San Francisco

Ernest Posey and Wesley Chamberlin

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

In a group of paintings at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Ernest Posey seems to be displaying his acculturation to the Northern California way of life. Since his last one-man show in San Francisco, at the Galeria Carl van der Voort in 1968, Posey has become more flamboyant in his use of color and hipper in form.

Two pieces from the earlier period, #155 (1967) and Four Ellipses (1968) were in this show. Their typical form is an ellipse painted in a light color on a dark background,part of the perimeter flattened, with straight lines radiating from one of the foci. Even when the colors were technically warm, the emotional effect was very cool. At that time Posey’s work seemed to fall neatly into the straight edge-and-compass, Constructivist category preferred by his former dealer, van der Voort.

Posey’s art has warmed considerably. His outlines still run to circles, triangles, and ellipses, but when he creates textures he no longer confines himself to the neat radii; he also uses marbling and areas of haloed points glowing in a dark field. Where his work once looked austerely geometric, it now looks psychedelic. In my favorite piece, The Heart of San Anselmo, the voluptuous quality of Posey’s line is reinforced by his colors, which include a burnt sienna wholly at variance with his former tendencies.

Also at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts has presented a show of prints by Wesley Chamberlin. The work on display was completed during the period 1961–70, but it did not produce that sense of emotional plethora that often comes with seeing ten years of an active artist’s production. For one thing, it was a small show; for another, the prints were sedate and often sad.

More lively and sportive than the rest was a series of lithographs whose titles included the word “creamtart.” I especially liked Double Creamtart in the Heart of Texas. The phrase “double cream-tart“ apparently describes a pair of phallic objects. Another element repeated in this series suggests a cross section of the vagina.

After my gaze withdrew reluctantly from these pelvic diversions, it fell on a number of still lifes more typical in mood of the work in this show. The objects represented were drawn in a painterly way, with small gradations of value, and I found myself tempted to exclaim, “Ah, there’s a candlestick,” which is not a very classy way to approach a work of art. Still, it was one way to stave off depression while looking at these elegiac prints. A downer by a talented artist who has shown more exciting work.

The gallery of the Berkeley Art Center, an octagonal room with a ceiling that reaches for the heavens, looks like a cross between a Romanesque chapel and a petrified circus tent. It is hard for a visitor to concentrate on a bit of wall or a bit of floor without being continually aware of the room as a whole. I am therefore grateful to the Center’s director, Carl Worth, for having recently presented several exhibitions that used the space to strikingly good effect.

Jerome Tarshis