San Francisco

Tom Akawie

Palace of the Legion of Honor

These paintings were part of the last phase of a group of shows mounted in the San Francisco Museum of Art this summer. Now that the season has begun in earnest museum-goers will be subjected to a constant fare of package shows specially designed for provincial museums; and experimental work, at least as far as the museums are concerned, will go back underground. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor (whose policy has been traditionally ‘moderne’ rather than ‘modern’ or that even newer contemporaneity ‘modernist’) regularly shows working contemporaries month after month. Rumors (and even threats) indicate there is a move afoot to force each museum to do likewise or be closed! Such action is long overdue. The Legion’s present show is of the recent paintings of Tom Akawie. There is only one of his diagrammatic ground plans of cathedrals in the show. (Even after I had learned what they were intended to represent, I continued to react to them as cross sections of engines and pumps; they seemed very machine-age.) I suppose the actual transitional work is represented in this show, as well as the new idiom. The transitional pieces are centered, often star paintings, some of them as small as medallions, sort of secret occult objects. The paintings are sprayed, very complex (simplicity with multiplicity), precise and colorful, but avoiding noisy combinations. As jewellike mandalas, devices for meditation, they are quite hypnotic. They reflect a period of growth (and probably uncertainty). No one tries to find certainty so urgently unless he is uncertain. These paintings have a mystical center: a seven-pointed star that tends to make the eye move and does not bring it to rest say, as a six-pointed star does. Akawie’s seven-pointed star has longer points like a spur rowel. The symbol could be read as finding movement and change in stillness. In the painting Target Star Landscape Akawie found squares within circles, straight and on edge, as polished and machined as some sighting mechanism, centering in on a minute landscape, about eye-sized. Probably the round landscape came next. It is a very mild Volcanic Island, without soot or fire and smoke that would make it hard to see, but with a silky, marcelled cloud of steam on a calm cool sea. Tornado is more convincing with its ominous yellow sky. His panoramic fantasy landscape of the southwest is not as different from his arctic landscape as my experience has led me to expect. These are landscapes of the mind—and of the spray gun, which he uses with masterly virtuosity.

Knute Stiles