San Francisco

“Arts of San Francisco”

Various Venues

Reviving the practice of its excellent “Arts of San Francisco” program of over two years ago, the San Francisco Museum of Art inaugurated its 1970 exhibition calendar with three concurrent one-man shows by Bay Area artists, in this instance, Jerry Ballaine, Fletcher Benton and Sam Richardson. Installed as the Museum’s feature presentation for the month of January this triad of exhibitions occupied three large galleries and comprised an in-depth survey of recent trends in the work of these artists.

Mr. Ballaine was represented by 20 vacuum-formed-plastic wall plaque reliefs from his 1969 Air Tight series. While the plastic shell plaque format has engaged Ballaine for some time this recent work propounds the simplest unit shapes he has yet devised. In form these square pillow-like shapes, often “quilted” by a lateral indentation into two or more transverse pods, tend to resemble segments of an inflated air mattress. In basic hue and texture the processed plastic material as Ballaine employs it would seem to be of a cloudy opalescence, like smooth frosted glass; however, to this base he adds various kinds of pigmentation, opaque as well as semi-translucent. Form, color and texture ’are integral, not only esthetically but physically in these structures, since the space enclosed by the plastic shell functions as a sort of optical resonance chamber—a lenslike airpocket illuminated by, and diffusing, light and color transmitted through the plastic material and reflected from the wall surface behind it.

Lush amalgams of the visual and tactile properties of plastics are also of primary concern in the work of Sam Richardson, who continues to develop his concept of the volumetric or sculptural landscape. His most successful format for this is the cube of two or three interlocking separable layers, and his latest, and perhaps most exquisite application of this design is to be found in a group of iceberg studies exploiting various exotic juxtapositions of gem-like, deep purple semitranslucent plastic blocks (for ocean) with velvety, whipped-cream icebergs.

Kinetic graphics rather than kinetic sculpture seems the most appropriate designation for a large number of Fletcher Benton’s recent machines. Central to most of these devices is a frame or window across which either discs or panels of colored transparent plexiglass move—some from left to right, others from right to left—passing one another in various permutations on parallel tracks to produce simple, kaleidoscopically shifting geometries of color—kinetic stripe paintings and color-disc compositions in which combination colors alternately emerge and vanish as the pieces of tinted plexiglass cyclically converge, overlap and separate. Benton’s earlier work commonly featured such a perpendicular plane of essentially kineticized two-dimensional design; however, he left the machinery visible to contribute an aspect of in-the-round, kinetic-sculptural quality. Now his usual practice is completely to conceal the machinery in simple, chromed-metal enclosures behind or under the window-like or screen-like field.

At the California Palace of the Legion of Honor the exhibition “Ancient Jewelry from the Mediterranean Area,” organized by Mr. Robert Gallagher to coincide with the meeting in San Francisco of the Archaeological Institute of America, was distinctive, and brought together many unique items of the ancient jewelsmith’s craft from important private and public collections in America. Allocated by anthropological and archaeological categories into fifteen wall cases throughout the Museum’s terrace floor exhibition area, an extensive selection of pendants, rings, fibulas, medallions, bracelets and necklaces spanned a period from the Iron Age to the late Roman and Byzantine times. Elegantly crafted, exquisitely designed pieces from the Hellenistic period, and such precious and spectacular items as the Roman gold pendant from Egypt of the 3rd Century A. D. framing a life-like portrait bust in miniature, represented a state of the art as fully developed and sophisticated as that pertaining to European master jewelsmiths from the Renaissance to the 19th century, and constituted the focal objects of the exhibition’s popular appeal. However, this show offered particular rewards to the archaeological art historian and anthropologist in its exceptional assembling of representative adornment artifacts in various metals and stones from numerous significant regions, periods, and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. Mr. Gallagher’s clear, scholarly notes elaborating the various historical, cultural and ecological factors bearing on the design styles, craft methods, materials and functions (practical, as well as ceremonial and magical) of the jewelry contributed much to the educational value of the exhibition.

The eight large (11’ by 7’) paintings comprising the first one-man exhibition of work by Joel Bass at the Michael Walls Gallery reveal a young painter of startling inventiveness, who brings to his debut exhibition a sensitive talent already mature in its capacity to work through ingeniously conceived formal problems. Bass is interested in combining certain dynamisms of color-grid techniques with some aspects of the vigor and freedom of Abstract Expressionism and the prism-like perspectival fragmentations of Cubism. The result as seen in these canvases, collectively entitled “The Lime Kiln Creek Series” are some ebullient compositions in which regularly spaced thrusts, either vertical or horizontal, are crossed and interrupted, tangentially by a less regularly defined diagonal sequence, in a broken grid, the segments of which are constantly and sometimes ambiguously cross-defined between two or three subtly contrived optical depth levels. The general impression imparted by this method of composition is of a labyrinth of fractured panels, permeated with an overall sequential movement of jagged color patches; the effect creates a varied “landscape” over the surface of the canvas, rewarding of scanning and contemplation.

Bill Geis, exhibiting sculpture at the Berkeley Gallery, processes and molds plastics to create hard, shiny, crustacean, biomorphic shapes (often, indeed, resembling segments of a huge bleached lobster claw) which he employs as the dominant elements in assemblages into which he also introduces structures of wood, bits of cloth and other materials, as well as commonplace manufactured objects. His recent work thus continues to develop the expressive possibilities of combining plastic biomorphic “free-forms” with geometrically shaped and arranged appendages of various materials, which characterized his exhibition of over a year ago, by introducing figurative allusions, words, and iconographic symbols and images. Occasionally a flippancy seems out of place, almost as though arising from an extraneous defensive compulsion to disavow the serious, mood-content and reflectiveness that motivated the statement.

Palmer D. French