San Francisco

Ernie Kim, Sung Woo Kim, John Richards, and John Battenberg

Richmond Art Center

Ceramic bowls and boxes, Mandala paintings, diagrammatic painting and bronze allegorical sculptures that reflect influences from medieval Asia and the Age of Flight.

Kim was head of the ceramics department at the San Francisco Art Institute before joining the faculty of the Richmond Art Center. He has long been involved in teaching, and because of the constant discipline enforced upon an instructor he has run the calculated risk of becoming academic. He has pretty well skirted this hazard because of an inordinate sensitivity to the uses and abuses of color and by means of subtle manipulation of surfaces. Kim acknowledges the 20th century need of visual stimulation, but in acceding to it does not sacrifice his own integrity by resorting to technical gymnastics. His is a quietly beautiful display, where footed boxes that have nostalgic or humorous appeal and a few slab plates of inventive design support rather than detract from the traditional pieces.

Chun, a Korean who came to the United States in 1953, retains and refines the Oriental aspects of his art. In the “Mandala Series” his concession to the West is in abstraction as an idiom, but even this is strongly related to the medieval Chinese trick of dropping wet paint into wet paint, letting the natural surface tensions of the medium force the patterns and determine the “happenings.” Mandala painting has undergone many changes through the centuries. As the Japanese “Mandara painting” (Sanskrit: Mandala) it moved from basic Buddhist iconography to forms incorporating Shinto architecture and figures, calculated to relate Buddhist dieties and Shinto gods, a move that developed into Japanese landscape painting, since most of the native gods were personifications of various aspects of nature. In turning to the nonobjective and gathering the gods into nebulae to float through space that is littered with stellar flotsam, Chun has carried Mandala painting a long step into the present. Even without special knowledge of Oriental art one could not miss the air of mystery and a certain ecstasy in these paintings that makes unmistakable reference to religion.

Coming into Richards’ show is like entering a “classified” chart room. After having exhausted the possibilities of still-life and still-life as landscape, he has turned to diorama and diagram—combining the flowing contours of imaginary coastlines, built up in relief and painted in the hard-edged manner of a cartographer mapping elevations, with oceanographer’s tracings and military graphs. The reliefs are red and yellow, the tracings black line on shining white. Small pennants and signal flags, cryptic notations and occasional blurred signatures suggest military charts, and the titles bear out the suggestion. But because the colors are saturated primaries and the notations are reduced to ideograms, there is about these pictures a strange air of sophisticated primitivism. And one wonders about the plots and plans of warring man through all the ages. Richards has made himself a problem here. The nature of his subject calls for close inspection, a sort of search for clues, which in turn calls attention to the surface he paints on—a glossy newsprint and resinoid-glue collage over plywood. And once the surface is noticed, the technique become obtrusive.

Battenberg is now teaching sculpture at Contra Costa Junior College. His most significant work here is the group of small compositions involving early-date airplanes, grounded and entangled in clinging vines and roots yet somehow uncommitted to the rubble. The artisanship on these sculptures is exceptional. There is about them the spirit of crucifixion, and of resurrection, despite their identification as Stukas or Fokkers. Battenberg has made of them allegories of victory.

Elizabeth M. Polley