Monday, March 30, 2009

Calligraphy, Art or Craft, and Does It Really Matter?

Calligraphy, Art or Craft, and Does It Really Matter?
An Illustrated Lecture by Charles Pearce
Thursday, April 2, 2009
San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
Latino-Hispanic Room. Lower Level
Reception 5:30 • Program 6:30–7:30

Charles Pearce was born in England in 1943, graduating from art school in 1965 with an MFA in Calligraphy and Lettercutting. He was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Society of Scribes and Illuminators of London in 1970, and emigrated to America in 1980. While living in New York City, he was the first (and thus far only) calligrapher to be awarded Artist-in-Residence status by the city.

He is widely respected as one of the world’s leading calligraphers and is the author of a number of books including The Little Manual of Calligraphy and The Anatomy of Letters. He has taught widely throughout Europe, North America and Australia, and was employed as a design consultant at American Greetings. His calligraphic work is in a number of public collections as well as several private ones, including those of Queen Elizabeth II. In 2003 he moved to Arkansas, where he has built a studio and residence just outside of Eureka Springs.

Current work projects include several large canvas pieces, and he is toying with ideas for a major installation if he can find funding. His Shakespeare series is now available as giclee prints, and can be viewed on his website,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shows to catch before the end of the month

Squeak Carnwath at John Berggruen
“Aptly titled, Was Am “refers to paintings I WAS doing and paintings I AM doing. ” There is an undeniable continuity in the vocabulary of her work throughout her career that is obvious in the 9 paintings and 2 works on paper on display here – an endurance of symbolism and diaristic expression that allows her work to be easily identifiable, regardless of the year of creation, as a Squeak Carnwath.” (228 Grant Ave)

Dolby Chadwick This is the last week for Joshua Meyer’s intricately and thickly painted abstracts. (210 Post St.)

Catherine Clark – Jim Barsness tantric and Hindu art inspired version of tankas (150 Minna St. between 3rd and New Montgomery)

Davis and Davis: Ring the changes at Marx and Zavverto
A project that started when the two artists began to replace the water intensive garden at their home with drought resistant plants. The resulting images, along with images from NASA and other archives, artistically and ominously document the evidence, results, history, and causes of global warming

Mudassar Manzoor and Attiya Shaukat: Contemporary Miniature Paintings at Frey Norris
In the 1980s the National College of the Arts in Lahore, Pakistan revived the ancient traditional styles of painting from the Mughal, Deccani, Pahari, Rajput and Persian schools. In keeping with these traditions, artists are trained in a precise, exquisitely detailed style of painting that begins with the meticulous crushing and preparing of pigments and other materials, such as hand made paper and hand threaded brushes. Madassar Manzoor and Attiya Shaukat are two up and coming artists from this school, both working with contemporary and often deeply conflicted themes. (456 Geary St.)

It's also the last couple of days to see Ursula O’Farrell richly layered paintings at Toomey Tourell (49 Geary)

and if you want some arts related reading to go with your coffee, read Liz Hagen's post at Venetian Red on the new options for the Fisher Museum at the Presidio. There's even a link to a website where you can post your own opinions:

Susan Middleton at Crown Point Press

Susan Middleton specializes in portraits of animals and plants, and her photogravures include a colorful portrait of a live octopus, two delicately colored flower images, and a touching picture of a specimen of the extinct passenger pigeon, almost iridescent against a velvety black background.

"I consider myself a portrait photographer. My subjects are plants and animals, and I hope to evoke an emotional response."Susan Middleton

Although most of the art produced at Crown Point Press is drawn directly on copper plates by the artist, printing a photograph as an etching has been for thirty years an option for artists working there. Until now, color was added to photographs with hand-drawn plates printed behind the photo image. Middleton’s color photogravures are the first with natural full color photographic images, each one printed from four photo-image plates (red, yellow, blue, and black). The photogravure process is as old as photography itself. It is hand-printed from copper plates and uses gelatin as the base for its light-sensitive ground. There is no halftone screen. Tones are minutely differentiated by sifting tree rosin onto the plate to create an aquatint, then etching the copper plates in acid to varying depths. Darker tones physically hold more ink than lighter ones. Images are as detailed as any photograph, and the surfaces are richer. The printing, however, is extremely time-consuming.

