San Francisco

Robert McChesney

San Francisco Art Center

In this McChesney exhibition the majority of the pictures are part of the Hair Suite, and a few are from a group of paintings called Arena. The latter are bright enamels (painted matt, not glossy) with sand in the medium. The colors have a dye quality, and they spread and mix with a fluidity which is different but suggestive of what happens with a very wet use of watercolor. They are rhythmic with drawn lines. The lines are not present in the Hair Suite paintings: These are atmospheric and panoramic; their message is romantic and poetic. Romantic as a vast cloudy skyscape, or the map of an exotic place, and poetic—in one case a golden and ochre painting, as bright as a sunlit day, is as eerie as night, and another is mystic, tenebrous and suggestive of the Oriental use of fogs and mists to simplify and subtilize. The colors of the Arena pictures are still present, but muted in the more recent Hair Suite. The hairy part refers to some brush, glued, in full relief, into the paint and sand; sometimes it is a different color from the paint beneath, thus performing a color as well as a textural role.

On the face of it, the change from the Arena pictures to the Hair Suite seems to be a move from abstraction to a more expressive form, but on second look they are very harmonized and resolved, the way an abstractionist would prefer them to be. In an era when many one-man shows are endlessly repetitious, one is pleased to see an exhibition in which the artist has painted with great variety without departing from a consistent stylistic unity.

Knute Stiles