Wednesday, March 30, 2011

George Tooker, 1920 - 2011

George Tooker who died yesterday at age 90 was largely known for one painting, The Subway (1950). The cause was kidney failure according to DC Moore Gallery, New York, which represents the artist.

You may not have known the name of the artist but you certainly were familiar with the image. Tooker's Subway has been reproduced thousands of times.  It's alienated message has been seen as the underlying zeitgeist for our generation.There is an air of mystery about his work, Words like “enigmatic,” “unsettling” and “baffling” spring readily to mind when trying to come to terms with his art.

Subway, 1951

Tooker, often called a symbolic, or magic, realist, worked well outside the critical mainstream for much of his career. "Symbolism can be limiting and dangerous, but I don’t care for art without it,” Mr. Tooker told the writer and cultural critic Selden Rodman in 1957. “The kind that appeals to me the most is a symbolism like a heraldic emblem, but never just that alone: the kind practiced by Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca.” (NY Times)

A deeply spiritual and contemplative man, Tooker painted with a deliberative method partly dictated by his temperament and partly by his chosen medium. In the 1920's, Tooker began studying with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League of New York. Paul Cadmus introduced him to egg tempera, a traditional Renaissance medium that produces a rich, lustrous quality yet requires meticulous application. His visual inspiration also came from the early Renaissance, from Giotto and Massaccio. 

Even his Coney Island paintings of the 1950's convey more of a timeless alienation than the sleazy, sexy carnival world conveyed by Cadmus and Marsh. A stricken swimmer is cradled in a woman’s arms in a reprise of the Pieta. But resonances with Michelangelo or Piero della Francesca do not go far either. Where painters during the Renaissance surrounded the dying Christ with grieving disciples, the figures grouped around this injured swimmer are indifferent. Each is locked in his or her own interior world. Whatever the fate of the swimmer may be, there is no hint of redemption.

Waiting Room, 1957
He was the master in conveying icy bureaucratic nightmares, rooms full of mysterious cubicles, exiting to endless corridors to nowhere. Tooker used his technique as a means to engage the viewer. He asks uncomfortable questions, to which there are no easy answers. Paintings like his 1957 work, Waiting Room or The Teller evokes both social alienation and the pressure toward intellectual conformity. Big brother is watching.

Government Bureau, 1956

Subway struck a nerve in an America already haunted by the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunt and attendant Cold War horrors. The Whitney Museum of American Art purchased it for its collection directly from the exhibition, a signal honor for a young painter like Tooker. A year later, he had his first one-man exhibition at the Edwin Hewitt Galley in New York City. In 1956, the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased Government Bureau, a brilliant work turning the ordinary frustrations of dealing with mindless regulations and triplicate forms into a surreal depiction of the Orwellian world inhabited by millions of hapless citizens around the globe.

By the normal standards of artistic accomplishment, Tooker had “arrived.” However, official recognition of his work largely stagnated after 1956. Tooker’s career did not exactly go into eclipse, but he certainly was no longer on the inside track to further success, which may partly explain why he and life long partner Christopher relocated their home to Vermont in 1959.

Why he never achieved more popular recognition or critical acclaim is a bit of a puzzle.  Obviously Ab Ex was the seen as the uniquely American and revolutionary art movement of the day. It was extolled by figures such as Nelson Rockefeller as “free enterprise painting.” The most influential critics of the day, Greenberg and Rosenberg, declared it the art movement of the century. People usually go along with the crowd, whether that involves buying art or buying shoes. What's declared in, goes.

The Ward, 1970-71

But that's not the whole answer. Perhaps the real reason was more political than artistic.  But in a cursory look, Tooker's work was too close in form to the "enemy's" (i.e. Russia's socialist realism). Although far different, his evocations of alienation, and enigmatic messages were (and are) deeply uncomfortable to confront. He presents work that suggests moral dilemmas and never gives a clear answer to the way out, sideways or upwards

 Dark Angel.

“His narratives are so mysterious that viewers have to look deeply into the paintings,” said Marshall N. Price, chief curator at the National Academy Museum in New York, which organized a retrospective of Mr. Tooker’s work in 2008. “You cannot look quickly at a Tooker and then turn away. And the work is filled with so many references to Renaissance painting, there is so much mysterious iconography, that for art historians it’s just fascinating.” 

