The Jan Holloway Collection
March 3, 2014 § 1 Comment
REVIEW | COLETTE TANAKA
For nearly 20 years Jan Holloway worked in the San Francisco gallery community, where she developed a niche exhibiting California artists of the early 20th century. The exhibition history of her gallery would reveal the names of prominent artists, but more important were the many exhibitions that shed light on careers forgotten or overshadowed.
Now she is sharing her personal collection in a book and exhibition called “Good Times – Hard Times,” which consists primarily of the work of the generation of artists active in San Francisco between the two world wars. This group vividly represents two significant changes in the art world, one artistic, the other social and cultural.
This period saw many artists struggling to create a visual vocabulary not totally reliant on 19th century European antecedents. Refined brushwork became more muscular, brusque and expressionistic. Colors changed from subdued tonalist harmonies to brighter, stronger palettes influenced by the Mexican muralists and graphic arts. Forms moved toward simplification and geometric abstraction. Contrast the bucolic Bay View of artistic giant Arthur Mathews circa 1900 against the riotous surface of waves in Esther Meyer’s Submarine Nets from 1944, which belies the ominious reality beneath the flotilla of red buoys in place to intercept enemy submarines attempting to enter the bay.
The ubiquity of the photograph in popular culture, aided by magazines such as Life, influenced picture-making. Verisimilitude was not the lone function of the artist. Both aid and competitor, the camera pushed the artist to simplify the picture plane and strengthen emotional content. John Winkler’s 1919 etching, Fisherman’s Cottage (Telegraph Hill), might illustrate a colorful adventure in the Overland Journal. But by the ’30s, photographs from Peter Stackpole’s Bay Bridge Series inform other work in a more Precisionist mode, as in Herman Volz’s Ship and Dock.
Perhaps most germane to the group of artists coming of age between the wars was the social and cultural shift taking place beneath their feet. The urbane professional dependent on commissions from the wealthy is succeeded by working amateur artists who paint because they need to flex their muscles. Subject matter and treatment shift from decoration and histrionics to absorption in the color and qualms of everyday life. The desire to create an indigenous artistic vernacular was canonized in the federal art projects of the ’30s.
“More than at any time in the past 15 years the American artist is contemplating the American scene,” said Forbes Watson, technical director of the Public Works of Art Project, just as plans for the project — which would include the murals in Coit Tower — were made public. “More than ever he is looking at and into the life of his own land. So that at this time particularly the government’s project should result in a valuable native record.”
And so, with enthusiasm, artists took up brush and chisel to explore and comment on life outside their front door. Sometimes the results were grand and celebratory, as in At Baker Beach, where Victor Arnautoff has made a family outing iconic; sometimes somber and introspective, as in Oswald Kurman’s Hotel; and sometimes questioning and insistent, as in Irving Norman’s City Rush. We are greeted by familiar places engaging us in new conversations.
The sense of place in the Holloway collection is sometimes precious, sometimes explosive. The diverse artists represented here are the threads that built the structure and the richness of the tapestry of San Francisco’s art community.