Los Angeles

Frank Lobdell

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA)

This is the first major retrospective exhibition of one of San Francisco’s most influential painters. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Lobdell’s presence at the California School of Fine Arts emerged as the dominant force in the inculcation of the moral/intellectual attitudes of Clyfford Still, an approach that has seemed to dominate much Bay Area painting and sculpture up to the present moment.

In being confronted with the vast body of Lobdell’s work one is impressed immediately with the consistency of a morphological approach to image and paint application that attempts to tear loose archetypal figures and to present them for analysis suspended naked on the wall. One is aware of constant, subtle transformations of the same basic imagery from painting to painting, but at the same time, there is no sense of a consciously derived style. Rather, there is a sensibility that controls color and activates the entire canvas space in a manner that implies a dredging up of deep unconscious states.

The significant work involving this extremely personal tenor dates from about 1953 with the group of large black and white paintings dominated by metamorphic variations on an almost human form embedded in a heavily painted white ground. From this series he proceeded to carry this imagery through various permutations evolving a dark, almost melodramatic, manner losing and rediscovering his ethereal images in what was generally a pitchy, forbidding blackness. As he approached the sixties color became more and more dominant, brilliant reds and yellows took over from the darkness and, in the work from 1961 to 1964, the imagery became well-defined and magnified, often phallic or brutally erotic, divided into cell-like structures and substructures, brilliant, with the previous sense of figure-ground separation becoming more and more complex with dramatic passages occurring near the edges rather than within the central areas. Finally, in the most recent series of paintings, those of 1965, the old image, heightened color and organization, is exploded. The colors merge into grey and the image is shattered across the entire picture plane, often incised into the heavy grey surfaces bringing a sense of intense, often erratic activity to the painting space.

The parallel between Lobdell and Still started with a content structure based upon a sort of personal moral crisis involved in the act of making paintings; but where Still took an increasingly distant, almost classically cosmic stance Lobdell kept to the personal, the romantic exploration of the darkest, most dangerous dimensions of his inner space.

Don Factor