 Embrace IV
 'Mr. Tooker, who is survived by a sister, Mary Tooker Graham of Brooklyn, was notoriously reticent about the meaning of his work. “I don’t examine it myself, and I don’t want to,” he once said. But he did reflect on the change in his later work. “I suppose I don’t paint such unpleasant pictures as I used to,” he told American Art magazine in 2002. “I got to be known for unpleasant pictures. I think my pictures are happier now, with fewer complaints.”  (NY Times)

Obit from the NY Times:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joe Carcione and the Green Grocer

For those of us of a "certain age," Joe Carcione WAS the expert that you checked out before buying produce. Long before it became popular, he recommended that we "keep it simple." He was at the produce market every day at 4 AM (@!) and we always knew that whatever Joe recommended was checked out in person.

Before there was South Beach, Joe advised us to cut down on the carbohydrates and fat. His "Joe Carcione Special"  consisted of shredded cabbage in place of pasta, sauteed with onion and garlic, and topped with marinara sauce and grated cheese. Read more about him and the upcoming lecture in San Mateo at:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another weekend, another costume show

Balenciaga and Spain opened at the de Young last Saturday. I have had a house guest so I haven't had time to write about it but fancy clothes for rich people really aren't my thing. While I agree that the clothes are beautifully made, I have to take "their" word for it because I wouldn't know a satin slip knot from a running stitch. The Spanish influence on his designs is obvious but the show's curators really stretched a point, claiming that Mr. B was influenced by the great Spanish painters. Would you believe that society evening dress with bows down the front was influenced by Goya? No, me neither.

Hamish Bowles, the show's curator and European editor for Vogue told some amusing stories which broke up the usual back patting that passes for introductions. Now, I could have listened to a lot more of his stories because he was both knowledgeable and amusing. Janos G, my fellow journalist at the Examiner, joked that the museum was going to be renamed. He had such a straight face that I almost believed him until he followed up with the punch line about the new name - "The Costume and Textile Shop" (or words to that effect). 

I know that this exhibit will be popular and will bring in the crowds and the cash.

But it does get tedious looking at clothing - if it's January, February, March or December, we are going to have another designer costume show?  

This particular exhibit also has a lot of over-the-top hype. Claims were made that wearing Balenciaga clothes would make every woman look fabulous. I. Don't. Think. So. Not if you are short and chubby as many of us are; the women who wore his clothing were not only richer than Midas, they were all slender (the benefit of having a cook) and beautifully groomed.  Plus, the space was so dark that we were having trouble reading the labels. AND we didn't get a real catalog but a thumb nail drive with the catalog on it - and it's damned hard to read.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The big enchilada. Our male dominated art industry.

This fits in so very well with my numerous posts on "where are the women artists." There has been a lot of internet chatter about the lack of women represented in Tyler Green's annual March Madness challenge. He asked readers to vote on the “greatest work of art since World War II.” 

Sharon Butler coordinated a cool and intelligent response on her blog, "Two Coats of Paint." The essay is in two parts. The first part is a response to Tyler Green's choices for which he denies any responsibility. According to him, they were done by "committee" and it's look ma, no hands. Mr. Green has become very defensive about the contest but it points out how easy it is to leave out women and minorities. The second part of the essay starts making lists with other people's choices. It's a fascinating look at contemporary art and raises some very important questions. Who decides? Who questions the decision makers? 

There is a marvelous film by the Guerrilla Girls which looked at these issues. Made over 30 years ago, it shows that the questions they posed are still relevant - and for women, people of color and other marginalized artists - still very painful and present.

The list was put together by a guest panel of five curators.  It features a total of 64 works of art. Of these, a sum total of three are by women (Cindy Sherman, Maya Lin and Marina Abramovic). Two are by artists who are non-white (Kerry James Marshall and Lin, who is in for a two-fer). Almost all of the artists represented are from the U.S. or Western Europe. Andy Warhol makes the list five times. Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns are each represented by four works, Gerhard Richter gets three hits.

As Carmen pointed out in her blog at C-Monster:
"I’d never be the sort to oppose a good gimmick to goose web traffic, but it did rankle me to see this list. For one, it seems to tell a very narrow of art history. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, provided the labels are cleared up: In which case, we could re-baptize the tournament “The Best Art Work Created by a Dude Living in in London, New York or Berlin Sometime Between 1945 and 1960.” (But I suppose that doesn’t have that same ring to it.) Two, I was disappointed to see that a blogger who has taken arts institutions to task for being less than diverse, would publish a list that appeared to be the exact opposite. Three, I had to wonder if the world really needs that many Jasper Johns flags. I mean, really..."

