Diebenkorn on Villierme

January 22, 1992 § Leave a comment

Henry Villierme | Lakeview (1957)

Henry Villierme | Lakeview (1957)

WHEN HENRY VILLIERME told me in 1959 that he was leaving the Bay Area for Southern California — to take a job in a bank? — I was stunned and desperately disappointed. Of all the painting students at the California College of Arts and Crafts who might have abandoned his direction, Henry was the one whose defection could hit me the hardest.

In the studio it was always a pleasure to confront him and his painting. He was a hard and intense worker. He was anxious for words from me and I would usually come up with some nonsense which I would interrupt by saying, “Look Henry — just keep painting.” But he usually had some questions and you could feel their extreme need for answers. There were never evasions, apologies or excuses as with some students.

I enjoyed my critiques with Henry. His work was always wet and difficult to handle, would have been through hell but would not be tortured. It would be rich and very solid and just faintly bruised and slightly bloodied — ineffaceable evidence of a desperate fight. Henry would respond, “What fight?”

Beyond this Henry’s painting had, and still has, instinctual understanding of that universal human activity in which colors are applied to a surface.

Henry’s capacity to bring a work to a final state of open, nonintrospective resolution is impressive. There is no one whom I would feel better about describing as “a real painter.”

Anyone who can bring to realization a canvas on a hilltop in a high wind as I once observed is to be profoundly respected.

January 1992

Telling stories, yet resisting narrative

April 30, 2022 § Leave a comment

Sandy Ostrau | Summer’s Calling

Santa Barbara Independent

Thomas Reynolds Gallery’s latest exhibition holds — and resolves — subtle tensions gracefully. Sandy Ostrau’s Paradise Revisited collects 15 of her abstract paintings inspired by the California landscape. These works tell stories yet resist narrative. They capture wholes without losing the contrast of their parts, and form abstractions that sublimate the figurative.

The oscillation between the lack and abundance of story is felt as the two opposing walls of the gallery seize the viewer’s senses. The show renders vacillation personal. The artist is not a visitor to paradise so much as a pendulum swinging in and out of it. We see separateness morphing into togetherness and back. In a bittersweet retelling of our ecological relationships, Ostrau’s figures first fuse with the landscape and then reclaim their singularity. Compelling examples include “Dunes Pass,” where the figure self-erases into the dunes, and “Wild Flowered Path,” where the figuration borders on camouflage.

Looking at “Intimate” or “Seaside Walk,” I felt a charged negotiation between melancholy and surprise — along with a subsequent release. “Melancholy” because Ostrau’s re-encoding of reality as simplified blotches makes human loneliness starker. “Surprise” because the mind then wonders how — and more poignantly why — so little can evoke so much. Ostrau’s mastery resides in the resolution that follows. Her paintings’ physicality, literal depth, and thickness take over.

Through her work, Ostrau reinstates the senses as the most trustworthy guide to experience. She scrapes her paint, gathers her oil in mounds, and spreads it as one would soil in a California garden. It’s an invitation to break out of representation. The more time I spent with the pieces, the less story mattered and the more consoling they became, almost like the California sunsets I’ve been lucky to witness.


Sandy Ostrau in Santa Barbara

April 2, 2022 § Leave a comment

Joanne Calitri: “The essence of paradise
Lynda Millner: “Painting paradise”

‘It feels like coming home’

March 26, 2022 § Leave a comment

Sandy Ostrau in her studio.


I chose Santa Barbara for college to play for the great UCSB club women’s soccer team — back before a varsity team existed. I had watched the team play in a tournament at Stanford in Palo Alto, my hometown, while I was in high school and I knew it would be a good fit. I arrived on campus for freshman orientation having never visited before. After the five-hour drive from Palo Alto, I stepped out of the car to the fragrant scent of eucalyptus leaves, salty sea air with a slight hint of tar, and a view of the ocean. Students on bikes whizzed by, and I knew at that moment I had landed in the right place.  

The natural beauty of the Central Coast captured me. The weather was perfect. The students were fun-loving and enjoyed a good party, while still working hard. And it was a perfect place to study. I often rode my bike to the beach to read a few chapters in my art history textbooks. The time I spent in Santa Barbara has remained a source of creative inspiration for the many years I have been making art. Had it not been for my experiences there, and the natural beauty, I’m sure I would not be a painter.

