San Francisco

Louise Stanley, Donna Mossholder-Herresoff, Donelle Paint, Ann Shapiro

San Francisco Art Institute

I initially saw the work of Louise Stanley, Donna Mossholder-Herresoff, Donelle Paint, and Ann Shapiro in a corner of the San Francisco Art Institute exhibition, “Paintings on Paper”; those two walls became remarkably magnetic for me—without bombast, without scale, reverting to a menagerie of innocent/symbolic/cathartic imagery, the paintings succinctly outshone their surroundings. The stylistic common denominator among them—small pieces of paper adorned by the artists “circled, up,” as Paint says, “over a small, pointed, sharp brush, somewhat like painting one’s nails,” in a complex, personal, faux-naïf, communally-derived figuration—is a deceptive, dangerous tightrope. Taken too playfully, pursued with too little bite, it can become cute, pseudo-guiltless, boring (as other people’s dreams are boring, signifying everything and thus nothing) replications of an internal, belle époque, “Peaceable Kingdom” Americana; driven too far into slashing, acidic, sociosexual muckraking, it can become editorial cartoon overkill, like Peter Saul. The four stick to a genuinely felt ambivalence, which is a superbly decorative (all the light and fruit and clarity of the best watercolors) and poignant synthesis.

Louise Stanley is, to me, the best pure painter of the group. Surrounded by an elfin forest of low-art bric-a-brac, hosting (as do the others) casual “drawing parties,” and delicately exploiting the old “exquisite corpse” device, she obtains a clumsy luminosity reminiscent of Marsden Hartley or John Kane. Donelle Paint, a recent California College of Arts and Crafts graduate, as are all except Ann Shapiro (if the communal Feminism is indicative of the Bay Area in general, the modest naturalness is pure Oakland), is the most artful theatricalist; her stage manager’s sense of event keeps the picture engaging beyond the first breeze of primitivism (none of the four are actual primitives, but I’ve never understood the special virtue of awkward beauty which is the result of real incompetence instead of deliberate design). Donna MossholderHerresoff’s academically proficient, rendered arabesques of crib decal animals are a little slick and air-tightly pretty. But, through sheer density, and a little humor, they wear well. The most obviously militant, movement-oriented pain t in gs are Ann Shapiro’s; with gray-ish, chalky colors, she browbeats the point that, as one of the paintings is partially inscribed, “you gotta have a cock to get along.” I think she succeeds esthetically—through the attractive-repulsive insistence on sagging breasts, crystal clear body hairs, strained, painful, attenuated figure drawing, and powerfully “bad” design—in spite of the stridency of her editorial. It’s a moot point, however, whether an outsider can ever feel the full weight of the rhetoric, without himself/herself being in the same fix as the protagonist (the inherent weakness of propaganda art).

I run the risk, certainly, of being charmed out of my better judgment; in an overall context of thundering, straight-ahead, “issue”- oriented,structuralist art, it’s easy to be fooled by pictures evoking those halcyon days (the artists are still in their twenties) when one indulged in the equivalent of “painting love affairs, dime store stuff, people from Dave’s coffee shop, flea market experiences, trivia, arguments, reflections of those close to me, listening to strangers’ conversations on buses, coming home shocked, gasping at their lives, painting my mother primal screaming and no one hearing her, thinking about that woman just off work from some bar or another at 3:00 a.m. . . . I make art from all of this.” But I think not. There remains, like a sure boulder in the swirling fog of intellectual art, the primary rightness of art as a psychic vehicle, an interior-directed instrument of “consciousness-raising” (to borrow the movement’s term and, possibly, indicate its ultimate, staggering radical reform of the art game). It is a clear, startling mark of where we’ve come to that “junior high realism,” as Louise Stanley calls it, can be so vitally touching.

Peter Plagens