Aloha, Ken Auster

January 30, 2016 § 15 Comments

Ken Auster painting on location in San Francisco in 2014.

WE ARE SAD to share the news that the artist Ken Auster died yesterday, January 29, 2016, at his home in Laguna Beach, California. He was 66, and had been battling metastatic prostate cancer for a decade.

Auster burst onto the resurgent California plein-air scene in the mid-1990s and became one of the country’s most respected location painters. Within a few years he had won nearly every major plein-air painting competition and had successive sold-out gallery exhibitions.

“My life in art started when I was a kid,” he wrote in his 2011 book, Intellect and Passion. “I can remember being yelled at for drawing surfers screaming down humongous pen and ink waves at the top of my homework assignments.”

He grew up near the water in Long Beach and surfing was a major part of his life. During his college years at Long Beach State University, he combined his interest in art and surfing and began silkscreening T-shirts. Eventually, after living in Hawaii, he established a successful surf art business and his work was seen around the world.

Despite his success, he decided at mid-career he wanted to be a fine artist.

“A lot of artists start by trying to be painters, then de-evolve into commercial work to make money,” he said. “I started with surf art on T-shirts and worked my way up.”

Painting on location was his breakthrough.

“One day I was invited to go out with a few friends and paint on location at a local beach,” he wrote in his book. “I set up and started painting what I saw. The experience was a turning point in my life. Here was the bare bones of art — no process and minimal equipment, just a burst of passion and paint, with immediate results and gratification. It just happened and it was beautiful.”

Auster’s first exhibition was presented by the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco in 1997. It sold out. So did his second and third. His work was widely published, and he went on to exhibit at galleries nationwide. He was also a natural teacher, offering workshops around the country and in a series of videos.

“Ken Auster was the real deal,” said Reynolds. “He was a terrific painter, a great teacher and a wonderful human being — and he always made it fun, from his clever titles to his endless one-liners that seemed to flow without effort. The world has lost a great artist.”

He is survived by his wife, Paulette Auster. An aloha style celebration of his life is being planned.

MORE ABOUT KEN AUSTER

Legacy of the Jewel City

January 3, 2016 § 1 Comment

Guerin_aerial

Jules Guérin | Panoramic View of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

By NANCY BOAS

It is almost impossible to imagine how isolated California artists were from the world’s art centers and new artistic ideas before 1915. Travel was difficult. Ships had to go around South America to reach the West Coast. The Rocky Mountains and the Sierras presented their own high barriers to travel.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 — the focus of the “Jewel City” exhibition at the de Young Museum — had a transformational influence on the art and culture of the Bay Area.

In particular the fair was crucial in shaping the artistic development of the Society of Six, a group of plein air painters working in the Bay Area considered one of the country’s most important modernist developments in the early 20th century. Their work changed dramatically as a result of what they experienced there. « Read the rest of this entry »

The PPIE at 100

December 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

By JEROME TARSHIS
The New Fillmore

Like California itself, like the fair of which it was a part, the art exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 looked two ways.

In principle the fair celebrated recent accomplishments made possible by big money and entrepreneurship: the completion of the Panama Canal and the rapid rebuilding of the city after the earthquake and fire of 1906. From the time of the Gold Rush, San Francisco had been a place where people could make a lot of money very quickly by exploiting the latest technology. Taking the edge off that reality, the city cultivated an image of Mediterranean charm, offering food, wine and art — in addition to venture capital.

The artistic aspects of the fair also looked two ways. Its buildings were in soothing pastel colors; the architecture looked back to a tranquil agrarian past; but many of the exhibits were devoted to the high-speed wonders made possible by machines and electricity and gasoline if not yet by silicon.

Nahl_PosterThe De Young Museum’s “Jewel City” show reflects both aspects of the fair. From all accounts, the more than 11,000 artworks exhibited at the fair must have included vast swaths of instantly forgettable art, and the 200-odd works exhibited at the De Young certainly offer many soporific moments.

Among all the academic genteelism and quickly pleasing Impressionism, however, there are more than a few pleasant surprises. Here a portrait by Oskar Kokoschka, there a provocation by Edvard Munch, and even among the usual suspects as they would have been listed in 1915, strong work by Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent, among others.

The gallery devoted to pictorialist photography looks tranquil enough. By way of a surprise, the exhibition offers the earliest known work of Ansel Adams, a soft-focus print made when he was 13 years old. His father, far from keeping the boy’s nose to the grindstone, gave him a PPIE pass and ordered him to go to the fair every day instead of wasting his time in high school.

Prints of the Fair,” a supplementary exhibition on the main floor of the De Young, is worth more than a passing glance. Predictably, it offers high-quality work by Whistler and other artists who were influenced by Japanese art and design. Less predictably, it offers a far less tranquil section of prints addressing the urbanization and mechanization of America.

The exhibition ends with a gallery of avant-garde art that pushes a bit farther than New York’s Armory Show did in 1913. Almost as if to echo the high-tech aspects of the fair in general, the art shown at the Palace of Fine Arts included a large selection of Italian Futurist work, as the Armory Show did not.

James A. Ganz, the principal curator of the show, says he intended that contrast to shake up visitors to the De Young. “They’ll experience that surprise, that same shock, that visitors did in 1915,” he says, “when having been soothed by the harmonious color scheme of the Jewel City and French Impressionism, they found themselves in a raucous roomful of paintings by Boccioni, Russolo and Severini.”

The passage of time has made the respectable art seem less worthy of automatic acceptance and made the perversity of the avant-garde seem less novel, but the sense of surprise and discomfort is still there.

Pyramid of Cats

December 9, 2015 § 3 Comments

MS_cats

By KAY ROBERTS

My house is full; I have too much art; I need to downsize. And so, inspired by Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I began to dig around downstairs for art I could sell or donate.

I was looking for an old print I knew was around somewhere, but instead I found a wonderful cat poster I didn’t recognize. One cat was piled on the back of another, from a big lion on the bottom to a perky black house cat on the top. My husband and I are cat people, but we had no idea when or how we had acquired it. Perhaps it was from his mother, an amateur artist who loved cats, or maybe it came from a friend in a library where I worked in the 1970s. We obviously liked and saved it, but it was never framed and has no pinholes from being hung on the wall of our son’s room. What should I do with it?

It was signed Marion Seawell, 1971. Enter the Internet. I quickly found out that Marion Seawell is a California artist and that the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco shows her work. So I emailed the gallery:

« Read the rest of this entry »

A love letter

November 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

LOVE LETTER to a beautiful place — Paris just last week. It will again be a city of light and love.

The infinite possibilities

October 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

Stevan Shapona | Heather Back

Stevan Shapona | Heather Back

STEVAN SHAPONA works out of his studio in San Francisco’s Excelsior District, where he manages to survive without an email address or an Internet connection. The result of Shapona’s somewhat isolated lifestyle is a series of gorgeous female nudes, silhouetted against dark backgrounds, that are striking in their use of single color tonalism.

Read more

A Paul Wonner sampler

October 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers