San Francisco

Alex Nicoloff, June Felter, Pat Tavenner and Lillian Elliot

Richmond Art Center

Nicoloff, a sculptor, is Senior Artist in charge of exhibit design at the Lowie Museum of Anthropology, University of California. It is not unexpected, then, that some of his work would relate, in part, to primitive art, and some to sophisticated mutations. He shows small bronzes here, cast by the lost wax process. The character of the wax is apparent in thumb-printed surfaces, sensitive rotation of masses, crudely gouged grooves and thumped edges. Nicoloff, however, disclaims any special interest in materials as such. He says “That an image is Mainstream Abstract, is of the New Figurative school, that it respects materials or is either Pop Art or Assemblage, these are secondary matters that interest me only a little. Such stereotypes are useful in plugging up leaky silences. All that really counts is to sustain the vitality of the ideas from the time when they appear to their realized form in bronze.” Yet materials and idioms are the vocabulary of the artist, and without a vocabulary ideas cannot be expressed coherently. Whatever his theory, Nicoloff is coherent, speaking a most adequate visual language and obviously enjoying it. He does not, however, identify with that group of U. C. artists who have so exploited materials in search of new forms in sculpture.

His subject matter is organic, knowingly distorted and abstracted. Best pieces here are the faces, actually masklike shells. With that understatement possible only to those with extensive knowledge of structure, Nicoloff has wrung from them a maximum of expression, rivaling in eloquence the faces of ancient Japanese temple guardians.

June Felter, once best known for her watercolors, has recently turned to oil painting, working in the landscape tradition of current West Coast figurative painters. To this tradition she adds a quality of glowing light that is often reminiscent of Marquet’s paintings of Algiers.

Pat Tavenner, whose work has been seen to date only in the smaller outlying galleries, shows to advantage in this, her first large exhibition. She combines slashed photographs with broken mirrors to form fractured images that suggest “The Snake Pit.” While reflections greatly heighten the surface interest, one yet wonders just how much the spectator should be involved in the creation of an art work. That is, if the artist is to retain his position as commentator and interpreter. Some wit has remarked that a painting is a frame around a self-betrayal. Here Miss Tavenner invites the viewer to join in the fun of self-analysis. The result becomes a dual creation—hence a two-man show. While the mirror-montages are her most provocative works, her tightly-crafted assemblages of leaves, screens, half-lampshades, papier-maché birds and model ships have a special nostalgic quality that pervades even those done with a humorous turn of mind. Her humor can be acid.

Lillian Elliot’s stitchery is tidy and colorful.

Elizabeth M. Polley