Crown Point Press
20 Hawthorne Street

The Crown Point Press gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 pm.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kentridge on uTube

In a comment to my post (below), Sheree of the Art and Life blog pointed out that there are a lot of William Kentridge videos up at uTube. When I went looking, I found more than “a lot,” I found a whole treasure trove. One of the things that I found difficult about the show was trying to watch his videos within a noisy, jostling crowd and in an environment where I felt rushed and pushed by the multitude of things to see. Watching them at home has allowed me to watch them in sequence and to understand them a lot better. Here are a few of his pieces but don’t just limit yourself to these; go and look at the whole body of work. The man (?) who posted them also has put up very astute commentary, which also deserves to be read. I often feel that SF MOMA’s shows are all contemporary flash and no content but that’s certainly not the case with this one.

Johannesburg the Second Greatest City after Paris is the first in this series, and was made from twenty-five drawings

Felix in exile

History of the main complaint

Sobriety, Obesity and Growing Old

Weighing…and wanting


The question remains: Is it fair for a white artist to be the most visible representative of post-apartheid South Africa? "William is already a mid-career artist, extremely prominent throughout South Africa during the 1980s," explains Cameron, in an article in Art Net (online). "It would be premature, if not impossible, to expect a black artist of the same generation to meet these criteria." Kentridge, who fully acknowledges the privileges and advantages of his position, in no way wants his artwork to erase or alleviate his sense of political responsibility: "Any white looking back at the apartheid era has to say, 'I could have done more.' "

Sheree Rensell:

Kentridge at SF MOMA

Deliberately primitive, hand drawn animated films, multiscreen installations, charcoal drawings - all desolate and melancholy reminders (do we need reminding) of the tragedies of our time. He looks at apartheid, AIDS, totalitarian governments - the nightmares of our generation and tries to hang onto hope. Aeschylus said it better in the Eumendies:And the brutal strife,
the civil war devouring men, I pray
that it never rages through our city, no
that the good Greek soil never drinks the blood of Greeks.
shed in an orgy of reprisal life for life -
that fury like a beast will never
rampage through the land.
Give joy in return for joy

But what do you do when the world breaks your heart?

In his review of the show, Lacayo wrote:

"He's attracted to it and deeply suspicious of it all the same. It's a reason he's been preoccupied lately by the brief heyday of the Soviet avant-garde in the years right after the October Revolution, before Stalin put his very big foot down and imposed the rule of socialist orthodoxy in all artistic realms. A short episode of utopianism that ended in its own flood of blue tears, those years seem to epitomize for him the absurdity and paradox of politics.

Kentridge has borrowed from the imagery of that avant-garde, the ecstatic and utopian imagery of Vladimir Tatlin and Kazimir Malevich, for a production of The Nose--Shostakovich's 1930 opera based on the Gogol story about a Russian bureaucrat who awakens one morning to discover that his nose has left his body and begun to pursue its own career up the social hierarchy...The nose climbs a ladder in silhouette (and tumbles down); a Cossack dances. On another screen are abject snippets from the 1937 trial transcript of Nikolai Bukharin, one of the multitude of old Bolshevik leaders devoured by Stalin. It's too soon to know how Kentridge will connect all this into a coherent production. But there won't be a diamond-crusted skull or a mirror-steel bling thing anywhere near it. That you can count on."

