San Francisco

Richard Fiscus, Robert Maki, Connor Everts, Matt Glavin and Donald Campbell

Gallery Reese Palley, Hansen-Fuller Gallery

The GALLERY REESE PALLEY afforded San Francisco one of the most genuinely enjoyable gallery shows of the summer season in exhibiting a large selection of recent paintings by RICHARD FISCUS. In these paintings, which elaborate landscape themes in linearly defined, two-dimensionally schematized form-simplifications, relatively dense, overall meshes of linear patterning, emphatically stated in heavy, flat ribbons of black paint, engendered a mosaic of fragmentary interstitial shapes, each of which is “filled in” with a single, uniformly applied color. The compositions make oblique reference to the sort of landscape stylization popular in woodcut book illustration and linoleum-block printing during the Art Deco era of the 1920s. Yet these obvious characteristics of stylistic disposition, with their patent insinuations of commercial banality and their occasional paraphrase of the craft-kit cliché, are superficial and often deceptive features of this work, which is surprisingly far more compelling than it ought to be in view of its evident antecedents and the apparent naïveté of its method, and transcends, in its evocation of moods and esthetic recognitions, the merely decorative functions inevitably attendant upon schematized composition—as though a precocious intellect, at once subtle and disciplined, had, as it were, suddenly gotten hold of the craft kit.

Indeed, this is perhaps the crux of the matter, for this is not Pop art, but an extremely sophisticated, self-consciously cultivated pseudo-Primitivism contrived by a very gifted amateur possessed of broad art-historical and theoretical awarenesses and acute, sometimes brilliant, technical comprehensions, who hasmuch to say about both Primitivism and Pop art, and who has, as well, a genuine involvement with his pictorial subject matter. (Mr. Fiscus, who began painting in 1967, is an admitted self-taught novice and avocational amateur in art, with the difference that he is professionally a Humanities teacher, who has been for some years on the faculty of a major art school—the San Francisco Art Institute.)

Fiscus is a native Californian with strong feelings for the grandeur and variety of Western landscape and Pacific Coast seascape, both of which he explores with intimate familiarity in a number of series, each devoted to the terrain traversed by some well-known scenic highway, the road map designation of which captions the series. Hence, while Fiscus may whimsically indulge in an occasional syntactical hyperbole, as an aside in the contemporary tongue-in-cheek vein of art-that-comments-on-art, his total concept is far from merely the extravagant put-on it might appear to be at a casual glance. For he clearly regards seriously the challenge of making the devices unique to his pseudo-Primitive schematization communicate some of his responses to these panoramas. Thus, his considerable self-developed insights and resources have given rise to inventive employments of linear rhythms and thrusts, shifts in the density of “mosaic fragmentation,” and selective alternations in the tonal value of colors, with which he has been able to make his apparently restrictive schematic formula articulate such nuances as regional differentiations in atmospheric light and color and in the geologic composition or “texture” of specific terrain.

Series devoted to various panoramas of California 1 (which hugs the Pacific shoreline), to U.S.101 and to Interstate 5 (both of which Fiscus follows from California into Oregon in prolific series) and to Nevada 27 and Nevada 57 comprised most of the exhibition. In one very recent and exceptional East Coast study, U.S.322, #1, surveying strip of Atlantic beach, Fiscus abandons the deep blues and warm oranges that characterize his California 1 series for the soft, white-blues and pale yellows that typify the Atlantic seaboard. In this latter painting much is done with tangential thrusts and sharp clashes between vertical and diagonal movement as well as with the “syncopated metrics” of “off-phase” or non-congruent parallel sequences and non-regular spacing between repeated motifs.

Fiscus is a good colorist; Nevada 27, # 2 modifies his usual emphasis on two-dimensional patterning with a suggestion of deep space contrived by the perspectival convergence of lines delineating a long stretch of vibrant purple road bordered with white-ringed orange poles and dipping toward a stained-glass Lake Tahoe in the “middle distance”; a gorgeous painting evoking in its crisp sweeping lines and rich colorism the exhilarating splendor of the terrain to which it so abstractly and schematically alludes. Fiscus’s style lends itself naturally to color lithography, and his recent, initial experiment with this medium, Route 1, 1969, included in the exhibition, is remarkably successful.