From Brian Dupont's blog.
"This is the second year Tyler Green has given his readers a set of brackets ostensibly for the art world. Last year he pitted the America’s abstract painters against one another (Cy Twombly beat out Ellsworth Kelly for the crown), but this year’s version is a bit more problematic. He aims to present a tournament of the greatest post-war works of art, but has instead managed to expose just how ingrained some of the systematic biases that haunt art and its attendant institutions can be....more at:

Sharon Butler: "The answer is that because Mr. Green’s game has managed to illustrate quite succinctly how easy it is to exclude women and minorities and still have everyone involved remain blameless. Whether it be a small lark of a bracket or the larger art world, it is too easy to point at a system or process as an excuse without actually examining who set up the system or how. It may be “just a game”, but games allow us to distill and process some of life’s messier and complex interactions into a simpler form that is more comprehensible for its abstraction. In short, they make it easier to see what is fair, and I think it becomes very clear that the system as devised is not (either in the brackets or the art world)."

"The degree to which I resist calling these "the greatest works of art of the last 65 years" is the degree to which I would also challenge the lists of the "experts" on the same premise. This exercise exposes the false objectivity, false hierarchy and false certainty embedded in the narrative of greatness. In particular, the conception of artistic achievement in terms of single "master"pieces is a crucial flaw if the goal is to identify artistic importance. It privileges a certain type of brilliant, amazing and important work over other equally or even more important work in a way that does not feel truthful." (Butler, Two Coats of Paint).

The lists that have been posted are fantastic, far more comprehensive and thorough that Tyler's original contest. Do read the comments on all the blogs. It's well worth your time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Farewell to a legend: Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

I fell in love with her as Rebecca in Ivanhoe and couldn't understand why the hero chose the insipid blond over the sultry, violet eyed, dark-haired beauty. I certainly understood why the evil George Saunders was in love with her - who wouldn't fall in love with Elizabeth at 16? Her beauty was amazing but after I got a bit older, most of her roles didn't interest me and the voice (breathy, thin and a bit high) really bugged me. 

But - another caveat - her role with Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" continues to hold up. Can there be any movie with scenes more beautiful? 
When the domed George (Clift) says to Taylor's character, "I love you. I've loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I've even loved you before I saw you," the scene resonated long after the film credits rolled to the end. 

Unless, of course, it's Paul Newman and Liz? "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?—I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can..."
- Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Act 1

Like many others in the 60's, I enjoyed the Liz and Richard soap opera. They loved and lived on a grand scale. It was more interesting to me than any of their film roles.

After they divorced, I lost interest in her life but at least she avoided the one of the pitfalls of aging actresses - poverty. The drugs almost got her but she pulled herself out of that pit, even if the marriage to Larry what's his name could be seen, in retrospect, as the action of some one whose brain had been damaged by too many little white pills. 
But what a life she had! Seventy roles, eight marriages; as the NY Times obit says, "she was beauty incarnate." They admire her acting more than I did but one things for sure - she was a survivor, a generous and loyal friend and somebody who raised money for AIDS research before it was popular. I got to meet her once when she was here, raising money for the AIDS clinic when Dr. Paul Volberding ran it. Oh Lord - that was 20+ (?) years ago? She was so magnificently beautiful that I simply couldn't believe it. She was also a diva but nice about it - and who could blame her. She was Hollywood royalty and a far cry from the trash that inhabit the place these days.

Vanity Fair:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Indeterminate Stillness, Whistler at the Berkeley Art Museum.

Rotherhithe (Originally published as Wapping). 1860. Etching.

Last week I braved the rain to get over to to the Berkeley Art Museum to get a better look at two shows, the one on abstract art and the exhibit of Whistler etchings. 

click on the link to pay the writer (c'est moi)

Indeterminate Stillness looks at Whistler through the panoramic range of his prints, which he made throughout his career, creating nearly five hundred etchings in addition to lithographs, linotints, and engravings. This exhibition also celebrates an extraordinary gift by Sharon and Barclay Simpson, avid collectors of Whistler’s graphic work and longtime patrons and supporters of the University of California and particularly of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The Simpsons’ generous gift of sixty-two prints by Whistler spans the thirty-year arc of his career and includes works from Whistler’s most important print series, such as The Thames Set and both major series of Venetian prints

I've always liked Whistler's work and felt that it was unfortunate that his cantankerous personality and vitriolic wit has obscured his very real achievements as a painter. One would like to think that Whistler the artist flies clear of Whistler the celebrity, the "character."

