San Francisco

Raymond Saunders

The first drawings by Raymond Saunders that I remember seeing were in “Thirty Contemporary Black Artists,” organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1968. At the time I had wished Saunders would push harder. More flash, more vigor, more something. He has just had a one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and although I still wish he were doing something different, I have feelings of great warmth for what he has actually done. He reminds me of Giorgio Morandi and Julius Bissier, who worked in small scale, as Saunders does—the most common size in this show was 6 1/4 x 8 1/2 inches—and who seemed more interested in being very good than in being important.

At a quick glance around the gallery I saw scribbles in colored pencil. The scribbles are there, but there is exact draftsmanship as well; one finds a bit of sky filled with clouds of many colors, or a terraced Mediterranean city. There are gumdrops and, as collage elements, a great number of red hearts. Saunders isn’t all sweet; his rubber stamps often say something innocuous, such as AIR MAIL, but sometimes they say BULLSHIT.

A Chicano photographer I know recently formulated a question he must answer daily; “Can one be a Chicano artist without making pictures of Richard Nixon all the time?” The same kind of question weighs on other third-world artists and on whites who favor social change. Saunders is aware of the black thing; he. attended the First Pan-African Festival in Algeria, and he has traveled in Africa. In this show there was a line of tiny capital letters that read AMERICA FOR AMERICANS WHITE AMERICA, there were several bloated faces that might be interpreted as satirizing the overfed white middle class, and BULLSHIT is not a word of unqualified affirmation, but it was not a show of Angela Davis posters.

Saunders is clearly moved to some extent by the world around him in the choice of his subject matter; in his choice of a not very assertive form he seems to be pursuing an esthetic vocation rather than trying to become a blunt instrument or social change or making a great splash in the art world.

Jerome Tarshis