San Diego

San Diego Artists

Approximately 50 works from 1950 to the present comprise a retrospective exhibition of Chicago’s George Cohen at the La Jolla Museum of Art, where Cohen is also on hand as artist-in-residence throughout the run of the show. The exhibit is broken up into seen classifications: emblematic, figures, figures in groups, recent paintings of large groups, constructions, “phenomenology of mirrors,” and reliefs and flesh paintings. The human body, in most cases the female figure, dominates all of them, and for descriptive purposes the pieces can be divided into two categories: paintings and constructions or assemblages.

Cohen sometimes depicts his nude women as most people see them—whole. But most often he gives his bodies symbolic significance by freely fracturing and fragmenting (and occasionally incongruously multiplying) their limbs and features. Then, with a superb sense of movement and suspension, he scatters, disjoints, inverts and relocates the component parts around a canvas or panel, creating incidental impressions and illusions and a shifting kind of dynamism.

In the paintings, Cohen uses clear, bright, bold, vibrant colors and varies his surfaces from thin pigment through thick impasto-like texture to virtual relief modeling according to the object being painted. He uses line dramatically and color with great force and vigor. Rarely employing complex composition, he prefers variations of placements that are basically symmetrical. While there is in his work a close association with Expressionist imagery, he relies chiefly on a Cubist-Surrealist format to disassemble and reassemble his figures.

In the constructions, doll parts correspond to the painted arms, legs and torsos of the canvases, and here the dismembered ladies are segmented by mirrors, wood, metal, plastic, rope, oil and gesso on wood panels. Some of the assemblages contain floating forms which create the impression of space without gravity, and in many of them the spectator is drawn into the picture by mirrors that reflect his face and background; sometimes a number of mirrors cause a distortion or rearrangement of the reflected image of the viewer’s features.

There is always a definite reference to man and his condition in the artist’s figure-shattering and his juggling of reality with an interplay of painterly images and bizarre materials. In a way, Cohen is like the boy who takes the clock apart to see what makes it tick—and puts it back together all wrong. Except that Cohen’s distorted and rearranged forms still tick—with sensuality; or irony, or wonder, or fantasy, or mystery, or plain old good humor.

The Southwestern College Art Gallery deserves a hearty round of applause for presenting the first one-man show in the San Diego area of the works of San Diego-reared William Copley. This new exhibit contains sixteen riotous, story-telling, cartoon-like oil and lace paintings and seven equally amusing image-annotated flags. For providing both sheer good fun and solid food for thought, it’s the best solo show to hit this area in some time—and it’s about time.

Holding nothing sacred, not even love or national states, Copley takes the mickey out of almost everything with Rabelaisian humor and razor-sharp insight. His penetrating satire is at once entertaining and provocative.

His titles are delicious, adding zest to their subjects; many of the paintings, such as the heraldic “Coat of Harms,” the unframed “Suitable For Framing” and “Entente Cordiale,” come off as verbal as well as visual puns.

Copley’s offbeat technique of combining oils and what appears to be black Spanish mantilla lace is particularly effective in the vivid “Beware of This Unethical Practice,” “You’re So Right Stella” and “Don’t Walk.” Painting flatly and drawing in primitive-pop-cartoon style, he also mixes clothed men and nude women—the respectable and the ribald—with fantastically funny results, and, like the funnies, he has some of his characters emitting incongruous balloon-enclosed phrases.

The flags are really flags, but with a difference. Painted on the British banner is a big black drippy umbrella; the French flag has a wine bottle in each of its three sections; in Russia, two figures have it out with hammer and sickle against the red field.

The brightest spot on the burgeoning San Diego area art scene these days is the new Jefferson Gallery at 7917 Ivanhoe Avenue in La Jolla. In a brand new building, owner-director Tom Jefferson has come up with a blockbuster for his opening exhibition: “100 Years of French Master Painting.” Obtaining most of the works from the David B. Findlay Galleries of New York City and the rest from assorted dealers, private collectors and his own collection, Jefferson has hung a few bombs, but most of the pieces are brilliant.

There are five Bonnards: three small so-so landscapes, a charming little thing of a woman in the bath, and the tremendous landscape “Les Coquelicots.” Painted in 1908, this latter offers a fantastic display of depth and tone. Equally compelling is Vuillard’s gigantic, marvelously composed, colored and textured “Le Tennis,” dated 1907. One step down is Dufy’s big bright 1936 oil “Amphitrite.”

Marc Chagall is represented by a vivid recent gouache, “Le Medaillon Rouge;” Picasso by his face-fractured “Tete De Femme;” Rouault by the tiny “Christ and The Doctor;” Monet by his “Pourville” seascape; Renoir by the fragile “Femme a la Canne” and the more robust “Flower Garden;” Utrillo by a wonderful landscape, “Monastere de Notre Dame Des Anges a Durgperoux;” Degas by a fine little pointillistic oil of tambourine-toting dancers and a bronze sculpture of a ballet dancer. Vlaminck is much on hand with five excellent oils and gouaches—a bright floral painting, a lively green-dominated landscape and three typical brooding village scenes.

Delicate spring-like landscapes are provided by Morisot, Pissarro, Derain, Sisley and De Segonzac. Of the flower paintings, the brightest and most painterly are by Valtat and Herbin and the most fragile by Fantin-Latour. Other artists in the exhibition include Laurencin, Petitjean, Villon, Marquet, van Dongen and Bombois.

At Orr’s Gallery in La Jolla is a refreshing show of the delicate, predominantly pastel earth-toned semiabstract oils and gouaches of young English painter Leonard Hunting. The majority of Hunting’s paintings are exuberant, atmospheric, on-the-spot sketches of isolated French and Spanish landscapes and towns. In rendering these quiet country and village vistas, the artist tends to use muted variations and repetitions of green, orange, yellow and ochre accented with subdued blues and greys. Although his subjects are continental, Hunting’s approach to light, color and mood is definitely English; in most of the canvases and the three little gouaches, tone, texture and technique are soft and exquisitely controlled, giving a decided impression of mist or gentle rain and the fragile freshness they effect.

In conjunction with a one-man show of his work at the Grand Central Moderns Gallery in New York City, Flea Market West is housing a solo exhibit of recent paintings and drawings by Herman Rowan, former San Diego State College teacher now at the University of Minnesota. Rowan’s oils, most of them fairly large, are vigorous, painterly abstract and non-objective pieces in which pigment is applied broadly, boldly and loosely in crisp, bright colors; blue predominates, with yellow, red, brown, Kelly green, orange, black and white following in close order. There is a liveliness, a vitality and excitement, about these works, but this stems more from Rowan’s apparent pleasure with paint and color than from content. The drawings are like the paintings, just smaller and done with oil pastels instead of oil paints. Rowan manages to get some agreeable color and space relationships and a degree of texture in these, but they lack the vividness and luminosity of the canvases.

Marilyn Hagberg