‘Sargent & Spain’ in San Francisco

April 5, 2023 § 2 Comments

John Singer Sargent | Court of the Myrtles, Alhambra (1879)

IF YOU’RE IN San Francisco in the coming weeks, you’ll surely want to make a visit to the stately Legion of Honor museum near Land’s End to see the “Sargent & Spain” exhibition. It presents the work of John Singer Sargent inspired by his travels in Spain and tells the story of his embrace of Spanish culture.

Sargent’s seven trips to Spain, taken between 1879 and 1912, fueled his imagination and influenced his artistic growth throughout his life. Born in Florence, Italy, to American parents who were travel enthusiasts, Sargent (1856–1925) journeyed extensively from his homes in London and Paris in search of subjects. His resulting body of work, including paintings inspired by Spanish art, architecture, gardens, people and traditions, encompassed far more than the society portraits for which he is best known. 

This exhibition — which includes oils, watercolors, drawings and more — reveals Sargent’s affinity for Spain and his approach to depicting the rich subject matter he encountered there.

MORE: “Sargent’s Captivation with Spain Comes to Legion of Honor

Thanks to John Singer Sargent

March 21, 2023 § Leave a comment

“IF IT WEREN’T for John Singer Sargent, I might not be painting watercolours today,” Michael Reardon tells The Art of Watercolour magazine in its new issue. “In 1985 there was a show of Sargent’s watercolours in San Francisco that knocked my socks off. I decided that I had to learn how to paint in watercolour. That’s how it all started.”

Read more: “Sensitivity and skill

The art of judges

March 16, 2023 § 2 Comments

Justice James D. Ward and his wife Carole with Ken Auster’s paintings.

WE HAD A VISIT the other day from Jim and Carole Ward, who were in town for a few days from Riverside. Jim — more formally the Honorable Justice James D. Ward, now retired from California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal — is one of a number of judges who have become friends of the gallery over the years.

In a previous lifetime, when I was editor and publisher of California Lawyer magazine, Jim was a prominent lawyer who had argued and won two important First Amendment cases in the U.S. Supreme Court — and a voluble and valuable member of our editorial board. After a meeting, while sharing a meal, we confided our itch for new adventures.

One evening a couple of years later, a friend and I stopped into the beautiful Redwood Room in the Clift Hotel, and there was Jim, having a drink at the bar. I went over to say hello, and he was as affable as ever. (He later told me he had also been approached in the Redwood Room by a lady of the evening, offering companionship.) It turned out we had both found our new adventures: I had opened an art gallery and Jim had gotten himself appointed to the appellate court. 

He was enthusiastic about my new life, and he and Carole would sometimes visit the gallery when they were in San Francisco. They bought one of Ken Auster’s early landscape paintings, of June Lake in the Sierra, where Carole’s family had often vacationed. Across the years and miles, Jim and I have kept in touch and occasionally swapped stories.

Much of the gallery’s clientele has come from the legal world, especially in the early days. That was my world, too. One of my first exhibitions, in 1995, was titled “Lawyers Turned Artists.” A few years later,  when I made a documentary about the California Supreme Court, I was pleased to find a work from my gallery displayed in the chambers of Chief Justice Ronald M. George. 

In fact, my final visitor before we left San Francisco in 2020 was another lawyer who recently had been appointed to the bench, collecting for his new chambers John Payne’s historic painting of the cable cars that once ran past Alta Plaza Park. I was moved when he told me, soon after he became Judge Michael B. McNaughton: “It makes me want to be a better person.” As he was leaving, I wished him well on the bench and told him how much I had enjoyed his visits and friendship over the years.

“Are you kidding?” he responded. “You enriched my life.”

— Thomas R. Reynolds

Introducing: Western Edge

January 25, 2023 § Leave a comment

WE’RE PLEASED to present the inaugural exhibition of Western Edge, a powerhouse creative collective of established Santa Barbara artists. Many of these artists have known each other and collaborated together for years. Now they have joined forces to present a broad spectrum of realist and abstract work, including paintings, assemblage, ceramics and sculpture.

Members participating in this exhibition include Dorothy Churchill-Johnson, Pamela Hill Enticknap, Nancy Gifford, Ruth Ellen Hoag, Cynthia James, RT Livingston, Cynthia Martin, Joan Rosenberg-Dent, Kerrie Smith, Marlene Struss, Susan Tibbles and Veronica Walmsley.

