Popping up again

May 3, 2019 § 2 Comments

Q & A | PAMELA FEINSILBER

For two decades he ran the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, an elegant, welcoming art gallery just off Fillmore Street. Since 2015, Thomas Reynolds has exhibited art online and privately by appointment. When a jewel of a space at 1906 Fillmore became available a couple of years ago, he organized a pop-up exhibition. And now, until the end of June, he’s showing art there again.

We met when you were my boss as editor and publisher of California Lawyer magazine. The next thing I knew, you had an art gallery. How did that happen?

I got interested in art and design as a young lawyer in Chicago, going to the Art Institute on Thursday nights. When I came to California Lawyer, we always aimed for strong covers — we even had a Gauguin on the cover once when we wrote about litigation over the bequest that created the Armand Hammer Museum in L.A. I think you edited that story. Through the magazine, I met some wonderful, just-emerging contemporary California painters. Francis Livingston and James Stagg both painted early covers of California Lawyer, and both were in my first gallery show, in 1994.

What made you decide to open a gallery?

I happened into the graduate exhibition of a young painter who lived near Fillmore, Veerakeat Tongpaiboon. His family owned Neecha, the Thai restaurant then at Sutter and Steiner, and many of his paintings were of this area. I lived here, too, and had already fallen in love with the neighborhood. On a lark, I rented the three-room Victorian space at 2291 Pine Street to show Veerakeat’s paintings, and those of a few other artists I admired. I had a six-week lease — it was to be one exhibition, not a new venture.

What happened?

I loved it — both being surrounded by art and becoming more involved in the neighborhood. And people loved Veerakeat’s paintings. His first three shows sold out and he was able to buy a home nearby, where he still lives and paints. I found a lot of satisfaction in helping launch the careers of some incredibly talented painters who’ve had great success.

When you opened, most of the galleries were near Union Square. Why Fillmore?

Throughout its history, this area has been home to a number of important artists. And many people who live here appreciate — and collect — art. Plus, it was my neighborhood, and I felt a strong desire to be a part of it.

How did you find the artists you showed?

Fairly often, they found me. Ken Auster walked into the gallery one day, a legendary surf artist from Laguna Beach who wanted, as he said, to be “a real artist.” A new plein-air movement — artists painting outside, in the landscape — was just beginning again, a century after the first California Impressionists. That provided the spark Ken needed to work outside, where he wanted to be. He brought that same on-the-spot feeling to his cityscapes.

Your focus has been on California art?

Well, I found art to be a good way of learning about this edge of the world. It’s a fairly short history, just since the Gold Rush, in 1849. There’s a thread that runs from the early California painters through the Society of Six and the Bay Area figurative painters in the ’50s.

Some of the figurative painters were still around. Paul Wonner and Theophilus Brown lived their final years just down Pine Street in the Towers, which Brown called “the Versailles of retirement homes.” I had the good fortune to know them both and show their work.

And we helped bring back Henry Villierme, a forgotten member of that group, who created some wonderful paintings after he retired from his day job and got back in the studio.

You closed your gallery four years ago to go online. Yet here you are with another pop-up. Why?

Just lucky, I guess. I closed on my 20th anniversary and was happy to be free of “retail jail,” as a friend on Union Street called it, though I was still showing art online. When this perfect little gallery space with white walls and track lighting became available a couple of years ago, it seemed like a good opportunity to return for a few months. Now it’s become available again, and I’ve popped up again.

It’s great to have a place old friends can stop by, and to be back in the thick of things on the street — which certainly has changed over the 25 years I’ve been here, and ever more quickly in recent years.

What are you exhibiting?

The current exhibition, “California Realism,” is a private collection of some of the best paintings that have come through the gallery over the years. It’s wonderful to be among these “greatest hits” and to see them pass on to a new generation of collectors.

On May 18, we open an exhibition of Sandy Ostrau’s new paintings. Her work is a mix of realism and abstraction that builds on what came before, yet manages to be all her own.

The Thomas Reynolds Gallery is at 1906 Fillmore Street through the end of June.

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