East Bay

East Bay

Various Venues, East Bay

At Saint Mary’s College in Moraga Hanna Weyernowski, who fortunately signs her work with the shorter name of Kali, is one of those artists whose work shows best in a one-man exhibition. Especially since 1953, when she arrived in San Francisco from Poland by way of Canada and began to develop a strangely precise manner of rendering the figure in landscape using a pre-Renaissance technique that is often as much craft as art. Immediately prior to that time she had been an abstractionist, and even represented Canada at the International Biennial Exhibition of Modern Art in Brazil.

In a retrospective exhibition of her works at the Keith Gallery here, there are 43 paintings spanning her career from her early Warsaw days to a recently finished non-objective painting (her first). She has covered quite a bit of territory between them, both esthetically and physically. There is an interruption in continuity when, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, she saw her country topple and became a fighting lieutenant in a sabotage unit of the Polish underground. It was then that she adopted the name Kali. She has retained it as a badge of honor not her only one for she was wounded in the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and was decorated for bravery. (That part of her career fallen soldier, prisoner of war, escapee, fugitive reads like an episode from Upton Sinclair’s “Lanny Budd” series).

But Kali’s pictures are not of war. They are of people engaged in the timeless pursuits of peace-time living, full of energy, with unlimited potential. Through them she proves that a very special beauty can be wrought from a world that has been at times a very special hell. The only indication of her war experience, which is one of personality, is an unswerving dedication to order. The steady, sensitive hand that once planted dynamite charges with deadly accuracy now draws a line with the sure strength of a master and applies paint with uncanny precision (often in threads and beads of pigment). Although her range of expression here reveals a full awareness of the world of art, Kali’s most penetrating work is still that hard edged super-realism which has earned for her international renown. In it she combines universal symbolism with that form of primitivism involving the first happy moment, to make a statement that is both timeless and timely.

Judith Foreman’s exhibition of small egg tempera and acrylic paintings at the Alamo Galleries in Benicia reveals a deep and abiding interest in art history, and an ability to restate, in her own terms, some of the great subjects of the past. The question is: are her terms any better than those of the original artists? They aren’t—Piero della Francesca, for instance, had more than pattern to offer. But she has come upwith some delightfully colorful little panels, carefully crafted, slightly decorative, and obviously drawn either from illustrated and expensive art history books or some rather widely scattered museums in Europe.

Lee Adair and Mel Henderson have each set up an unusual presentation in the Berkeley Gallery. Miss Adair is a figure painter, and in the Bay Area figure painters are a dime a dozen. So, possibly in an effort to create visual excitement, she has recently taken to painting her figures on plywood cutouts, to be displayed dangling from the ceiling, set plaque-wise against the walls, propped up with window dresser’s easel-backs in genre groups, even set on table tops as busts. One tinyfigure with a paper umbrella almost escapes notice here because it is perched atop a conduit box in the rafters. (The Berkeley Gallery is finished in a rather rustic manner.) While the effect is amusing, it is a little too tricky to merit serious discussion.

Mel Henderson’s environmental sculpture is linear in concept, of cast plaster, and fairly squirming with vitality. In this show he combines several works to form a Surrealistic maze where white cylinders of various thickness rise from the floor in a “rubbery” fountain, push through walls like the creeping tendrils of some monstrous plant, or trail off to end abruptly with no taper. Above them floats a self-portrait cut-out by Adair. The effect is sort of hackle-raising.

Although shown here in composition, each of Henderson’s sculptures could stand alone as a single, valid unit.

Mosaics generally have become quite trite, but Helen Rich’s small exhibition at the Richmond Art Center is sparked by a fresh handling of the medium. With due respect to tradition, and recognizing that mosaic is a process used in combining small bits into a pattern, she has yet refrained from the usual “miniature patio” approach. By tilting and up-ending the tesserae (of various origins) to resemble eroded surfaces and geological faults, she creates exciting surfaces and color harmonies which more than compensate for rather pedestrian subject matter.

––E. M. Polley