Memory and regrets, shame and guilt, betrayal and loss -- these are the primary issues in Kentridge's films, played out against a backdrop of political revolution. I appreciated the lack of bling but as I exited into the sunny but cold and windy SF day, I wondered at how much melancholy and sadness the human soul can take before it retreats into permanent depression or flees toward frivolity and fun. Sometimes the weight of the world is too much; that's the way I felt after seeing this show. I wonder, as I always do, what effect the artist's vision will have on those who see it - will they understand more, will they examine more, will they feel more? If the artist's duty is to bear witness through his art, what then is our duty? Where do we go from here?,9171,1886548,00.html
Review by Anna Conti at BAAQ:
Arschylus, The Oresteia (Penguin Classics, 1977).
images from Time website

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Kerry James Marshall at SF MOMA

The first artist to receive a commission through SFMOMA's Art in the Atrium project, Kerry James Marshall is known for a rich and varied body of work that includes large-scale paintings and installations focused on issues of racial identity, black history, and the urban experience. Marshall has created two murals for SFMOMA, one for each of the large walls flanking the staircase in the museum's Haas Atrium. Titled Visible Means of Support, these works depict Mount Vernon and Monticello, estates of the Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. This interactive multimedia feature explores the murals.
There's a wonderful photo essay up at Civic Center with very astute commentary from SF Mike:
who also provided the link to the interview here:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wayne Thiebaud on KQED

It's been an extremely busy week at Chez Namaste Nancy. At the invitation of Meredith Gandy, the associate arts publicist for KQED, I got to attend their reception honoring four awesome women, "unsung" heroines of the Bay Area. Unfortunately, because I was at that reception, I missed the episode on Wayne Thiebaud with a rare interview with the 88-year old artist. When I lamented this, Meredith pointed me in the direction of their arts page, where all the Spark episodes and much more are uploaded.

Originally a commercial artist, he returned to college after his WW II service, eventually earning a degree and teaching at UC Davis. In the 1960, during a visit to NY, he was inspired by the work of de Kooning, Kline, Rauschenberg and others to launch the paintings of food that became part of the pop iconongraphy of our time.

Although Thiebaud may be best known for his everyday subject matter, his works are also painstaking examinations of the fundamental language of paint: light, color, space, composition and surface. Each canvas offers him an investigation of a series of formal problems. A painting of a bowl of cherries might reveal a study of varied light effects, while a San Francisco cityscape might allow him the opportunity to play with rational space. I found this section particularly fascinating, given that I had just seen the Staprans exhibit at Hackett-Freedman whose works have some echoes of Thiebaud but whose treatment of paint and subject matter are different.

Spark visits with Thiebaud in his studio as he prepares for a traveling retrospective of his work from the past 50 years, including more than a hundred paintings. Though many of the paintings were completed years before, Thiebaud tirelessly works and reworks aspects of images that he wants to change, often building up the surfaces of his backgrounds, resolving the image, then reopening it again.

If you missed the original airing, the show will be repeated on Fri, Mar 20, 2009 -- 11:30pm and
Sat, Mar 21, 2009 -- 5:30am

There are also some new posts up at Bay Area Art Quake:
Other Thiebaud Links:
CBS Sunday Morning:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Staprans at Hackett-Freedman

Raimonds Staprans began drawing views of boats and water from his house in Riga, Latvia, as a child. Escaping first from Latvia, and later from Germany, Staprans emigrated to America with his family in 1947. At the University of Washington, he studied with Alexander Archipenko and George Le Brun, who had a profound influence on him. The artist had his first San Francisco exhibition at Maxwell Galleries in 1955, following master’s degree studies at UC Berkeley. Now in his late 70's, he still actively exhibits in both Europe and the United States.
Stapran's hot, vibrant color, vigorous line and geometric forms bear obvious connections to the works of the Bay Area figurative artists of the 1950s and 60s, particularly, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Roland Petersen. Legendary S.F. Chronicle art critic, Alfred Frankenstein, once described Staprans' landscapes as "among the finest examples of nature-in-abstraction being produced hereabouts."

His work also shows the inspiration of Wayne Thiebaud's highly schematized compositions and candy-colored palette. But beyond this connection, Staprans looks back to the flattened space and stylized forms of Matisse and C├ęzanne.

