San Francisco

San Francisco

“Nathan Oliveira, Works on Paper, 1960–1969,” at the San Francisco Museum of Art, consisted of 124 small-format works of the class specified, ranging from casual sketches and graphic improvisations through serially evolving studies for paintings and prints, to carefully finished drawings. While drawings, gouaches, watercolor and acrylic studies predominated, a few lithographs were included, but only in the context of numerous prior hand-sketches leading to the finished conception.

The nine-year span encompassed by this specialized retrospective show revealed various phases of Oliveira’s development as reflected in sometimes startling contrasts of style and technique. An essentially Romantic-Expressionistic concern with the individual—the private man, whether isolated, anonymous and mute in those strange head-and-shoulders, featureless portraits of 1960 and 1961 with their mummy-like frontal rigidity; reflective and searching in the wistfully melancholy expressions of embracing lovers among his rather academic figure studies of 1966, or symbolized as paradox in the quasi-surrealistically grotesque pen-and-ink charade fantasies on heads and composite heads, executed this year—has been a central theme running through the various periods of Oliveira’s career. This manifestly comprehensive survey of Oliveira’s works on paper was chronologically distributed throughout three long corridors. A small brochure catalog was devoted to a closely printed descriptive inventory of the exhibition, prefaced with an appreciative critical essay by John Humphrey.

Graphic comment on the human condition, but in a societal context and in a transformation of the ribald spirit and political overtones of Renaissance satire, was likewise featured at the Graphics Gallery in a small exhibition affording initial public exposure to a series of lithographs by José Luis Cuevas entitled Homage to Cuevedo and executed between April and August of this year at the Collectors Press in San Francisco. The series, in boxed folio format, has been prefaced with an essay by Dr. Gunter Troche, Director of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Most of these lithographs are highly expressive satirical caricatures alluding stylistically to such diverse antecedents as Goya, Picasso, and George Grosz. While Cuevas’s work leans heavily on tradition, he is a sophisticated and imaginative virtuoso technician who occasionally explores novel resources of media and process with the discipline, restraint and taste born of manifestly stalwart academic sensibilities.

Eloquently simple free-forms maximally eliciting the smooth, translucent, glacial beauty of clear transparent sheet acrylic were exhibited by Gary Remsing at the Galeria Carl Van Der Voort. Remsing’s essential procedure is to work large, thin rectangular sheets of transparent acrylic into sweeping, but topologically complex, volumetric wave-forms and drapery-fold convolutions.

Installed as a suspended plaque was an opaque variant of Remsing’s procedures in plastic free-form relief, employing still, clear transparent sheet acrylic, but with a film of highly reflective silvery metal electroplated to one side of the acrylic sheet as an “under”-surface, creating an appearance similar to the so-called “silvered glass” of traditional Christmas tree ornaments. There were also a few pieces involving the laminar juxtaposition of clear and tinted strips of transparent acrylic. None of these variations and extensions of Remsing’s basic idea were as effective as the simpler homogeneous pieces.

Large scale planilinear structures in steel plate (surface rusted for texture) comprised the more successful portion of an exhibition of works by the young Rhode Island sculptor Michael Bigger at the Michael Walls Gallery. Foundry techniques, equipment and skills were obviously involved in the production of these metal monoliths in which a dynamically symmetrical architecture of clean, geometrically schematized shapes has been realized by variously bending and joining fin-like segments of the heavy steel plate. Some smaller pedestal pieces combining chromium surfaced discs and tubes into tidy designs frequently featuring frontal planes of bi-symmetrical organization seemed rather like decorative plumbing.

An optical-trick drawing demonstrating the familiar properties of densely meshed, black and white linear maze, some Neo-Dada contrivances, Zen-paradox charade assemblages and “an environment” incorporating non-programmed electronic audio-phenomena triggered by talking and other spectator-generated sounds in the gallery, all devised by Wayne E. Campbell, a young Berkeley artist, inaugurated a newly opened basement exhibition area at the Reese Palley Gallery (which announces intentions to operate it as an independent gallery unit with its own exhibition program devoted to West Coast artists).

Perhaps it was thought appropriate to open this gallery with a token nod to that peculiar, allegedly Zen/Gestalt-inspired “slapstick mystique” indigenous to the Bay Area, one of the chief real paradoxes of which lies in the fact that by persistence it has become a “traditional avant-garde posture” for each successive wave of graduates from Bay Area art schools. One exhibit—an opaquely blackened light bulb in an old-fashioned ceramic socket with a pull-chain switch, set high on the gallery wall and alleged to be “on”—epitomized the show.

The Arleigh Gallery recently installed an exhibition, unique in disposition if not compelling in content, of mixed media paintings and textile sculptures by Franklin Williams. The exhibited sculptures clearly continue with little change the lines of thought Mr. Williams developed in the anemonoid pincushions he exhibited at the now defunct Dilexi Gallery some years ago. The paintings are in truth large designs in acrylic on canvas with textile embellishments (sequins, bits of colored yarn, caterpillar-like stuffed cloth-capsules and the like sewn to the canvas) and a strong textile stylistic reference in the fact that Williams’ color schemes and elements of design consciously allude to the forms, symbols and colors associated with the once popular so-called “India Prints,” commonly available in most yard-goods stores. From the design of one such painting Mr. Williams decided to derive some 34 “two-sided box-paintings” which were stacked in toy-block arrangements around the gallery floor. These devices consisted of approximately six inch deep, two foot by three foot wooden frames, stretched with fabric on both sides; each side featuring a design consisting of some portion of the “master” or “key” wall-painting in magnified scale and somewhat elaborated in detail. Overlaying these painted box-faces was often a rectangular grid or net of colored string. Insect-like shapes, frequently with phallic biomorphic connotations, abound in Mr. Williams’ somewhat quaint mixed-media extravaganzas.

A retrospective selection of sculptures by the late Wilfrid Zogbaum, who died in 1965, initiated the fall season at the Hansen-Fuller Gallery. Sophistication, elegance and humor characterize Zogbaum’s sculptures. While he produced many highly engaging works in an “open network” style involving sometimes rectangularly geometric and sometimes “organic” or tree-branch-like frameworks of metal rod, often intersected with, or supportively entwining, a single polished stone or some abstract emblem in wrought iron—and these structures frequently had a suggestion of mechanism (although they were not mobile), as well as a vaguely comic anthropomorphic reference in overall disposition—he could work with equal facility and distinctive individuality of viewpoint in quite other ways. One of the most compelling sculptures in this exhibition was Horns, an almost minimalistically economical work, graceful and monumentally eloquent.

Palmer D. French