Thiebaud the storyteller

December 28, 2021 § Leave a comment

Wayne Thiebaud | Sugar Cones (1964)

FIRST PERSON | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Everybody who met Wayne Thiebaud came away with a story. I’m no exception.

Quite a few years ago, the California Historical Society mounted an exhibition of plein-air paintings by the great 19th century California artist Thomas Hill. Most of Hill’s paintings are grand landscapes of the Yosemite valley. But these were small oil sketches done on location. As part of the exhibition program, there was to be a talk by the legendary 20th century California artist Wayne Thiebaud. It seemed an odd pairing.

Of course I went. Thiebaud began with one of Hill’s paintings of tents turned upside down, to show its abstract qualities. It was a magnificent talk, full of observations and insights, delivered with wry humor. Afterward I went up to shake the great man’s hand and tell him how thoroughly he had overcome my doubts that he — the master of pies and cakes and gumball machines — should speak about such an old-fashioned landscape painter.

“Let me tell you a story,” he replied. “I used to kick around junk stores and antique shops in Sacramento. One day I came upon a little landscape painting. I thought to myself, ‘By golly, this looks like Thomas Hill.’ So I bought it. And I’ve learned more from that little painting than nearly anything else I’ve come across in my long life.”

Thiebaud’s stories usually finished with a punchline, and this one was no exception.

“And I got it for only $2,” he smiled.

When Thiebaud came to San Francisco

December 27, 2021 § 1 Comment

Wayne Thiebaud | Holly Park Ridge (1980)

LEGENDARY SAN FRANCISCO gallery owner Charles Campbell on how he became friends with Wayne and Betty Jean Thiebaud:

They were close friends for a long time. At one time they’d come down to San Francisco, living in Sacramento as their permanent residence, and they’d stay in a hotel and would drive back. A few times we got them to stay with us at our house instead of going back or staying in a hotel, and they liked Potrero Hill. They started looking around and found a little house on the hill they bought. It’s like two minutes away from our house. At least twice a month, we entertain back and forth.

There’s a great gate and you enter a little patio to the house. They built upstairs a very slick studio — in my opinion, maybe too neat and too clean for Wayne, because he was painting in his garage.

Wayne does paintings that are 5 feet by 4, and works in a space that’s not as big as our front room. In San Francisco now, his studio is in the basement of that house. It’s probably got 6-foot or 7-foot ceilings, and he’s very comfortable there. In fact, the new house next door, which they are selling to [their son] Paul Thiebaud, was to be part of his studio, but after a couple of months he just felt he would go back to that smaller, cozier space.

He works all the time, drawing, sketches, watercolors, big paintings.

— Excerpted from “A Life of Art, Jazz and Travel,” an oral history of Charles Campbell conducted by Joan Bossart, 1992-1994, in the Bancroft Library.

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Wayne Thiebaud | Holly Park Ridge Study (1979)

‘Probably a six-pack’

December 14, 2021 § Leave a comment

Manuel Neri (left) and Henry Villierme during their student days.

ONE DAY IN THE mid-90s, not long after I opened my gallery, in the door one afternoon walked the great sculptor Manuel Neri — quite a thrill for a new gallery owner interested in California art.

“Is this where my old roommate Hank Villierme is showing?” he asked.

We’d recently opened a major exhibition of Henry Villierme’s paintings, his first in ages. Villierme had been a rising star, one of a dozen artists included in the seminal 1957 Bay Area figurative exhibition at the Oakland Museum, before he disappeared from the art scene and went to work for a living. Villierme and Neri were roommates while they both attended what was then the California College of Arts and Crafts, a major site of artistic ferment in that era.

I was too star-struck to remember much of the conversation with Neri. But later I showed Villierme a picture I’d run across of him and Neri back when they were roommates. Henry took a look and smiled. “Probably a six-pack under my arm,” he said.

— Thomas Reynolds

MORE: “Neri first exhibited on Fillmore

Artist Focus: Carol Peek

November 22, 2021 § Leave a comment

Carol Peek | The Guardians

From American Art Collector

THE SUBTLE GRADATIONS of yellow ochre to blue violet in a desert landscape, the contrasts of scale and years between a massive 200-year-old cypress and a handful of sheep, or the first time a mare reveals her colt to the world — these are a few of life’s endless joys that call artist Carol Peek to the easel.

“Staying curious in life as well as at the easel are key elements to keeping my work exciting and new; translating this excitement, appreciation and curiosity to the canvas is the challenge,” she says. “Each new painting is an attempt to solve a creative problem.”

In Subtle Shifts, Peek restrained the values and saturation of color in the mountains to a narrow window and gradually changed the hue and temperature from foreground to background in a subtle progression: warm to cool and yellow orange to blue violet. “Working within a narrow confine such as this creates an exciting challenge for me to solve,” says Peek. “The ‘power of limits’ keeps me interested and engaged and each painting feels like a new dawn, full of possibilities.”

Carol Peek | Subtle Shifts

‘A serious and deeply felt experience’

November 14, 2021 § Leave a comment

“AS YOU KNOW WELL, art is an incredibly powerful tool,” wrote J. Randolph Evans, U.S. ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, to artist Carol Peek when she loaned two of her paintings to an exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Luxembourg and the Battle of the Bulge.

She does indeed know well. Her father, Charles Bruce Peek, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, not far from Luxembourg. “My father’s experience in the war was a serious and deeply felt experience in my home growing up,” she told the ambassador. “I cannot find the words to tell you how meaningful this is for me, to be privileged to use my artwork as a unifying and uplifting message.”

Her paintings were on display as part of an exhibition in the ambassador’s residence in Luxembourg from 2018 to 2021.