What can you say about a man who titled his autobiography, "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies?" His invention of self, his public persona as a work as art remains as fiercely impressive as Oscar Wilde's. Whistler was one of those artists whose legend continued after his death and became a barrier to proper appraisal of his work.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Whistler was the son of a railway engineer, in fact, the first son of a second marriage which saw more than its share of childhood deaths. But throughout his life he pretended to be a Southern gentleman and gave himself a completely invented pedigree, complete with fake military adventures and honors. He spent his early years in Russia where his father was designing the St. Petersburg-Moscow railway for Czar Nicholas I. From the very beginning he was a difficult, unruly child, impossible to discipline and rebellious. 

When Whistler was 15, his father died, leaving the family penniless. His mother insisted that he have a "regular" career instead of the artistic career which he desperately wanted. She arranged for him to enter West Point, which he hated from the very beginning. He eventually flunked out. "Had silicon been a gas," he would say later, "I would have been a major general." He left for Paris the next year, aged twenty-one and never returned.

It's unfortunate that his most famous painting, Whistler's Mother, or "Arrangement in Black and Grey" was the one painting of his up at the recent show of Impressionist work at the De Young. For the painting that made his reputation, a portrait of Jo Hiffernan, his Irish mistress and model, was done earlier and is much more representative of his virtuoso subtlety. (I believe that it's in the National Gallery).

His art unlike his public persona, was evocative and subtle. But his artistic creed was bold and revolutionary. He believed in "art for art's sake," which went against the Victorian view that art should convey some sort of moral lesson.

 `Art should be independent of all claptrap-- should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it, and that is why I insist on calling my works "arrangements" and "harmonies".'

In 1877 the critic John Ruskin denounced Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1875; Detroit Institute of Arts), accusing him of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Ruskin was the Lord High Chamberlain of British art and although already showing signs of the madness that would haunt his later years, still retained his power as a critic. 

Whistler's impressionistic and evocative style was, of course, the very thing that Ruskin hated most. He thundered from his bully pulpit, "The ill-educated conceit of the artist ... approached the aspect of willful imposture," and "I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." The national press quoted and requoted this at once, and there was no way around the fact that such a widely circulated opinion from a critic regarded as the supreme English authority on art would do grave damage to an artist's career.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Nocturne in Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge. 1872-75. Oil on canvas. Tate Gallery, London, UK. (aka the pot of paint..)

Whistler sued him for libel the following year. He won the action, but was only awarded a farthing's with no costs.  In effect, it was a justification for Ruskin. Potential patrons were repelled by the negative publicity surrounding the case, and the expense of the trial led to Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. His house was sold and he proceeded to Italy with a commission from the Fine Arts Society to make twelve etchings of Venice.

He spent a year in Venice (1879-80), concentrating on the etchings-- among the masterpieces of 19th-century graphic art-- that helped to restore his fortunes when he returned to London. The etchings that Whistler produced were unlike most during his time. The manner in which he etched seemed more like painting, as he avoided deep dark lines but rather took advantage of hashing and shading.  He also avoided the picaresque scenes of Venice that were so popular at the time, eliminating humans from his etchings as much as possible, creating masterpieces with the barest suggestion of shapes. He sought out the non-tourist Venice, half-hidden courtyards, shadowed doorways, architectural elements or shimmering light on the watery highways and byways of the canals. 

"If Whistler had been content with pieces of studio exotica and Japonaiserie, he would not have his place in art history. He wanted to go further, integrating the "Japanese aesthetic" into the texture of late-nineteenth-century European experience. Whistler was enrapture by the half-seen, the evanescent, the image that vanishes almost before it can be named. " (Robert Hughes, Nothing if Not Critical). 

 The Traghetto, No. 2. 1879-1880. Etching and drypoint. Kennedy 191, between iv and v. 9 1/4 x 12. Series: “Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings”

Oscar Wilde acknowledged in 1889:

Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps.... To whom, if not to [Whistler], do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace curved bridge and swaying barge? The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art."

Unfortunately, the BAM does not many images on their website so these images of his etchings are captured from all over the web.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Red Flannel Hash with poached eggs

It's the day after St. Patrick's and I'll bet that your refrigerator is filled with corned beef. Well, never fear. If you are a frugal cook, leftovers won't last long enough to become so lethal that you have to throw them away.
Click on my link at the Examiner to reward the cook - top of the art blog category and also top of the food blog section (c'est moi).

