At long last roses

October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

FOR THE FIRST TIME in his long and storied career as a painter of florals, master watercolorist Gary Bukovnik paints roses.

Still teaching its lessons

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photograph of the Swedenborgian Church by Laurie Passey

The Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco is a National Historic Landmark.


My earliest memories of the Swedenborgian Church are from about 1957. I would have been three years old. I remember the welcoming fire behind the hearth and the home-like atmosphere of the sanctuary. And there were the welcoming people, too: Rev. Othmar Tobisch and Mrs. Tobisch, and Jane Sugden — “Miss Jane,” as we called her — who taught my sister Kathy and me to sing. I recall especially the sound and feel of the rush-bottomed chairs that my little backside swam around in.

Our father died in 1959, so most of our childhood memories of the church are connected with our mother, Phyllis Bosley. The church became our home away from home. Kathy and I were there four or five times every week for one reason or another: children’s choir practice, adult choir practice, Thursday night supper or to help Miss Jane with a project.

I don’t recall exactly when I became interested in the church building as a potent physical object, but I do remember why. Sitting at the back of the church waiting for a wedding to conclude so I could blow out the candles and sweep up the rice (Mr. Tobisch paid 75 cents per wedding), I picked up a copy of the little pamphlet written in 1945 on the 50th anniversary of the first service. It described historic features of the church, practically all of which — and this is what captured my complete attention — remained decades later exactly as they were described. It seemed incredible that a place might be so loved as to be left unmolested for so long.

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Charles Campbell (1915-2014)

October 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

San Francisco Chronicle

Charles Campbell, a San Francisco gallery owner who represented major Bay Area contemporary artists for more than 60 years, died of natural causes Friday [October 3, 2014] at his San Francisco home. He was 99.

Mr. Campbell became famous locally for showing what he liked, irrespective of fashion or potential profit. He happened to admire and exhibit many artists later identified with the region’s signature art movement, Bay Area Figuration. They included Nathan Oliviera (1928-2010), Paul Wonner (1920-2008), Gordon Cook (1927-85), Theophilus “Bill” Brown (1919-2012), James Weeks (1922-98) and Joan Brown (1938-90).

The back room at Mr. Campbell’s gallery was long known to locals as a treasure trove of artistic miscellany. There visitors might pore over an ever-changing array of works on paper and small paintings by American and European artists both famous and obscure, interspersed with Indian miniatures and the odd pre-Columbian or African artifact.

Nothing comparable exists, or perhaps could exist, in the supercharged and economically polarized art market of today.

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Capturing an essence

October 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

A HIGH SCHOOL art class stopped by to visit Sandy Ostrau’s new exhibition. They had a few questions for the artist.

Inspired by Sea Ranch

September 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study


The California landscape, and in particular the coast of Northern California, is an inspiration for my paintings. I spend a considerable amount of time at Sea Ranch and find it an especially beckoning subject. The light is particular as it illuminates the meadows elegantly situated between the curves of Highway 1 and the bluffs that meander for miles along the Pacific. The effect is of a carpet of yellow swaying in the breeze against the deep blue colors of the water. I have discovered profound beauty in the simplicity of the modern architecture, the backdrop of dark green cypress trees and the moodiness of the fog bank that sometimes entirely obscures the vastness of the ocean. At other times I’m drawn by the drama and harmony of a fuchsia, orange, yellow and turquoise sunset.

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

My work is not about representing the scene or depicting a particular location, but rather expressing what this magical place offers visually and emotionally. For me, Sea Ranch offers endless constructions. I have painted the same trees, meadows, rocks — and of course the ocean — many times. Yet each time I paint there is a newness, even with a familiar subject. I set out to capture a particular feeling in a particular moment and to translate that feeling into a painting. First I decide on a subject. Something will pull at me. Many times it is a detail — the leaning of a tree or the angle of a roofline or just the way the light lands on the meadow, creating interesting shadow shapes. Sometimes it is the deep color of the water contrasted with the brightness of the land. My compositions are primarily determined by the relationships between the lights and the darks. When I begin, I use one color to create a monochromatic study that establishes the composition of the painting. Then I use color, brushwork and line to highlight this visual statement. This stage is done quickly to maintain a feeling of freshness. I want to create a feeling of spontaneity and energy in the finished picture which cannot be achieved if the piece is overworked.

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

I look to nature for inspiration and I paint on location regularly, but I do not identify myself as a plein-air painter in the traditional sense. My goal is to interpret nature in its raw essence, not to create a realistic depiction of the scenery. If the work becomes too descriptive and detailed, the emotional quality of the painting is lost. I choose non-realistic colors if they best express what I am feeling. I simplify the elements I see around me to create various rhythms and harmonies. I often paint several small paintings at one session, trying in each to capture just enough information to take back into the studio and further simplify. In these ways, I try to push the boundaries of abstraction while maintaining a figurative painting.

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

Sandy Ostrau | Sea Ranch study

Serenity — or chaos

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Adrienne Sherman | Bareback Rider

Adrienne Sherman | Bareback Rider


A FEW YEARS AGO, I was at the opening of a new exhibition of Adrienne Sherman’s paintings in Seattle. People were fascinated by a painting of a fox. They could not believe it was two-dimensional. They kept moving around, first to the side, then back to the front. It really looked as if the fox was casually walking out of the canvas and into the gallery.

She uses tiny brushes to paint fur, and her animals want to be petted. But they also want to be taken seriously. Her paintings are either a lovely serene scene or chaos about to get worse. In “Imaginarium,” her new exhibition at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco, a fox with a birdcage on her head is careening down a hill pursued by birds. Why? A monkey with a crown is being tipped over by another monkey. Just play, or a power grab? In Bareback Rider, her dog Febbo on horseback is going somewhere, now, away, without parental permission. But where? And what will happen next? In Masquerade, someone with a half-fox mask looks left. The eyes we see through the mask are fox eyes; the nose, mouth and body are human. Are we looking at a “skin changer” about to become fully fox? Or fully human? Or forever at the mysterious halfway point?

Adrienne Sherman often paints her dreams, so we are in that nebulous world of her infinite creativity. The depths of image, mystery, color and form are transformed into captivating and fresh images that are haunting, beautiful and unforgettable.

John Sloan meets Duke Ellington

September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment


I WANTED to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and its packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like John Sloan’s New York City paintings, and I wanted it to go with my Duke Ellington record, Daybreak Express.

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UPDATE: Pennebaker film archive looking for a home


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