be found nowadays. She might be used in many ways by an artist; she would not be painted as Mr. Austin painted her in 1925. Many of the paintings are from the private collection of N. P. Brigante who himself contributes a beautiful Landscape Abstraction with fabric-patterned mountains and lake. From the Pasadena Art Museum collection, there is an interesting oil by Charles Tracy which again shows the then-prevalent obsession with “patterns for neck-ties and jerseys” to borrow the phrase Amedee Ozenfant used to describe the 1914–1915 Picasso. A Composition with Black is more “ceramic” in feeling than painterly. Fred Hocks’ Kultur Bolshevismus has the mechanized rhythm of Orozco but on a much smaller scale. A painting by Ben Berlin is rife with more jersey patterns plus the ear shapes and viscosity that so fascinated Dali. Two oils by Adele Watson are strongly reminiscent of Blake transposed. This brings us to some early works of now well-known names. An admirable Fischinger oil of 1938 entitled Circles, Triangles and Squares is very Kandinsky in singing colors and magnified; a Feitelson called Filial Love and painted in 1939 is reminiscent of the early Chirico, replete with globe, pitted peach and nude thighs and a 1934 opus simply entitled Pears again with strong reverberations of Cubism. Hans Burkhardt is represented by a 1936 oil in the simultaneous lady (Dora Maar) manner of Picasso and a beautiful small oil entitled Rendez-vous. There are two Lundeberg canvases in the familiar oil-smooth manner, portraying cactus, pliers, blocks and sex flowers. The origins of influences in this group of paintings is clear enough, but there was also a singular virtuosity of taste which so often seems to be lacking now. It may only mean that we are too close to the painting of the ’50s and ’60s to know what it is all about.

Mary Ewalt