Better recipes, better corned beef (she did it herself) and just a great blog:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekend Picks: Eight Galleries, One Lunar Mission

Super moon over the Mission: Eight Galleries, edgy, contemporary art, world music and Las Palmas. Could anybody ask for more? 

Performance at Galeria de la Raza

Bouquets to Art at the De Young: It's closing tomorrow and the galleries are packed, even the usually empty ones upstairs. The floral arrangements are amazing, really reflecting the art works that they are mirroring.

Janos Gereben, my journalistic compatriot at the paper version of the Examiner gave this a "top pick" review. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Colcannon

No matter your origin, on St. Patrick's day in San Francisco, EVERYBODY is Irish. We all drink beer, hang out at an Irish pub, eat corned beef and cabbage and get very sentimental over the 'old sod.' Well, possibly the kegs of beer have something to do with the sentimentality (and the ensuing hangover)?. But with greens and potatoes at bargain prices, how can you resist?

Read more at: 

Who was St. Patrick ?

Monday, March 14, 2011

A prayer for protection and places to donate

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.

Places to give: 
Doctors without borders

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Meatless Monday; Popeye says eat your greens!

I've decided that there is no way that I can photograph cooked greens and make them look decent. So, today I got some good photos at the Civic Center and had a great time as well.

The chard looks so amazingly fresh and crisp that I wanted to eat it raw.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Creativity Explored copies the old masters

Located on a busy stretch of 16th street between Delores and Guerrero, Creativity Explored has been helping artists with developmental disabilities since 1983. Their motto is "where art changes lives, " and if the sunny, vibrant space, packed with colorful art is any sample, they are only stating a simple truth. As visual arts instructor Pilar Oblarria exclaimed, 'there are so few resources for people with disabilities. The closing of so many mental hospitals and facilities over the last decade has made the situation go from problematic to critical to catastrophic.' That's why what Creativity Explored does is so important and they do it with heart. 

'Where in San Francisco can a visual artist (with disabilities) find a great art studio, six hours a day of painting, sculpture, mixed media, conceptual art, performance, unique conversations, and sweet dispositions? At Creativity Explored, of course.'

 After Picasso. Hanh Chau and Pilar Obalarria. @ Creativity Explored

More than 120 studio artists work in their two dynamic, fully-equipped studios in the media of their choice. Completed artwork is sold through the gallery. The place is vibrant with art works, sunny and cheerful and many of the artists are only too glad to chat with visitors. Their latest exhibit is a take on an traditional practice, learning how to be a painter by copying the old masters.

Venus on a clam shell. After Botticelli, Alan Ku. @ Creativity Explored.

There isn’t an artist in the world who hasn’t been influenced by a master from the art canon. Looking at and recreating the artwork of others is not only how artists gain inspiration, but also how they enhance their visual repertoire and sharpen their technical skills. Appropriation, now considered a genre unto itself, remains a significant component of art education programs and an integral part of many artists’ practice.

The Masters is an exhibition that celebrates this long tradition of learning from art greats and also one that encourages participation in the ongoing debate about authorship and copyright in the visual art world. Ann Kappes, Creativity Explored Marketing & Business Development Director and curator of this exhibition says, “Creativity Explored artists have not been immune to the complicated issues of ‘authorship’ as some of their works have recently been licensed for mass production and others have been under scrutiny for referencing the names of brands or celebrities.”

Girl with a pearl earring. After Vermeer by Walter Kresnik. @Creativity Explored. 

Walter Kresnik created his own Girl with the Pearl Earring (c. 1665) after Johannes Vermeer’s revered painting. Kresnik lent the bejeweled young lady an expression refreshingly more lighthearted than the original, and used a loose, expressive hand – characteristic of his many portraits – to draw her with colored pencil and watercolor on paper. 

 "Cakes, " after Thiebaud.Camille Holvoet. @Creativity Explored.

Camille Holvoet has been working at the Creativity Explored studios since 2001. Her preferred medium is oil pastel, and she is best known for her drawings of luscious cakes, pies, and pastries. An obvious parallel can be made between her work and the work of Wayne Thiebaud, and her tribute to Thiebaud’s Lemon Cake (1964) is in the exhibit, along with other colorful delightful works. Holvoet's works bear a resemblance to the original but have a fresh, colorful and sunny charm that is all their own. 

 Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses sours (c. 1594). Andrew Bixler. @Creativity Explored.

Says Kappes, “I want this exhibition to demonstrate that CE artists, just like other practicing artists, like to have fun with art history while also showing off their skills and creativity.” 

Artist Andrew Bixler perfectly illustrates her point. His work in The Masters is a spirited ink and watercolor portrayal of Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses sours (c. 1594) – the anonymous yet recognizable painting of a woman pinching her sister’s breast in the bathtub. Bixler fully animated the original characters, adding fluidity to stiff gestures and whimsy to stoic facial expressions. It’s just what the painting needed – a touch of modern humor.

Exhibition Dates and Times: March 3 through April 20, 2011; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, Thursday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, and Saturday from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Creativity Explored Gallery, 3245 16th Street at Guerrero Street, San Francisco CA 94103   (415) 863-2108 (all images courtesy of Creativity Explored)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Soup glorious soup

Research in the digital age

Ah, memories of research in both history and art history via a great post on the blog, Right Reading. When I was officially working toward my MFA, we had several lectures how to use on-line records. The worst one was a French data base, where the rules were so arcane that even the librarian didn't quite understand them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gifts of the Goddess

When Anna and her "homies" visited my studio last week, I pulled out several of my small books to show them. I am in the process of scanning them in order to make copies that I can sell but this is one that I had photographed. In these pieces, I work in an almost completely intuitive way, using found imagery, going into a meditative trance. Each small page is full of paint, ink, pencil and collage, making these very fragile works. In this piece, I've worked with images of the female, intertwined with symbols of birth, rebirth, time and the movement from one spiritual state to another.

The book opened out, accordion style.

Inside front page

Monday, March 7, 2011

Silvia Poloto - a conversation with the artist

After I wrote my post about the upcoming art to be shown at Cafe Museo, I got the following e-mail from one of the artists, Silvia Poloto:

From Silvia Poloto

I just read your post in your blog about my upcoming show at SFMOMA Cafe Museo, and I really appreciate you mentioning me and my work.

However I just wanted to tell you that I don't think that work is decorative at all.
You said :  (ummm..the PR release is a bit too much hype for these brightly colored, glossy pieces but they are pretty and would add a decorative element to a bland room).

I would love for you to come over to my studio and see the works in person, and I am sure you would change your mind about them being decorative or finding the PR release to be too much hype for the work.

 I believe my previous work may fall into the "decorative" category.
After losing my husband to a brain tumor 2 years ago I went through a major transformation and so did my work.
I actually think I have found my voice, and I am pretty excited about it.

Please do not take this email the wrong way. I am not offended.
It's just I thought you should see the work in person and I would love to meet you anyway. My studio is in the Mission, you are welcome anytime !

My replay to her was:

I am flattered that you read my blog!  First of all, my condolences on the loss of your husband. I heard you speak at Gallery 415 in 2008  or 2009 (??) and I believe that you mentioned his illness at the time but I didn't realize that he had passed away.

 I had NO intention of causing you (or any artist) any pain. But I saw your work at Open Studios last year and thought that your palate had changed, i.e. become more somber but still felt that your work was decorative, in the best sense of the word. (* see the comments section for more thoughts on "decorative).

Now, I have no problem with work being decorative - many great artists did work that is now considered "decorative." Think of the great Italian painters from Giotto to Tiepolo (and beyond). They decorated walls and had no problem with that.

BUT if you want to send me a nice image and a rebuttal, I'd be delighted to post it in my blog. I LOVE LOVE LOVE feedback and never think that I am right all the time. The images at the SFMOMA Artist's Gallery website weren't big enough (IMHO) to really show the difference. Now, I know that you are busy so if you don't want to do this, I can fully understand.

If you are doing Spring Open Studios, I will probably go by your studio to see your current work and I certainly will look at it when it goes up at Cafe Museo, my favorite place to get an early latte. But I don't want you to think you have to go out of your way to show me your pieces; I've liked your work for years and fell that your success is richly deserved.

In fact, the fact that you write to an obscure blog to correct any misunderstandings of your work is proof that you work harder than most artists at making sure your unique artistic voice is heard.

