San Francisco

San Francisco

various venues

A recent exhibition at the De Young Museum of the paintings of Kenzo Okada executed between 1952 and 1965 presents the viewer with a built-in dilemma. Those familiar with Okada’s work of the fifties through the early sixties were delighted at the opportunity to see a large comprehensive exhibition of his work. During these years his own brand of Abstract Expressionism reached a peak of formal development based on tilting atmospheric planes. Each plane was carefully considered, taking into account its backward and forward thrust as well as its own uniqueness as silhouetted shape. Color is rarely aggressive in these paintings; rather there is a feeling of implied atmosphere, as if the work demanded its own local color, completely outside the considerations of what blue does to green or red is to yellow. The rigor of these paintings is in their organization and Okada seems to have felt the necessity to couch these ambitions in the most self-effacing color. The late paintings, those completed in 1965, are drastically reduced statements in terms of Okada’s own history. The forms are larger, more frontal and are painted with less reworking of their surfaces. The dilemma of these works is that in Okada’s particular case the reduction is not a happy one. He is too talented to paint a really bad picture, but he almost succeeds in works such as Silver 1965 and Plum 1965. Both these paintings are inert to the point of lifelessness. They haven’t the rigor either coloristically or formally to carry as visual statements. Okada seems to miss his former involvement with rich paint with all its possibilities for adjustment and change as the work progresses.

Mason Wells’ paintings at the Quay Gallery reveal this artist in a position that continues to improve with each exhibition. His training as an architect is evident in the formal choices he makes both structurally and coloristically. The vertical shapes resolve themselves more firmly against their ground planes than in the past, although at times there are backward-forward jumps that seem unnecessary. Wells refuses to firm up shapes and delineate their edges, and as a consequence the highly abstract and formal nature of his paintings is relieved by the brushiness of their surfaces. The difficulty of this situation is largely one of control. Mondrian’s agonizingly adjusted paintings are a case in point. At each stage Mondrian found he could reach a decision by placing a tape exactly where he felt it should be. If it wasn’t exactly right he moved it until it was right. The point is that one can zero in on a problem if a solution is offered in the least ambiguous terms possible.

In his latest show at the Hansen Galleries, Arthur Okamura is caught in the midst of a major change within his painting. The exhibition contains a great many small watercolor and acrylic paintings on paper completed within the last six months. For the last two seasons Okamura seems to be searching for alternatives to his former Abstract Expressionist pursuits. These works tend toward the obsessive studies of both Blake and Fuseli. The hallucinatory images of landscapes, visionary plant life and, occasionally, a human form, are filled with discreet anxiety.

Geoffrey Bowman’s tinsel encrusted abstract paintings at Hollis Gallery are strange works for a number of reasons, the first being that they are so jammed with forms that one must visually sort through each one to discern what is taking place. An artist like Bowman really suffers from a one man show, since there are usually simply too many things to see at one viewing at one time. After the initial sorting has taken place, a certain grimness is evident in spite of the bright reflective plastic, the reds, oranges and yellows and the brilliant jittery forms. It is as if the world had turned into Woolworth’s Department Store, filled with fragmented war toys.

Jim Adamson’s exhibition of sculpture at the Arleigh Gallery reflects the current sculptural trend toward reduced surface incident as well as a renunciation of composition and design. In a sense no one gives up “Design.” It is always there as much as the material one works with. What is renounced is the arty look of balanced forms and asymmetrical organization. Adamson’s appropriation of aluminum tubing, perhaps six inches in diameter, as a basic working material is a good choice since it has such an impersonal kind of surface. By filling the tubular elements with sand, they can be bent into desired configurations. The tubes are then truncated at various angles and sprayed a uniform grey color. The sculptures are installed in the gallery without bases and often butt directly into the wall at the top and onto the floor at bottom. Because the work seems so natural in a room it has the quality of a series of indoor vegetables, ready to be picked.

Leslie Kerr’s exhibition at Dilexi Gallery reveals this former Bay Area artist now residing in New York to be occupied with the same visual concerns as in his previous two shows. The almost abstract canvases reveal modeled and highlighted forms enigmatic in their removal yet suggestive in implication.

The painting entitled Snake looks like a snake only because it is a coiled form. It could be a depiction of a stuffed satin image of a snake that refers back to the original. It is as if Kerr were trying to reassemble still life painting without losing his essential modernity.

James Monte