Now I’m thrilled to be returning to my most favorite town and old stomping grounds with an exhibition of my paintings on State Street. I have been lucky enough to take my passion to create and make art to a professional level. I’ve been a full time painter for more than 20 years. During that time I’ve had the good fortune to exhibit in galleries and shows all over the country. And now an exhibition in Santa Barbara — it feels like coming home.

A second grand opening

March 18, 2022 § Leave a comment


When Thomas Reynolds moved his well-established gallery from its perch in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights, the gallery’s home for 25 years, it seemed an auspicious idea to set up shop and a new home in Santa Barbara. The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, situated in a spot just a few doors up from the Arlington Theater on State, enjoys a central location in close proximity to the city’s expanding Arts District, two blocks from the Museum of Art.

A year ago, the arrival of vaccinations was breeding widespread hope for a return to normal human behavior and old cultural habits. Alas, along came Delta and Omicron, delaying the comfort zone with visiting indoor galleries and businesses.

One year later, the Covid cobwebs are finally being dusted away and art-seekers are getting out more. For anyone who has put off checking out the space, it’s time to visit Reynolds’ current exhibition, 1 Yr in SB. Consider it a second grand opening, and an illuminating introduction to the focus of Reynolds’ work as a gallerist.

In short, the art is about and from California, mostly tapping Bay Area or Los Angeles scenes and landmarks as iconography. In terms of artistic approach, the work tends to live between the realms of abstraction and realism, each with its own code of conduct within that idiomatic “between” zone.

• General overview visions of California cities, romantic while cool, are presented by Mark Matsuno and Veerakeat Tongpaiboon, circling around the realism with separate visions. Matsuno’s aerial view of the winding and mostly dry Los Angeles River is the subject of A River Runs Through It, and Tunnel Vision offers a horizontal, symmetrical view of a vintage tunnel, with echoing arch patterns stretching into the distance. With his odes to San Francisco, including the action-blurred Market Street traffic hustle of Bike Lane in the gallery’s window, Tongpaiboon proves to be an exacting but fluid painter, with a rich palette and an idealized city as expressive playground.

• Sandy Ostrau, a UCSB graduate, delves deeper into abstract sensibilities than others in the show and enjoys laying on thick, palpable textures of paint. Figures appear in stages of prop-like ambiguity, as in Standing Together, but with an intimacy beyond their pictorial function. A lone, tilting semblance of a figure leans into a run in Morning Run, a centering device in the composition, divided by rectilinear color zones. Fields to Sea draws doubly on California connections, given its similarity to Northern-turned-Southern Californian Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series, a touchstone of the idea of natural abstraction.

• Art historical parallels take a different turn in Ken Auster’s infectious but also voyeristic, fly-on-the-wall paintings of restaurant life. He’s Coming With Your Soup invokes its story with the title, while the intriguing Merry Souls plots figures in a murky shaded foreground, with a glistening bar and mural in the background. Through discernibly contemporary, these rugged slice-of-life paintings also refer back to the immortal views of leisure and epicure captured by Manet and Renoir in the late 19th century.

• Also in the show are nudes, elegant and classicist in Stevan Shapona’s canvases, and in rougher impressions through Kim Frohsin’s ink-on-paper and mixed media visions. Gary Bukovnik lightens the sensory load with airy fine floral studies.

The gallery’s first anniversary party continues with a part two exhibition, Sandy Ostrau: Paradise Revisited, in April and May. Stop by. Masks are optional and the art is inviting.

It’s our anniversary

March 3, 2022 § 6 Comments

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, which relocated to 1331 State Street in Santa Barbara last year after 25 years in San Francisco, is celebrating its first anniversary with a pair of exhibitions.

1 Yr in SB, opening on First Thursday, March 3, and continuing to March 30, is a group exhibition of artists whose work the gallery has introduced in Santa Barbara during its first year.

Paradise Revisited, from April 2 to May 28, is a solo exhibition of paintings by UC Santa Barbara graduate Sandy Ostrau, who returns as one of California’s most admired and sought-after contemporary artists. While she was a student at UCSB, Ostrau also played on the fabled women’s soccer team and waitressed her way up and down State Street. Now working primarily from her studio at Sea Ranch, she captures the strong shapes and bold colors of the California coast and the denizens who live here. A first anniversary reception with Sandy Ostrau will be held on Saturday, April 2, from 3 to 5 p.m.