From movie art to fine art

October 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

A collage of Mark Matsuno’s movie art

FIRST PERSON | MARK MATSUNO

Born and raised in San Francisco, I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20 to embark on a career in corporate advertising as an art director for Young & Rubicam. I was soon introduced to the entertainment industry and began my own graphic design boutique, creating posters and other print advertising for big blockbuster films and smaller independent films. Some of the films I worked on include the Jurassic World franchise, the Fast & Furious franchise, Saving Private Ryan, Dances With Wolves and many others. I have won numerous awards from the prestigious Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards.

I loved it: private screenings at movie studios, Oscar parties at the Chateau Marmont, being flown to art direct photo shoots as far away as Australia, Argentina and Tahiti, getting to know and working with so many famous actors. Kris Kristofferson telling me about all the odd jobs he had in his life, Charlie Sheen talking about all the guns he owns, Phoebe Cates explaining all the many ethnicities in her bloodline, Tilda Swinton describing to me her home in rural Scotland, going clubbing with Wes Studi in Queensland, being invited to a small party at Jon Voight’s house, talking to Brandon Lee about the death of his father, Bruce Lee. I had a large office at LaBrea and Melrose, a staff of around 20 employees and kept all the typography houses, copywriters, retouchers, photographers, photo labs and illustrators busy day and night working on projects from all the studios, including Disney, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., New Line, Columbia, Paramount and others. The pace was insane, the deadlines were impossible, but I loved the challenge. For me, it wasn’t glamorous or fun, really; it was hard work. But it was all about creativity. It’s always been about creativity.

Throughout my career as a creative director in advertising, I never forgot my passion for fine art. In recent years, I have fine-tuned my talent as a painter and turned my attention to creating a body of work, which has proven to be a renaissance of sorts for me. I enjoy depicting recognizable icons and structures within the urban landscapes that surround me, in both Los Angeles and my native San Francisco, and turning them into works of art.

Exhibition: MARK MATSUNO | URBAN LANDSCAPES

Mark Matsuno | This Used to Be His Town

A letter from de Kooning

October 24, 2021 § Leave a comment

Elaine de Kooning | Bill Brown (1954)

THE GREAT Bay Area Figurative painter William Theophilus Brown recalled that one of his professors at UC Berkeley in the early 1950s was not impressed with the new student from New York — until a letter arrived.

He took a dim view of me. I remember he made fun of me the first semester. I was painting on a peel-off palette, and my brushes weren’t big enough. I don’t know. He laid it on me. And then I got a case of poison oak. Being an eastern boy, I knew ivy but not oak. And it started on my forehead and worked its way down non-stop to my feet. So I was out eight weeks. And I knew I would flunk the course. However, Elaine de Kooning wrote me a letter, and she didn’t have my address so it was just Bill Brown, Art Department, and it was pinned on the bulletin board in the hallway. And it just said de Kooning, it didn’t say Elaine. So when I came back, he came over right away to me and he said, “Do you really know de Kooning?”

— From an interview with Paul Karlstrom for the catalog of the 2011 exhibition, “Theophilus Brown: An Artful Life,” at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco.

Art in the Garden

October 19, 2021 § Leave a comment

A redwood grove in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

IT WAS A PERFECT PAIRING: an afternoon touring the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and viewing an exhibition of paintings created by the garden’s first artist-in-residence. Organized by the art committee of Santa Barbara Newcomers — a group of recent arrivals — the afternoon began with an enlightening tour of the garden led by Education Director Scot Pipkin, who emphasized the garden’s focus on native California plants. Santa Barbara painter Libby Holland, the debut artist-in-residence, joined the tour and gave a talk about the paintings her residency inspired, which are now exhibited in the garden’s Conservation Center gallery.

In Charlotte’s web

September 21, 2021 § Leave a comment

Tea with Charlotte, July 2021

FIRST PERSON | THOMAS REYNOLDS

CHARLOTTE KARP was always enthusiastic and encouraging, and she let you love her back, too. No one could resist her warm embrace, but she pulled no punches once you got to know her. I got lucky the day she and my fellow Florida expat Swan Brown walked into the gallery and adopted me into their unlikely urban family.

Charlotte grew up on a Texas ranch, later was a first class flight attendant for Continental Airlines, then married and raised three children in Chicago. Along the way, her family bought a winter home in Florida that had been previously owned by Swan Brown. She sought him out, and he agreed to help with the garden he’d planted, along with those in the grand Palm Beach estates he designed and superintended. They became fast friends. Later Swan and Jim Bolin, Swan’s partner after his married life ended in the early ’60s, bought a cabin at Lake Tahoe, where Jim liked to ski. Ultimately they moved down to San Francisco, and by then Charlotte and her family had moved here as well.

Then Charlotte’s husband left her for another woman — a very wealthy woman. Charlotte refused to be separated from her family, inviting the new wife in, and sometimes accepting invitations to travel extravagantly together. How she could embrace such a situation was miraculous. She would say simply, “I won’t break up my family.”

And she didn’t. Her daughter and two sons were beside her in her elegant flat on Washington Street, between Bloomers florist and the Swedenborgian Church, when she died yesterday morning, two days after beginning hospice care. Her daughter emailed: “Charlotte passed away peacefully this a.m. 9/20/21. She was so loved, lucid, grateful and unafraid.”

MORE: “A visit with ChaCha

Wear your good shoes

September 1, 2021 § Leave a comment

Folk art: a vintage shoeshine stand

THE FIRST THURSDAY art walk returns to downtown Santa Barbara on September 2, from 5 to 8 p.m., and the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, at 1331 State Street, is offering something special: a free shoeshine on a vintage shine stand. Master shine man Domingo Lopez — who manned the shine stand in the shoe department at Nordstrom in Santa Barbara for 26 years — will be present.