The exhibition is curated by Andi Campognone, director of the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, CA. It opens on February 2 and continues through March 25, 2023, at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery at 1331 State Street in Santa Barbara, near the historic Arlington Theater.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Getting on Jerry’s list

January 18, 2023 § 1 Comment

Jerry Ross Barrish | The Most Honorable Profession (2016)


I first met Jerry Ross Barrish in 2015 when he curated a solo show of Sam Perry’s sculpture at the nonprofit community gallery, Sanchez Art Center, in Pacifica, California. Sam Perry, who is my husband, and I were soon added to Jerry’s enormous “studio party” guest list. These “behind-the-scenes” affairs are magical in nature: Picture yourself at a packed artist studio party surrounded by Jerry’s sculptures of jazz musicians, angels, animals, clowns, dancers, Statues of Liberty, plus live music. On January 1, Jerry telephones every friend on his list with a New Year’s greeting and follows up throughout the year with invitations to opening receptions, fundraisers and artist talks at Sanchez, where he serves as artistic director.

In his sculptures, Jerry Barrish applies his deft hand to the cast offs of our materialistic consumer society to tell immutable tales of love and loss. Familiar items like umbrella handles, funnels and toys are transformed when combined with takeout containers, janitorial supplies and vacuum parts. Each element of these assemblage sculptures is placed in a way that perfectly expresses the universal language of gesture.

In my earliest imaginings of M. Stark Gallery, I knew I wanted Jerry’s art to inaugurate the gallery exhibition program.

To me, the piece Jerry calls Teaching, The Most Honorable Profession (2016) is in many ways a self-portrait. Since he became the artistic director of Sanchez Art Center in 2003 he has mentored dozens of artists. In the process of selecting works for exhibitions, he also discovers works in artist studios that merit further exploration and development and he continues the conversation with these artists in furtherance of both. After many, many helpful conversations about opening this new gallery — lighting, installation, public programs and even business hours — I am proud to call Jerry my mentor as well.

— excerpted from “Jerry Ross Barrish: Protagonist,” catalog for the inaugural exhibition at the new M. Stark Gallery at 727 Main Street in Half Moon Bay, California.

Her artful journey

December 15, 2022 § Leave a comment

Photograph of Ruth Ellen Hoag at Thomas Reynolds Gallery by Ingrid Bostrom

Santa Barbara Independent

Ruth Ellen Hoag’s professional life didn’t begin with a paintbrush. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, she turned to watercolors and acrylics only after winding down a 30-year orchestral career that brought her — and her French horn — to venues across the country, including in New York, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. In fact, it was while playing first horn in the orchestra in a 1975 production of West Side Story at the Lobero Theatre that Hoag met her husband, Richard.

“He was Riff, the leader of the Jets,” she recalled.

When her husband’s work took him to Japan in 1989, Hoag joined him. Little did she know that sojourn would represent the first steps toward a new career, this one as a fine artist. “I really wanted to go, but there was no point in taking my horn,” she said. “What would I do with it there? So, I left it behind, conscious of the fact that I’d probably never play professionally again.”

In Japan, Hoag, who had always enjoyed drawing, directed her artistic attention toward calligraphy. Upon returning to the U.S. a little more than a year later, she turned to painting. She allowed herself two years of working exclusively on her art to see if she could make a go of it.

And make a go of it she has. That brief experiment has resulted in a vast body of award-winning work, decades as a painting instructor, and three years as the owner of REH Contemporary Gallery in the Funk Zone (she closed the gallery in 2022 to devote herself to painting).

This month, her circuitous journey brings her to the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, where a solo show representing her work over the past 20 years is on exhibit through January 5. My Journey So Far, which opened last month, features 20 pieces done in Hoag’s signature watercolor or acrylic. With vibrant colors and slightly abstract figures — or characters, as Hoag refers to the individuals who populate her work — each painting tells its own unique story.

“When you get an idea for a painting it’s never the one that comes out in the end,” she said. “It’s the kernel of a story about the people, about what’s going on with them. You start drawing them, and then you’re figuring out how they go together. They didn’t start out together but came together in the painting.”

Hoag knew early on that she wanted to do figurative work and, as she said, took every figure drawing and anatomy course she could find to hone her skills and develop her technique. “I’ve never lost my desire to paint people,” she noted. “But they’ve always had an abstract quality to them. I think of all my work as being abstract, but people don’t see it that way because they can see the figures; they can see the story.”

Hoag has shown her work with the International Society of Acrylic Painters and the Annual National Juried Exhibition of Works on Paper, among others. In addition, she holds signature status with the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, San Diego Watercolor Society, Rocky Mountain National Watermedia, California Watercolor Association and Watercolor West.

When she began painting, Hoag’s medium was primarily watercolor and India ink. “Then I got the mural commission, and it had to be in acrylic,” she said. The commission, titled “East of Yesterday” and located at 10 East Yanonali St., consists of two large, vivid pieces that depict the history of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Painted in 2016, the murals received the Santa Barbara Beautiful 2019 Hugh Petersen Award for Art in Public Places.