To continue - she did send me some images and I am posting some of them here. But I urge everybody who reads this to get over to the Cafe after March 15th and decide for yourself. IN fact, get over to the Cafe now so that you can enjoy Kim Froshin's work and then, compare it with Ms. Poloto's equally beautiful but very different pieces.

silvia poloto  |  442 shotwell st  |  san francisco ca 94110   |   t + 1.415.641.5878   m + 1.415.305.7470   |   |

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My first column as a food writer for the

Comments, criticism and input welcomed..

Friday night with Sandy and Nancy

Last night, Anna and some of her "gang of artists" came to visit both Sandy Yagi and my studio. I've written about Sandy in the past - her work is gloriously macabre with a delightfully fiendish attention to detail and a unique imagination.

"I met Sandy though Anna and have become intrigued by her Gothic visions, part medieval, part post-apocalypse, but always uniquely hers. She brings an impressive level of skill to her work - a rare facility with oil and imagery, a sense of humor and an imaginative vision of unknown worlds that almost, but not quite, seem like ours. It's as if we are a parallel time line to the worlds that Sandy imagines, a different evolutionary track but one which seems quite plausible until you look more closely. With Sandy's work, it's always important to look more closely. "

Sandy showed us some of her new work in progress and screened videos for us. The videos were amazing - two skeletons dancing like Fred and Ginger, a claymation piece with snakes (!) and a monologue about working for corporate America, something that a lot of us can relate to. 

New work in my Studio at 689 Bryant.

Then, the whole gang trooped over to my studio at 689 Bryant. I didn't have Sandy's sophisticated videos or her chocolate cookies either (didn't want to ruin my dinner) but people didn't seem to care. It was a thrill for me to show work that hadn't surfaced in ages, including drawings that dated back to my SFAI days. 

 Remembering Norman

Dale, one of the crew, remembered Norman Stiegelmeyer who was a great influence on me in my early days in SF. I pulled out my small books which I am very protective about showing, due to some nightmare experiences of theft in the past. They are also very fragile and I watch over them like they were my children - which, in a sense they are. I've done some of my most personal work in these small books, the best of which are in a couple of university library collections - done before the days of digital photography! But Anna came up with a great idea for me to make them into books for sale, by scanning them and using computer software. 

 Homage to Gertrude and Alice

Gifts of the Goddess

The night ended with a dinner at Bill's, a local dive that serves inexpensive but decent food. The conversation ranged from life to art to dealing with parents, meandering past tidbits of wisdom on the way to silly fun. It was an amazing evening. Thanks to all who came and thanks to Anna for organizing this.

More photos of the evening here (all photos @ Anna Conti, 2011. I'm not sure how a link to FB works if you aren't "friended" by me or the other gazillion people on my page but give it a try. )

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Slight update on the situation on Egyptian Antiquities

Well, DUH! Sure didn't take a rocket scientist to see this coming. The news from Egypt regarding their (and our) antique heritage continues to be grim:

Margaret Maitland has pictures and updates on the looted pieces, as ever.

"It is now two weeks since it was announced that a number of objects were missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and a month has passed since the actual break in when the objects taken. However, even though an official list of missing items was released, because of a lack of photos, inventory numbers, or detailed information, we still don’t actually know precisely what’s missing. It is possible that this information could be valuable in stopping the objects from leaving the country or being sold."

A good source on the damage, Talking Pyramids, reported yesterday:

"..looting continues in the pyramid fields with the raiding of storage warehouses south of Giza early yesterday morning.

Six guards and a policeman at the warehouses were bound and gagged by about 60 thieves who broke into the Selim Hassan artifact storehouse, which housed the reports of Dr. Selim Hassan's excavations from years 1929 till 1968."

I just read a breaking report that Hawass has quit - well big f&(Uking deal. He's already done incalculable damage. The Western press who popularized the bully and those who went along with him without asking any embarrassing questions are equally to blame. If radical Islamic groups take over Egypt's government, there could be even greater damage to the "pagan" artifacts of her past. Egypt isn't Afghanistan but this certainly wouldn't be the first time in history that art has been destroyed in the name of religion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bali, Art, Ritual, Performance At the Asian Art Museum

Bali, Art, Ritual, Performance which opened last Friday at the Asian Art Museum is an intelligent, gorgeous and vibrant show of a richly textured, religious and seductive culture. A tiny island in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali reverberates in the world's imagination and is home to one of the most vibrant centers of visual and performing arts in the world. 

But until now there has never been an in-depth examination in the United States of Balinese artistic traditions.There are over 130 objects, some the finest of their kind, including sculpture, paintings, and ritual objects, masks and costumes, photographs and much more.

"Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance introduces visitors to a culture that has long been at the crossroads of many civilizations," states Dr. Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. "It teaches visitors about Balinese history, religious beliefs and traditions, and artistic practice. Most importantly, it highlights ways in which the Balinese people integrate artworks, ritual, and performance in their daily activities. It poses questions about cultural authenticity, adaptation, and persistence. And it encourages a new evaluation of perishable materials used in ritual artistic practice."

For the Balinese, whose religion is a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, ancestral spirits and animist tradition, the world is imbued with spirituality. Although the gods and goddesses live on the sacred volcanic mountain tops, they come down to visit their temples whenever there is a ceremony - and there are hundreds each the year. 

The rest of Indonesia has been converted to Islam, but Bali has remained staunchly true to the original and oldest religions of the region, a religion whose practices infuse their lives with a dignity, a visual richness and a deep spirituality. Art, ritual and performance are not divided into separate categories but intermingle in the island's culture.

Rice is the staple food of the island, grown through back breaking labor in the terraced fields that cover the island. Red, black, white and yellow are the four sacred colors in Bali, each representing a particular manifestation of God. The exhibit is full of images of Dewi Sri, the goddess who gave humans the gift of rice. She is not only a rice goddess but in a wider sense, "a deity of fertility, prosperity, wealth and beauty." (catalog, p. 143). The day's rhythm, the pace of the year is ruled by the rice harvest, and watched over by the gods and goddesses (who are represented in all their splendor in the exhibit).

 Decorated Palanquin.

Priests and Princes: The Dutch didn't conquer Bali until 1908, partially because the island didn't seem to have the same riches as the other spice islands. Furthermore, the Balinese were known to be ferocious fighters. But other European powers were casting covetous looks at the island and the Dutch moved in to prevent another Western power from colonizing the place. Although the Dutch conquest was criticized by their press, the Dutch government of the time moved to annex the country - claiming that they were protecting an Arcadian paradise.

The courts were also patrons of the arts and many of the richly decorated and intricate artworks in this section are from those small kingdoms. The exhibit is full of jewelry, intricate woven textiles, decorated chests and a couple of palanquins which I can imagine myself riding in, waving to my (no doubt) grateful subjects. (all images courtesy of the Asian Art Museum). 
For a clear-eyed look at the cruelty, cynicism, and destructive naivete of the Dutch in Indonesia in the 19th century, see if you can find the movie "Max Havelaar." Let's just say that all does not end well.
More to come....The West discovers "Paradise"

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Farewell to February showers and hello to March. (Froshin, Poloto at Cafe Museu)

February is almost out the door - and without the promised snow fall for San Francisco. However, there are many delights beyond the transitory one of a flake or two and a couple of them will be showcased or are currently showing under the auspices of SFMOMA's Artist's Gallery. While I'm working on a much longer post on the Bali show at the Asian, here are a few fun exhibits to sweeten your disappointment at SF's no-show snow.

Kim Frohsin - through March 15, 2011

It's often difficult for an artist known for one signature style to change successfully but it looks like Ms. Froshin has succeeded. Her new work employs collage, paint, colored pencil, discarded paper cups, and other mixed media. In the series, which the artist sometimes refers to as Cokework, both the red color associated with Coca-Cola and the distinct shape of the original fluted glass bottle serve as unifying elements throughout. Some pieces present a female face with eyes closed, rendered as a high-contrast positive likeness reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth-century life and death masks.

Frohsin, originally from Atlanta, relishes the autobiographical possibilities (including images of her hometown's dominant brand) in her work. "There is a level of literal and metaphorical self-reflection at play in the self portraits and the mix with the collaged icon of Coke - a meld of identity of a face and a place," she said.
Silvia Poloto: Opening March 17 - April 19, 2011

Brazilian-born artist Silvia Poloto centers her work around themes of family and self, creating mixed-media compositions that are at once intimate and universally accessible.  She juxtaposes rich colors and glossy surfaces with ancestral photos and personally significant imagery with abstract marks, three-dimensional objects, and varied surface treatments. (ummm..the PR release is a bit too much hype for these brightly colored, glossy pieces but they are pretty and would add a decorative element to a bland room).

As an extension of the Gallery's exhibition program at Fort Mason, solo shows featuring selected Gallery artists are on view year-round at SFMOMA's Caffè Museo. Located at 151 Third Street, Caffè Museo is open Friday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Wednesdays).