“We’re delighted to be in Santa Barbara,” says Thomas Reynolds. “Leaving San Francisco and our beloved Fillmore Street neighborhood, where we were so deeply engaged, has been tough. But we’ve felt fortunate to be a part of the excitement the new pedestrian promenade has brought to State Street. Santa Barbara is surely one of the few cities whose downtown has become much more vibrant and alive during the pandemic.”

Reynolds has been an active member of the steering committee working to establish Santa Barbara’s Arts District in the area centered on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of State Street. He says: “The new Arts District is binding together a remarkable concentration of cultural treasures: the museum, symphony, ballet and opera; the historic Arlington, Granada and New Vic theaters; the film festival; plus a great group of galleries, restaurants and shops. It’s the Funk Zone for grown-ups and locals.”

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery was founded in 1994 in San Francisco and became a fixture on Fillmore Street, presenting historic and contemporary California art and artists. Reynolds, a recovering lawyer, was also president of the neighborhood business association, chair of the annual Fillmore Jazz Festival, and editor and publisher of the local newspaper.

His first exhibition was also his last

February 8, 2022 § Leave a comment

Mark Matsuno | Above the City of Angels


Not many people knew Mark Matsuno by name, but his lifetime of work has touched countless people.

The San Francisco native, born March 24, 1952, moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20 to work in advertising and specialized in producing printed promotional materials for Hollywood movies. Working on marketing materials for High Fidelity, Saving Private Ryan and many others, as well as overseeing the production of packaging designs for the Friends DVD box set and the Harry Potter DVDs, Matsuno was known as a rare, talented and drama-free graphic designer in Hollywood, according to those close to him.

After battling illness for more than two years, Matsuno died on December 12, 2021, at the age of 69.

In his later years, Matsuno found time to paint. At his death, Matsuno’s paintings were showing at fellow former San Franciscan Thomas Reynolds’ gallery in Santa Barbara.

“For many years, Mark would stop by my gallery in San Francisco when he came home to see friends and family,” Reynolds said. “I always enjoyed his visits and hearing stories about his work as a big-time Hollywood art director. So imagine my delight when I received a message from him last year reporting that the pandemic had given him more time to paint, and including a link to some of his paintings. They were terrific! I was especially pleased, since I’d recently moved my gallery to Santa Barbara and was eager to include more Southern California artists.”

Reynolds added: “We debuted his first exhibition, Urban Landscapes, last fall, and his paintings stirred a great response. Unfortunately, his first exhibition will also be his last. Farewell to a talented artist and a wonderful human being.”

Matsuno wrote an autobiographical post on Art Matters last October, stating:

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.

— “From movie art to fine art

His son, Myles Matsuno, said his father “fulfilled a dream” when he started showing and selling his paintings.

His daughter, Alyssa Matsuno Dessert, recalled that her father, an eclectic lover of music and film, would put on music and paint all day in his art studio at home. He enjoyed painting jazz artists, but also landscapes of California’s urban centers. Matsuno Dessert added that her father encouraged her creative side, and his works would sometimes play off her own work. “I used to take a lot of pictures, and at times he would end up painting some of the pictures I’d taken. So that was kind of our thing,” she said. “Not necessarily a specific place, but traveling together, walking the streets of San Francisco together, walking around France together, just being together. And then, seeing him take those photos and turn them into his artwork was pretty special.”

Myles Matsuno, a filmmaker, also collaborated with his father. He asked his father to design the posters for his first feature film, Christmas in July (2021), as well as his documentary, First to Go (2018). The documentary is about Kchiro Kataoka, Mark Matsuno’s maternal grandfather and the first Japanese American arrested by the FBI in San Francisco after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Kataoka was the owner of the Aki Hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown at the time.

“He was so happy and proud I made that movie,” Myles Matsuno said. “I mean, he’s part of the reason I made it in the first place. He’s the one, along with my grandma. He’s the reason I even started learning about any of that stuff, because that wasn’t taught to me in the school system.”

— Excerpted from an article in Nichi Bei Weekly


Mark Matsuno created the poster for his son’s documentary film.

Thiebaud the storyteller

December 28, 2021 § Leave a comment

Wayne Thiebaud | Sugar Cones (1964)


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.

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