Despite her accomplishments, Hoag is humble about her work. When “Retrospective,” a piece currently featured in the show at Thomas Reynolds Gallery, took top honors at the San Diego Watercolor Society’s annual international show in 2012, Hoag was more than a little surprised. In writing about it, the judge noted the quality of the work and Hoag’s unique point of view. “It was a clue to trust myself and not judge myself too harshly,” she said.

That is a piece of wisdom she shares with the students in the painting classes she has taught for nearly 20 years. “Trust that what you’re doing has value,” she said, “and stick with it long enough to have it become your voice.”

And when her students have moments of self-doubt, she urges them to keep working. “I tell them, ‘You’re just not done yet,’ ” she said. “If the painting’s not quite together, you’re just not done yet. Don’t throw it away. Keep going until you have wrenched out every ounce of juice you can. And either it works, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, you do it again.”

A tapestry of flowers

November 26, 2022 § Leave a comment

Gary Bukovnik with his “Flower Cascade” tapestry.

WHEN TWO TAPESTRIES of his flowers are released in the coming months, it will mark the realization of a long-held dream for Gary Bukovnik, the San Francisco artist whose floral watercolors are admired around the world.

“Many years ago when I when was first beginning to see tapestry as a possible fit for me and my art,” Bukovnik says, “I was contacted by the Atelier Raymond Picaud in Aubusson, France. After some talks we decided we should proceed. I made a cartoon for the 1 meter x 1.5 meter tapestry woven in the traditional way of Aubusson.”

It was a great success, and the six large tapestries of white pelargonium woven in the mid-80s sold immediately. So did a smaller tapestry of a waterlily. One of each is in the museum in Aubusson. But an economic downturn took the tapestry studio under before the partnership could flourish.

“Ever since those first works, I’ve wanted to return to this medium,” Bukovnik says. After viewing a 2020 exhibition of artist Hung Liu’s paintings hanging alongside tapestries of her work, he set about searching for a way to revive his interest in tapestry. He found it close to home. Magnolia Editions, which had made the Hung Liu tapestries, was just across the bay in Oakland.

“They were Jacquard woven tapestries that involved the newest technology,” Bukovnik says. “I had known Don Farnsworth, the director, a long time ago and asked for his guidance. There was a lot of back and forth across the bay, and finally we had chosen two images for weaving, which was done in Belgium, near the city of Bruges.”

Magnolia Editions describes itself as “a handshake between the art of the past and the art of the future” and notes: “Tapestries are an ancient medium, with antecedents from centuries past including Chinese kesi, Middle Eastern kilim carpets and Medieval European wall hangings. Yet these editions are created using cutting-edge software on state-of-the-art Macintosh computers and hot-rod industrial looms.”

The floral tapestries will be released by Magnolia Editions in an edition of 10, complete with hanging devices, for $18,000 each. Bukovnik is delighted. “I think they are quite amazing,” he says, “and I am really excited that I am on the path again to seeing my art interpreted in tapestry.”

Gary Bukovnik, “From the Garden of Earthly Delights,” 48 x 62 inches, Jacquard tapestry

Gary Bukovnik, “Flower Cascade,” 48 x 68 inches, Jacquard tapestry

A pair of Staprans studio visits

October 13, 2022 § 1 Comment

Raimonds Staprans, at 96, is still in his studio nearly every day.

THE GREAT CALIFORNIA-LATVIAN painter and playwright Raimonds Staprans turns 96 today. It has been a treat to watch his friendship blossom with fellow artist Sandy Ostrau. Not long before his birthday, she paid a visit to his San Francisco studio. In turn, he and his wife, the scientist Ilona Staprans, repaid the visit with a stop at Sandy’s studio in one of the original buildings at the Sea Ranch, on the northern California coast.

Raimonds Staprans in Sandy Ostrau’s studio at the Sea Ranch.

“I love when he pokes my paintings!” Sandy says. “He liked that one, but the bottom needs resolving.”

Raimonds and Ilona Staprans

“Ilona is just as amazing. PhD in Bio-Chem, ran a research lab at UCSF, and really supported Raimonds in his early career.”

One of Richard Diebenkorn’s easels passed down to Sandy Ostrau this year.

“They appreciated my new easel, too,” Sandy says. “Both are remarkable. They are making a documentary in Latvia about him that is nearly done.”

Happy 96th, Raimonds!

— Thomas Reynolds

EARLIER: “Feasting with the Staprans

Watercolor as a mistress

October 11, 2022 § 1 Comment

The Riv

George Washington Smith was Santa Barbara’s most influential architect back in the 1920s, the founding father of the California movement in Spanish Colonial Revival design. The irony was that Smith, when he moved to Montecito in 1917, saw himself as an artist. But after building the centrally located house and studio he’d designed for himself and his wife, friends and neighbors kept clamoring to have him create residences for them.

