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.

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

‘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


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.


Mark Matsuno | This Used to Be His Town

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