Monday, January 4, 2010

Cantor Art Center: Sixty Figure Drawings by Frank Lobdell

Frank Lobdell Figure Drawings
November 11, 2009 – February 21, 2010

Before the war, Lobdell had studied at the St. Paul School of Fine Arts in Minnesota and attended the California School of Fine Arts from 1946 to 1950. Lobdell saw combat during World War II and had developed a dark and angst ridden style that reflected his emotional reaction to the horrors that he had lived through. By the 1950’s his pieces showed the influence of Clyfford Still with their rugged paint surface surrounding gnarled and convoluted shapes. His painterly vocabulary was vaguely suggestive of archaeological and American Indian images, boomerangs, rhombuses, sun discs, wing shapes, ragged claws and obscure pictography. These were inscribed with heavy black lines in grounds of thick, heavily worked white paint, which was the only material he could afford at the time. (1)

The drawings on display at the Cantor Art Center stemmed from a 1959 invitation to join some fellow artists and teachers in a weekly drawing session. Diebenkorn and Bischoff were concerned that their art work – abstract at the time- was becoming stale and repetitive, They had decided to return to figure drawing to recharge and rethink their artistic eye and vocabulary. Diebenkorn found an inexpensive paper in Crown Zellerbach warehouse which held a crisp line while still being able withstand heavier applications of gouache and ink. Lobdell continued his drawing practice after moving to moving to Stanford University in 1966, where he taught art until 1991. There, the members of his drawing group included fellow instructors Nathan Oliveira, Keith Boyle, and others.

Essentially a nonfigurative artist, Lobdell used these weekly drawing sessions as a springboard to develop a vocabulary of abstraction that was informed by a study of the human body and grounded in the formal issues of expressionist gesture and line. What evolved from this was to change the focus of his practice so that drawing became his primary means of finding an emotional voice.To further understanding of their different approaches, the museum has juxtaposed Lobdell’s drawings with several by Diebenkorn, Bischoff and Oliveira.To further understanding of their different approaches, the museum has juxtaposed Lobdell’s drawings with several by Diebenkorn, Bischoff and Oliveira.

In these drawings, never intended for publication, patterns and textiles become aggressive force fields. The nude figures flow and sprawl across the space; the focus is not so much on their anatomy but on an investigation of spacial complexity. His forceful, clotted line suggests bulk and volume while also radiating an aggressive, sometimes angry eroticism. “Gesture, attack, informs the drawings,” he reflected. The point was not to illustrate something, but to “find it. (2)

In the catalogue essay, Robert Flynn Johnson writes. “The starkness of flesh is achieved through the use of the untouched or lightly washed paper against the dark-washed background interiors. There is an unabashed sensuality and spirit to these women. The eroticism comes in part because they are not depicted as individuals but as a universal female presence.”...natural, alluring, and somewhat dangerous.”

There is nothing new under the sun. From Praxiteles to Courbet, artists have been inspired by the challenge, eroticism and sexual charge of working from a live model. Praxiteles scandalized ancient Athens by working from a live nude model who was also a hetaera. Courbet's painting, "The Origin of the World" was considered so obscene that it was not displayed in public until 1988. There are more than enough drawings which seem to focus on the pubic triangle, but as one who has attended many a life-drawing session, these may not be anything more than the artist working out problems of line and volume. Nevertheless, the circles of the breasts, the triangle of female sexuality, the geometry of the space, the black and white of ink, gouache, pen and pencil radiate power and energy; whether they also radiate a “dangerous sexuality” is up to the beholder.

Organized by Anne Kohn and Associates, the exhibit of approximately 60 figure drawings will be up until at the Cantor Art Center until February 21, 2010. Works are on loan from the artist and private collections and from the Cantor Arts Center's own collection. Admission is free to the museum and the exhibition.
1. Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1945-1985. University of California Press, 1985. p 46
2. Lobdell, Frank and Anglin, Timothy: The art of making and meaning.  p 221.

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