San Francisco

East Bay

In one of its best shows in many years, the Mills College Art Gallery, directed by Dr. Carl I. Belz, presented a fall exhibition of the recent works of Rafael Canogar, brought here from Spain as the guest instructor in painting by Antonio Prieta, head of Mills College Art Department.

While Spain’s younger abstract painters have, in the past decade, drawn the attention of the entire world, few of them have visited this country in any official capacity. Canogar, 31, is one of the first. Formerly deeply involved with Abstract Expressionism, as were most of his generation of artists, he, more than the other Spaniards, revealed a type of violence indicative of repression and frustration. About two years ago he became interested in representational imagery, and, with an already enviable international reputation, suddenly changed direction. The decision required courage, a requirement he was well equipped to meet.

Canogar is now less concerned with purely painterly problems and more aware of the broad reach of life in the 20th century, especially as reported by photo-journalists. Most of his recent subject-matter is drawn from news photos, which he cuts up and rearranges to form fragmented images that often have little relationship to the original subject. He composes along sharply defined boundaries, generally in straight-edged registers, to achieve a dynamic reaction to space, a reaction greatly intensified by his habit of playing richly brushed textures against thin stains of color or the raw canvas itself.

Frankly eclectic, Canogar touches the hem of all recent art movements. Much of his work stems from that of Francis Bacon, and one gets the impression that Bacon’s admiration of Velasquez was the attracting factor. In those works related to Bacon’s fragmented cardinals and “mondo cane” subjects, Canogar’s early Abstract Expressionist background vitalizes the subject. He involves himself, and so involves the spectator, in the human (or animal) situation.

Canogar admits to the sense of liberation that gave rise to Pop art, although he does not feel that opposition to Abstract Expressionism revealed in the works of, say, Warhol, Lichtenstein or Indiana. Nor does he repudiate his earlier works by entirely abandoning his previous esthetic. He faces the cruelty and violence of the world as a part of the human pattern, related to survival and adjunct to our super-civilization, and not to be powdered over with the sweetness of Christian philosophy, as is illustrated in his two most powerful works in the Mills College show, “Woman in Labor,” a larger-than-life canvas composed of six separate head studies of his wife’s reactions to the purely animal pain of natural childbirth, and “The Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” a lithograph presenting the event from the viewpoint of the killer—through the scope of a high-powered rifle. The latter depicts the instant when the unsuspecting President is being brought into focus on the cross hairs of the lens.

Canogar will show again at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, in April, 1966. Hopefully, one or two of his earlier abstractions will be included as measuring points in his career.

David Simpson, Associate Professor of Art at Berkeley, showed at the Worth Ryder Gallery. He has been exploiting the tremendous possibilities open to artists using co-polymer as a medium and interested in color as an expression of Gestalt psychology. Simpson was known earlier for his banded oil paintings (horizontal registers on vertical format) in earth colors which the viewer related to landscape even if the artist didn’t. In changing mediums, he has developed into a brilliant colorist.

Although Simpson’s latest paintings relate to both hard-edge and Op art, one could best call him a Formalist, in that his work is almost scientifically disciplined. Within this category he paints an endless variety of narrow stripes in graded colors which move in studied directions, carefully controlled and symmetrically arranged to create a sort of visual chant. Mostly, the movement is upward, and is never completely contained within the picture format—a compositional tactic suggesting expanding force. Simpson’s message is dependent upon acceptancy of the beholder that beauty is not the intrinsic property of natural or manmade things, but of the human eye and brain. He is still a very young artist, one who has been developing steadily in a direction that parallels rather than follows the mainstream of “geometric pop.” His success, mounting slowly, is apt to be lasting.

Down the hallway from the Ryder Gallery, the Lowie Museum of Anthropology has mounted a magnificent exhibition of rubbings from Maya stone carvings, taken over a 3-year period by Merle Green. They comprise one of the rarest collections of its kind, and after the Lowie exhibition will be shown at Harvard University, then at the University of Pennsylvania.

Working against such obstacles as remote locations in deep jungles, official government reticence, unfriendly weather and unfriendlier bugs, Mrs. Green took exact impressions from the stone monuments in Mexico and Guatemala, varying the types and grades of paper to suit atmospheric conditions and the water retention by the stone. The usual application was by means of very careful pressure of pigment-impregnated silk on hardened mulberry paper. Her resulting life-sized impressions, depicting the drama, genius, fears and power of a great culture that once dominated much of the central spine of what is now called Middle America, are works of art in their own right. While she in no way altered or modified the stone, her very personal response to each piece is obvious, and the placement of each print on the picture format enhances the beauty of its subject.

Exhibited in what is probably the most unattractive of all the buildings on the University’s campus, Wurster Hall, are huge paintings by Robert Kabak, ironically, a Professor of Design at Cal. Whereas Simpson works non-objectively in vertical stripes of color, strongly related to pure design, Kabak builds kaleidoscopic landscapes with repetitive triangles, varying the sizes from large to small to create a surprising spatial range. Moreover, he retains the image, using a low-keyed palette of colors selected to give the impression of landscape rather than to describe it. When his values are in a minor range, he suggests twilight and the mood is lyrical. But when he changes to major key, the triangles seem forced and the effect is one of trickery.

Berkeley’s Nicole Gallery, known best for its outstanding collection of pre-Columbian and ethnic arts, while featuring prints and ceramics by such internationals as Picasso and Braque, has never shown much interest in local painters. Sylvia Fein, a Contra Costa artist long recognized for her exquisite little distillations of back-bay landscape, is the exception. Miss Fein uses egg tempera and paints in very small scale. Her recent works make up the winter show at Nicole’s, and have to do with the sea. In reducing it to miniature, she has romanticized it both in color and action, and so presented a very feminine version, one that at times takes on the aspects of a dreamscape. Especially in those paintings where “Venus” rides the waves in the form of a pale green mermaid.

Studio C Gallery, like Nicole, is a commercial gallery, one of the few in Berkeley, where cooperatives seem to be more favored. Its winter show presents oil paintings by Dr. Tarmo A. Pasto, a Sacramento psychologist and art instructor, who terms his works “psycho-surreal.” And there can be no argument about that. He has forced landscape elements into a rhythmical but fanciful pattern, low-keyed and moody in tone despite the flying clouds and swirling line. There is about them that other-worldly quality that one sees in the lonely landscapes of the far north. To heighten this mood, Dr. Pasto has placed a graceful white horse in the frontal plane of several of them. The horse is looking into the landscape, he is not about to enter it.

E. M. Polley