Staprans himself has stated that he is "an abstract painter whose objects are recognizable and sometimes quite realistic, but [in reality] they are all … constructed from the ground up in absolutely abstract terms.… There is very little truth in [them]."2 His boxes, landscapes, and rolling fruit are, in the words of Art in America critic Michael Duncan, "settings for compositional tussles that have an essential logic and meaning."

An accomplished playwright, Staprans’ writing explores the tension between fact and fiction, totalitarian ‘reality’ and human truth, set against his Latvian homeland’s 20th-century history. His play Cetras dienas junija (Four Days in June), about the last days in office of pre-Soviet occupation President Karlis Ulmanis was a cultural and political watershed in Latvia in the late 1980s and played an important role in the county’s democratic revolution in the early 1990s. In 2003, Staprans was awarded Latvia’s highest civilian honor, the Three Star Medal, the equivalent of the United States’s Presidential Medal of Freedom.

At Hackett-Freedman to May 1st. This will be their last show open to the public and while I am extremely saddened to see the gallery close, it's appropriate that they end with with this stunningly beautiful exhibit.

1. Michael Duncan, "Raimonds Staprans: The Philosophy of On, Under, Nearby, and Through" in Raimonds Staprans (San Francisco: Hackett-Freedman Gallery, 2003)
2. Interview with art historian Paul J. Karlstrom for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
3. "Raimonds Staprans: The Philosophy of On, Under, Nearby, and Through" in Raimonds Staprans, p.3.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New series at SFMOMA

Each Thursday evening, one of SFMOMA's curators shares a perspective on a single artwork on view. Talks last 20 minutes and take place in the galleries. This looks like a very interesting series of lectures. Tomorrow night the lecture is given on by Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher on Simon Ungers's Silent Architecture.

“This complex project is a study of four types of civic structure — Library, Theater, Museum and Cathedral — buildings that often employ grandiose architectural gestures in order to become recognizable symbols of the city in which they reside. Comprised of four untreated steel models that recall Minimalist sculpture, austere plans and monumental renderings, Silent Architecture is ideal for opening up several issues within design.”

Some of the exciting topics to come are talks on William Kentridge, whose piece "What Will Come (Has Already Come)" is now up at SF MOMA; Sarah Roberts on Robert Rauschenberg in Matisse and Beyond and John Aarobell on Sargent Johnson's "Forever Free."
Check the website for the complete list:
Image from SF MOMA website

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hackett-Freedman gallery to close

I knew that SF wouldn’t be immune from the current recession. One of my favorite galleries, Gallery 415 at 49 Geary has already closed although Claudine still does business privately and via her website. But Hackett-Freedman is such a long established business that I thought it could weather the downturn. Unfortunately not! They will be closing to the public on May 1st, after the last exhibit featuring Raimonds Staprans and Marc Trujillo. Their last public exhibit will open on March 12th with a reception from 5:30 – 7:30 PM and will close on May 1st.
Founded in 1986, Hackett-Freedman Gallery exhibited 20th-century and contemporary painting and sculpture, with particular expertise in postwar American and Californian art. Over the past twenty years, the gallery has developed a reputation for representing superior works and for organizing the first major west coast exhibitions of many notable 20th-century artists. Their website is a gold mine of information and their exhibits have almost always been well thought out and organized.

Their long list of notable exhibits included works by Louise Nevelson, David Park, SF Abstract Expressionism and an exhibit on American Women painters. Last year, they held the first US exhibit of the works of British artist Patrick Heron and a comprehensive look at the final works of Bay Area painter David Park. While the gallery will still remain in the same location, it will be only showing works to private collectors - which will be a great loss to those of us who love art but don't fall in that particular category.

Given this sad news, this letter to the NY Times is very appropriate:

Money for the Arts

To the Editor:

Re “Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force” (Arts pages, Feb. 16): Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia argues against allocating stimulus money for artists, saying, “Call me a sucker for the working man.” So be a sucker for artists!

