San Francisco

San Francisco

various venues

A curious although not altogether unpredictable result of the Pop phenomenon in painting is the resurgence of a group of painters seizing the opportunity to reassert what is basi­cally naturalistic subject matter. Usu­ally the subjects are twice-removed from their natural or raw state and in that way reveal an implicit debt to the Pop practitioners. An example would be Warhol’s soup cans, first seen as three-dimensional objects stacked on supermarket shelves in mass displays, then schematically ren­dered in a series emphasizing their labeling with telling simplicity. At this point Warhol deliberately forces the cans into a fine art context by simply restating the illustration. It is a simple enough act in the context of modern­ist painting but one opening a rich vein for artists to mine as best they can. The synthetic nature of the sub­ject matter could be further demonstrated by transferring a color photograph taken of the Warhol painting onto a silk-screen and in turn printing the image on canvas. The artist as idea-man who conceives and hires out his “art work” to tech­nical specialists comes directly out of this transvestite treatment of humble objects.

The period genre paintings com­piled from old photographs by Robert Harvey share the archness of Warhol’s methods, if not the brutality of the former’s images. Once the photograph is chosen Harvey pares down the middle tones of his flapper ladies to an almost poster-like level. The cropped figures are revealed in cow-like torpor leaning against a vin­tage compact auto in the painting Aunt Dovie Comes to Visit. In this painting the air of workmanlike dis­tance from the implications or responsibilities of the twice-removed subjects is further enhanced by thin rich color whose not flat, not im­pastoed tactile quality puts the sur­face in a handsome limbo. By deliberately compromising the photo quality of his surfaces with a certain brushed lushness Harvey has achieved a sweet irony. The viewer thinks he sees painterly handling, but, looking further, realizes the illusion and sees instead exquisite retouching.

The single figure pictures are par­ticularly well-structured internally. Aunt Goldie on Broadway is an ex­ample, where the single figure is framed by her voluminous fur piece and cloche hat, while the deep space is nicely rendered and separate from Aunt Goldie and her finery. So, one finds a kind of artistic double stand­ard within the single body of Harvey’s work (on view at Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco). The first and largest group of works demands no more of the viewer than to be seen as blow­ups of period American subject mat­ter, the family snapshot. The second group begs to be seen in the context of a far older tradition than Pop, i.e., the Realist tradition handed down from Eakins, Homer and Hopper.

In the work of Mary Snowden, a twenty-six year old artist showing at the Quay Gallery in San Francisco, the viewer is presented with a di­lemma more and more commonly seen in young Bay Area artists’ ex­hibits. In the formation of a personal style Miss Snowden has jumped back­wards into an era of American art dominated by the Purism of Niles Spencer, Charles Sheeler, Grant Wood and Joseph Stella. Through these art­ists, her paintings of heavy structural and machine components echo the mechanistic art of Leger, Ozenfant and Le Courbusier. Her paintings are large and ambitious. Their surfaces are carefully handled and bear the marks of a first-rate painter-draftsman. She has the potential of becoming as fine a colorist as she is now a delin­eator. To paint through a series of styles is not, of course, unique to the youngest post-Abstract Expressionist generation. Arshile Gorky worked through Cézanne, Cubism, Picasso, Miró and Matta. Perhaps the Bay Region at this point in history offers the same set of choices New York offered before the Second World War. Another alternative is that Miss Snowden operates as an artist-solipsist seemingly independent of past or present styles. If the latter is true her position will become increasingly dif­ficult as the Bay Area is hauled ever faster into the maelstrom of the inter­national modern art world.

After a three-year period of show­ing only occasionally in group ex­hibits Sam Tchaklian’s exhibit at Bolles Gallery comes as a wel­come surprise. The paintings from 1964 to 1966 included in the exhibit continue in the artist’s personal Ab­stract Expressionist manner with some major alterations.

In the late fifties and early sixties Tchakalian’s tough, gritty use of paint and knotted snarls of paper laid into and on top of the painted surfaces of his large canvases gained him a good deal of recognition on the West Coast. During this period the artist did a few paintings without the paper added in the characteristically relief­like proportions. This series was in­formed by the other additive collage surfaces in the sense that the brushy paint would end abruptly in small areas, usually near the edge of the canvas, exposing another color or the untouched duck canvas. After work­ing with the multi-layered surfaces of collage and paint it is a natural, in­deed almost inevitable step to echo the earlier procedure. This is true in the newest paintings as well as in the transitional work between the col­lages and the newest work.

Tchakalian is much more a sensual painter than a conceptual painter. When one looks at, for instance, the painting entitled Tomato Juice, the sheer luxury of its thirty-six square feet of tomato-red color, broken only by a narrow yellow streak at the bot­tom edge is what comes across. Sim­ple formats with little visual incident are associated with artists as diverse as Robert Irwin, Barnett Newman or Ad Reinhardt, but, Tchakalian will allow impasto paint application, with the concurrent image-making poten­tial of the spontaneous brush marks, to enter any of his pictures at any time. In other words the ascetic self­-denial of Ad Reinhardt, so willfully imposed, is as far from Tchakalian’s painting ethic as is possible, in spite of certain visual similarities such as reductive format, large one-color areas and, in a few cases, uninflected paint handling.

The Triangle Gallery in down­town San Francisco with its well de­signed interior space has settled on a policy of continuous group exhibits featuring its regular gallery artists.

An artist new to the gallery, Ronald Chase, is featured with one large assemblage piece, refined and elegant and in a way paralleling the smaller boxes of Joseph Cornell. The structure is composed of forty-five roughly equal segments, each inter­acting with the others and yet each box curiously independent when viewed as such. The whole could be viewed as a political confederacy, complete with flags, a navy, an army, an air force and so on. The patina ap­plied by Chase to the hundreds of visual elements serves a unifying func­tion without obliterating or obscuring any of the parts. Chase is a serious and engaging artist whose work is excellent. The doubts one has from the few pieces available have to do with finish. The exquisiteness of con­cept is paralleled by overly chic fin­ishing of most pieces.

At the Gordon Woodside Gallery is a group of four artists from the Northwest, each confirming in his own way what the rest of the world has come to expect from the area. It must be a rather maddening experi­ence for four such diverse artists as William Ivey, Joseph Petta, Paul Hori­uchi and Gerald Urquhart to be so identified time and again, yet it does seem to fit. All of these men share a common concern for low-keyed trans­lucent color as if it were available only in Seattle paint shops.

Ivey’s large Expressionist paintings come out of a close association with both Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko. He shares with many second genera­tion Bay Area Abstract Expressionists a predilection for heavily-worked sur­faces with locked-in organic shapes. He differs from them in that he is an excellent colorist.

Paul Horiuchi’s casein collages are smaller works than are normally seen, but the same delicate handling and color relationships are there. Gerald Urquhart’s refined romanticism is near Callahan and Graves yet not as developed or interesting.

Joseph Petta makes very curious boxes that have the fantasy of pre­-Renaissance Teutonic altarpieces scaled way down. The boxes are somewhat over a foot square with painted coffers on their sides and added handles and decorations on top. Petta will be seen in a one-man show at the Woodside Gallery early in 1967, where an in-depth viewing will be available and welcome.

––James Monte