“I soon found that people were not really as eager to buy my paintings, which I was laboring over, as they were to have a whitewashed house like mine,” he once said. “So I put away my brushes and have not yet had a moment to take them up again.”

Now, a century later, Smith’s spiritual offspring are turning the tables back again, as a new group show features a dozen successful Santa Barbara architects who also paint or create other visual art. “ARTchitecture” is on display at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara.

“I’ve been an architecture junkie since I was a young lawyer living in Chicago, and a few decades running my gallery in San Francisco only encouraged that,” says Reynolds, who moved to Santa Barbara during the pandemic and opened the new art space on State Street last year. “Living here, I’ve arrived in architectural nirvana.” 

The idea for the exhibition came about through Reynolds’s casual conversations with Marc Appleton, the celebrated Santa Barbara architect who helped organize the show, and they reached out to peers to round out the curation. “There’s a natural affinity between architectural design and visual art that many of us feel,” says Appleton. “We decided it would be fun to see how many architects in town actually indulge their passion for watercolors.”

Quite a few, it turns out.

Anthony Grumbine, Jeff Shelton and Stephen Harby are among the well-known locals participating in “ARTchitecture,” along with Domiane Forte, Henry Lenny, John Margolis, Sean McArdle, Tom Meaney, Alexis Stypa and Qing Xue, who collectively contributed more than 75 works for the exhibit.

While the well-trained architects are all famous for designing homes, offices and/or public buildings around town, frequently employing beautiful architectural drawings to convey their vision, painting is a different matter entirely. Appleton jokes, “If I had to paint with the intention of making a living at selling my watercolors, I would be in the poor house.” However, Reynolds says the products of the architects’ art aspirations are anything but amateur hour. “Everything in the exhibition is frameable – they are fine art paintings that stand on their own,” Reynolds says.

Locals will recognize many of the scenes depicted in the watercolors, as a majority of the pieces focus on some of the most beloved buildings in town, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. The landmark shows up in paintings by three different architect-artists, each revealing an individual perspective – not unlike how they might design a building from scratch, although without having to please anyone but themselves. 

Appleton says the focus required for watercolors is part of its appeal, perhaps even more so than the finished product. “You have to really look at the building or architectural scene and allow yourself to learn about what you’re seeing,” he said. “It becomes a way of remembering the experience that’s richer than a photograph.”

Harby, who has largely traded active design for a set of watercolor brushes and leading art-travel trips, goes even further. “The joy of experiencing spatial complexity, materials and light fueled my architecture career for a number of years,” he said. “Now, sitting in front of an astonishing and challenging building and trying to capture, and represent it, brings the same kind of thrill as creating it.” 

Appleton agrees. “Watercolor is an extremely seductive art form,” he says. “We have our profession of architecture, which is a commitment like a marriage. But then we have watercolor as a mistress.”

VIEW THE RIV’s 10-page spread

From architecture to art, via Paris

October 7, 2022 § 3 Comments

Michael Reardon | Pont Notre-Dame

I FIRST MET Michael Reardon when he was a regular with the Sunday Afternoon Watercolor Society, the gently mocking name a group of San Francisco architects gave themselves when they gathered in some scenic spot once a month with their watercolors. 

The Sunday Afternoon Watercolor Society visits Alta Plaza Park.

Michael Reardon | Bartholomew Park Winery

I’d seen one of Michael’s watercolors in a group exhibition of the California Art Club I hosted in 2009. I thought I didn’t much like watercolors, but I loved the abstraction of Michael’s vertical painting of a Sonoma winery.

So I invited myself to visit his studio and see more of Michael’s work. He was still working in architecture, having become a much sought-after architectural illustrator. But he painted watercolors on location quite often, too. He had a lot of beautiful work of various subjects, but no apparent theme for an exhibition. Then he pulled open a drawer of paintings he had done in Paris when he was awarded a three-month residency there to study some aspect of French architecture. He chose the historic fountains of Paris, and painted many of them in watercolor. He even wrote and published a book. We held his “Fountains of Paris” exhibition in 2011 at my San Francisco gallery. That’s when he and the other Sunday watercolorists painted in nearby Alta Plaza Park in the video above — and not long before Michael decided to graduate from architecture and give himself over entirely to painting and teaching.

I’ve thought since I got to Santa Barbara that this is another great architectural destination Michael might be moved to paint. That hasn’t happened yet, but the ARTchitecture exhibition provided an opportunity to introduce his work here. Demonstrating the wide appeal of his paintings, the first three claimed are going to Australia.

— Thomas Reynolds