Most of us are hard-working Americans, putting in long hours for low wages. Many of us are union members. If legislators really think we are such useless members of American society unworthy of scarce taxpayer dollars, then they should propose legislation exempting us from paying taxes.

Until that day, stop mislabeling and misunderstanding us and acknowledge that we contribute as much and deserve the same benefits as any other American taxpayer — no more and no less.

It is irrational to hold a belief that somehow artists are not a vital part of this country’s infrastructure. Look around you. Our work and our influence are everywhere.

After all, that money you say artists don’t deserve, who do you think designed and engraved it?

Monika Gross
New York, Feb. 16, 2009

250 Sutter Street, Suite 400
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 362-7152
images from website

Friday, March 6, 2009

Robert Motherwell at SFMOMA

Neither image is currently on view but there is an insightful post on Motherwell up at
Robert Hugues essay on Motherwell (Time Magazine archives on Line),9171,877895,00.html

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Little Boxes at Femina Potens

Tomorrow is First Thursday and all the galleries will be showing new work. But for something unique, check out the new show at Femina Potens. The group show of assemblage by women artists tells stories that are personal and profound, with roots in both surrealism and women's history.

Femina Potens is in an interesting space that's gone through many changes. I remember it when it was an occult book store, then a leather store and now, a feminist art gallery. It's an oddly shaped room, right at the corner so it's perfect for a gallery with a lot of light and street traffic. The huge window always have something interesting on display - currently there are life sized paper cutouts of women which deal with issues of weight, sexuality and body image.

Opening reception March 7 at 7:00 pm
Exhibit runs March 7 to 29, 2009. Gallery hours are Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6:00.
2199 Market St. in the Castro
Image from gallery website

Monday, March 2, 2009

Museum of the African Diaspora: Decoding Identity

The show – Doing it for my people ends March 8th so there is still time to catch it. I’d say that the works exhibited are more notable for their political intent than their aesthetic effect but there is one stand out piece: Seated Above the Salt or 1st Ladies Presidential Torture Chair, a mixed media piece by Ramekon O’Arwisters (2007). In this assemblage/altered media/found sculpture piece, the first part of O’Arwisters’ title refers to the salt trade. Since time immemorial, salt – was – and still is in many parts of the world - a valuable commodity which is also used as currency. To be seated below the salt was an indication of low social status. In medieval times, the saltcellar, a richly ornamental item, was placed in the middle of the table. If you sat toward the head of the table, you were of high status; those who sat toward the end of the table of lower status. A further play on the title also refers to “salt of the earth” – those who produce the goods and services that keep society moving and salt as an item necessary for human health.

The other part of the title comes from a fable invented by O’Arwisters. In this modern fairy tale, the wife of Andrew Jackson uses the chair to coerce her husband to end the massacre of Native Americans. She is able to get him to abide by her wishes even though she didn’t have the right to vote – possibly by forcing him to sit on the highly uncomfortable chair.

The assemblage consists of three freestanding pieces, lined up in a straight row, a static rather than a tableau vivant. The chair’s surface is encrusted with a plethora of objects - various shells, both caramel whirled white garden snail shells and African trade cowry shells, buttons, pins, tiny items of jewelry, opalescent glass beads, blue and pink jigsaw puzzle pieces, round and oval shaped tiny mirrors, nails, fetish objects and other pieces too obscured by the overlapping layers to be identified. The small mirrors haphazardly placed among the jumbled debris covering the chair, reflect light back from the viewer. There is no one predominant color; each tiny item brings its own color to the back, seat and legs of the chair, resulting in a varicolored, crazy quilt, rock-like and organic appearing surface. The broken elements of the design – the encrusted chair, the nailed boxing gloves, the wine glasses filled with salt – make their points through their implied politics rather than through their artistic appeal but the piece has a power and strength that is unique.

Decoding Identity: I Do It For My People Featuring the works of 20 multicultural artists who challenge cultural and ethnic prejudices.

Image from website