A Mathews mural is in limbo

October 15, 2017 § 1 Comment

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The center panel includes Apollo and the muses, plus Hygeia, goddess of health.

ARTHUR MATHEWS CREATED his three-panel mural Health and the Arts in 1912 for what is now the Health Sciences Library in San Francisco. It has hung there for more than a century. Now the library has gone digital, disposed of its books and put its classical home in Pacific Heights on the market, leaving the fate of the mural uncertain.

The mural was commissioned for the reading room of the library’s classical home, designed by architect Albert Pissis. Mathews at the time was perhaps California’s most important artist, and one who exerted considerable influence over the education of a generation of early California artists and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Other murals by Mathews include a series of 12 panels tracing the history of California in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

A spokesman for the library said “it is too early to tell” about the fate of the mural and that it “depends on a buyer’s intended use for the building.” The Beaux Arts building is being marketed as a “one-of-a-kind development opportunity.”

“Although the murals could be removed, it would be a costly conservation process that would make them even more difficult to sell,” said Harvey Jones, the longtime curator who built the Oakland Museum’s expansive collection of work by Arthur Mathews and his wife, the equally talented artist Lucia Mathews. “It seems unlikely that a new owner will be able to utilize the murals in a new configuration of the spaces. Their artistic appeal is dubious to contemporary business sensibilities.”

Jones, author of The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews, added: “I wish there were some reasonable possibilities for optimism here.”

MORE: “Medical library is on the block

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‘It was the truth’

October 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

WalkerEvans

Walker Evans | Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama (1936)

WALKER EVANS’ best-known photographs were made during the Depression. Made using a large-format camera and long exposures, these portraits were true collaborations between photographer and subject. They powerfully captured the deprivation of the time — and the dignity of those who lived through it.

This image of Allie Mae Burroughs, a sharecropper’s wife from Alabama, is both a portrait of a specific person and a classic symbol of the Depression. Devoid of any context, this simple, iconic image could be of any poor woman, from any decade.

In the Walker Evans exhibition now at SFMOMA, you can hear Allie Mae Burroughs’ deeply southern voice, complete with subtitles, from an interview recorded in the 1970s. She said of what Evans captured in this famous portrait: “It was the truth.”

Before the Golden Gate

September 29, 2017 § 1 Comment

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Ansel Adams | The Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)

“ONE BEAUTIFUL STORM-CLEARING MORNING, I looked out the window of our San Francisco home and saw magnificent clouds rolling from the north over the Golden Gate,” Ansel Adams wrote.

He grabbed his new 8-by-10 inch view camera and drove to the end of 32nd Avenue at the edge of Sea Cliff. He dashed along the old Cliff House railroad bed “to the crest of a promontory.”

“From there was a grand view of the Golden Gate and the wonderful evolving landscape of clouds,” he wrote. “I have been after that for 10 years, and at last got a really satisfactory plate.”

The only known mural print of this image was auctioned at Bonhams on October 2. It sold for $162,500.

Strunk and White, illustrated

August 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

KALMAN

By ROBERTA SMITH
The New York Times

Around 2002, the artist, illustrator and writer Maira Kalman came across a copy of William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style in a yard sale and decided this legendary if sometimes contested guide to grammar and clear writing needed visual accompaniment.

So she provided some, making 57 illustrations inspired by sentences and phrases selected from the book. All these images Ms. Kalman rendered in gouache in a delectably colored figurative style indebted to David Hockney and Florine Stettheimer. They were then sprinkled throughout a 2005 version of Elements based on its fourth edition, covered in exuberant red.

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Russian River, 3 p.m.

May 10, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Mary Robertson | Three Canoes

THIS IS, OF COURSE, the Russian River the casual tourist never sees. He’s in the middle of the damn painting, for one thing. For another, he’s got his eyes closed, soaking up the pure, unreflected heat. He’s too preoccupied, meditating, suspended weightless between water and sky. If he wasn’t on his day off, he’d probably notice the atmosphere is positively luminescent. Pass the Stroh’s, willya?

This is the world as seen by Mary Robertson. “For me, it’s always three in the afternoon, summer,” says Robertson. “No evenings, no mornings.”

Working from photographs, she paints the vacationers and their accoutrements as they float past her vantage point. “It seems to me as though the same swimmers, the same summer people, are always there,” says Robertson, who works with oil on linen and Masonite, not trying to capture the glow of the smogless afternoons but capturing it just the same. This is no small achievement; her work has been compared to Winslow Homer’s, Edward Hopper’s and especially, in its understanding of light, water and timeless human presence, to the Charles River paintings of Thomas Eakins.

“After my first show, somebody pointed that out to me, so I studied him,” says the artist. “It was a little embarrassing, really, for I hadn’t made the connection. To tell you the truth, I just paint what I see.”

The river itself is changing. “Last year,” she says, “They started releasing water upstream. The water is getting clearer. It’s also getting harder to paint. You can see the bottom — it’s like painting gin instead of pea soup. I’m afraid that what Gordon Cook [the painter] said about me is true — that I have a marvelous feel for algae.”

— MELVIN MARCUS

When Marion got married — almost

April 30, 2017 § 3 Comments

From remarks by Thomas Reynolds at a memorial on April 30, 2017.

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Marion Seawell (1928-2017)

I CAME TO KNOW Marion Seawell 25 years ago when I opened a gallery in San Francisco. One of the first people I met was her great friend — and later mine — the art historian William Whitney, who lived two blocks away.

In 2008, with Marion sometimes kicking and screaming, we published a book of her work, This Has Certainly Been a Lot of Fun — a truly remarkable and brutally honest statement by an artist. To celebrate its publication, we had a small exhibition of her paintings at my gallery, and she gave a talk.

We kept in touch as she was finding a mostly happy home for her final years at the Redwoods in Mill Valley. Sometimes she would call on Friday afternoons and laugh about the horns honking in the background. Her fellow seniors were holding their weekly antiwar protest outside. It was clear she had found the right home. « Read the rest of this entry »

Artists and influences

April 24, 2017 § Leave a comment

BAY AREA ARTISTS Kim Frohsin and Sandy Ostrau discuss the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibition, the Bay Area Figurative Movement and other influences on their work, in conversation with the Smithsonian Institution’s Paul Karlstrom.