After a lapse of over a year since closing at its former location on Clay Street the MICHAEL WALLS GALLERY re-opened in new and spacious quarters located in the posh Ghirardelli Square shopping complex hard by Fisherman’s Wharf with an exhibition of large, flat, black-lacquered aluminum wall plaques by ROBERT MAKI. The simple combinations of curves, straight lines and regular, sine-wave corrugations that comprise the edge contours of these monolithic, quasi-minimal silhouette shapes, were allowed optimal “resonance” and interplay, mounted as they were against the lofty, unbroken expanses of wall area at the new gallery. Indeed, “resonance” and cross-referential interplay are an important feature of these unique structures, which seemed to constitute a set—an interdependent environmental totality. Bisecting the black surface-field of all but one of the plaques was some single, tenuous, silvery linear figure—sometimes a wave-pattern running tangentially across the plaque, sometimes a segment of curve or angle. Each of these linear figures, however, repeated or “echoed” some motif from the silhouette outline of one of the other plaques, emphasizing their aspects of cross reference and interdependence.

Following the Maki show at the Michael Walls Gallery was an exhibition of recent paintings by CONNOR EVERTS. Everts, whose earlier show at this gallery’s old location consisted of small-format drawings and pastel studies expounding biomorphic fantasies in refined draftsmanship, featured in his recent show a group of acrylic paintings entitled the “Ultra Brite Series”—a set of flamboyant caprice-variations on a toothpaste-tube motif in that now familiar idiom of Pop art vernacular in which the scale, the schematized contour drawing in paint, and the sparse, dominantly emblematic use of flatly applied, blatantly unmodulated color, paraphrase the conventions of billboard advertising cartoons. The series abounds in jovial badinage, sometimes exploiting with playful audacity some of the funkier phallic-biomorphic references suggested by its motif.

At THE HANSEN-FULLER GALLERY (formerly Hansen Gallery) there has been for some months now a curtained-off area that seems to have become a sort of permanent darkroom for environmental-phenomenological systems, mechanical/electronic multimedia kinetic sculptures, and other art/technological installations involving special lighting effects or employing light itself, in specially modulated ways, as a medium. The latest such installation to occupy this room was Laser Environments, 1969 by MATT GLAVIN and DONALD CAMPBELL in which a spacious, transparent plexiglas enclosure mounted on a raised platform houses the visible elements of an extremely elaborate, multi-component optical system consisting essentially of numerous reflectors, prismatic devices and lenses (some fixed and others moving by means of machinery concealed in the platform) by which four laser beams are multiplied into many beams which transverse a complex optical circuit, spanning the enclosure with a web of visible beam patterns, as well as passing through the enclosure to cast moving light patterns on the surrounding walls.

The neatly ordered, complex arrangement of gleaming cylindrical and cubic shapes in shiny metal and crystalline plexiglass, which comprise the optical system’s visible components, embody most of whatever esthetic value the piece possesses, while the monotonously busy and somewhat eye-fatiguing mesh of beams and pulsating flashes—all in a uniform neon red—are, if anything, a detraction.

The term “laser beam,” of course, carries popular connotations of all that is on top of the moment in advanced technological sophistication, and such artistically irrelevant connotations are no doubt part of what is being traded on here—and, curiously, they backfire, since one is inclined to ask “What? All that, for this!” and to wonder if equivalently effective (if not specifically identical) results could not have been achieved with less pretentious means. Whatever its degree of technological sophistication, this gadget is artistically no more or less sophisticated than the best laboratory-scene props of the cinematized science fiction of two or three decades ago, and its total appeal (including its esthetic appeal), which is essentially theatrical, is of the same order. It is at best an engaging supertoy and requires for maximal response the unsophisticated, uncritical and unsceptical wonder-curiosity of childhood.

Glavin also exhibited a large selection of mandaloid abstractions in pastels from his series Variations on a Theme from Finnegan’s Wake. These somewhat over-preciously conceived esoteric pastiches are nicely contrived, subtly executed soft-edge abstractions in which cloudy minimal forms—crosses, spheres, ovoids and the like—glow ethereally amidst delicate pastel rainbows and opalescent mists.

Palmer D. French