Jay to Bee

July 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

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IN 1951, just days before her scheduled lobotomy after years in a mental hospital, New Zealand author Janet Frame’s first collection of short stories unexpectedly won the Hubert Church Memorial Award, one of the country’s most prestigious honors. The procedure was cancelled, and Frame would go on to become one of the seminal authors of contemporary New Zealand literature.

During her time at the MacDowell artist’s colony in New Hampshire, Frame met painter William Theophilus Brown, and their friendship resulted in a whimsical and artistic correspondence that lasted until Frame’s death in 2004. A new book, Jay to Bee: Janet Frame’s Letters to William Theophilus Brown, captures their moving and enlightening correspondence.

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Two from the Wild West

July 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Francis McComas | Taos Houses (circa 1910-20)

HALF OF THE two-part show of iconic western images now on view in San Francisco is at the Legion of Honor. It’s called Wild West: Plains to the Pacific, and is intentionally a mixed bag. Two paintings stand out.

Taos Houses, a “watercolor with wiping” by Francis McComas, one of California’s early tonalist painters, is a beautiful painting that manages to be both tonalist and alive with color.

Hanging around the corner in the same golden palette is an early Maynard Dixon, Corral Dust, from 1915.

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Maynard Dixon | Corral Dust (1915)

MORE: An interview with the curators

The 4th

July 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

He painted what he saw

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

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By JEAN STERN
Executive Director, The Irvine Museum

I first met Ken Auster in 1998. Up to that time, I had been a lifelong collector of historic California paintings and had not really considered works by contemporary plein air painters for my collection.

One day in 1999, Robin Fuld and I were discussing the contemporary plein air art community and she took me to the Laguna Art Museum to show me two paintings by Ken Auster that were on display in the back stairwell. I was immediately struck by these remarkable paintings. They were wonderful works, full of light, color and movement. It was clear that this artist knew what he was doing, knew how to do it, and most importantly knew why to do it. This was no ordinary painter, this was truly a master.

A few days later, I visited Ken and Paulette in their studio in Laguna Canyon. There, I saw paintings of traffic jams! In addition to beautiful landscapes and beach scenes, Ken was intent on painting what he saw in everyday life, and for those of us who live in California, we do indeed know traffic jams.

While many self-described “Impressionists” were painting elegant scenes of ladies with parasols in a carriage on the Champs-Elysees — scenes from the past century they had never experienced — Ken painted the same concept, but as it appeared today. He painted people in cars trying to get home at the end of the day. He found beauty in a setting that most of us consider a predicament to be endured.

That day, I talked at length with Ken and he impressed me as a knowledgeable and deeply committed artist. He could talk about anything regarding art and he had a deep working knowledge of art history. Before I left, I purchased a striking painting entitled “Electric Avenue.” It shows Market Street in San Francisco during rush hour, with numerous cars and an electric trolley. He signed it, “To my friend Jean, 1999.”

Ken and I became friends and I saw him many times at the Crystal Cove Art Festivals, the Plein Air Painters of America Annuals, the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitationals and the Laguna Plein Air Painting events. I have presented him with several painting awards over the years, including Best in Show at the 2013 Maui Invitational.

He was a wonderful person, a brilliant man and a great artist. May he rest in peace.

MORE: The Palette from the Irvine Museum

Creating a new art form

June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

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AMONG THE SPLENDORS of San Francisco’s massive new Museum of Modern Art is Typeface to Interface, a selection of graphic design from the museum’s collection that includes dozens of vintage rock posters.

Rock and roll impresario Bill Graham helped launch a new era in music when he began presenting shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium in the ’60s. He also helped launch a new art form by commissioning artists to create posters to promote and commemorate the shows — a practice that continues today.

MORE: “The art of the Fillmore

What about SFMOMA?

May 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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In the inaugural Art of Northern California exhibition, three Thiebauds and an Arneson.

SO WHAT ABOUT San Francisco’s extravagant new Museum of Modern Art?

Well, it’s big, that’s for sure. And there is much to recommend:

• Photography gets respect. There are hundreds of photographs in dozens of galleries — almost the entire third floor and more. The “California and the West” exhibition is terrific.

• California art gets greater prominence, including a three-part “Art of Northern California” inaugural exhibition.

• The highlights of the permanent collection — Matisse! Rivera! — still have pride of place in the still-grand second floor galleries.

•  Unlike much of the Fisher Collection, which will appeal to some more than others, the Calder sculptures are a delight, especially in front of the living wall.

Mostly the new building works. It is a huge cruise ship beached between the Mario Botta building (a relic from all the way back in 1995) and Timothy Pflueger’s magnificent Art Deco backdrop from the 20s. But it is functional — and it has beautiful wooden stairs and windows framing views of the city.

Two complaints about the architecture:

• Botta’s beautiful entry has been eviscerated and replaced by a vast empty space with the kind of lean-to staircase that might take you over the dunes onto the beach. A crime.

• And the magisterial enfilade of galleries marching across the front of the second floor has been blocked off to create separate spaces, presumably. Surely this is not permanent.

Go and visit. There are much worse things than another new museum in town.

MORE: “Transforming SFMOMA

A spirited send-off

April 13, 2016 § 1 Comment

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Ken Auster | The Pitz

IT TOOK PLACE in a church, but the first part of the remembrance of life weekend for painter Ken Auster was a decidedly irreverent affair — featuring a rock band, a ukelele interlude, and a freeform string of raucous tales from his fraternity brothers and surfing buddies.

One who’d shared a college ornithology class remembered the final exam, which showed only the legs of several birds and asked for their identity. Ken and his pal thought it was ridiculous and stood up to walk out.

“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted the professor. “You can’t just walk out. Who are you, anyway?” With that, Ken pulled up his pants leg and replied: “You tell me.”

MORE: The perfect “Ken moment”

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