Kim Frohsin at the Crocker

October 17, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Kim Frohsin and “Grasshopper Pie” at the Crocker Museum.

ON A RECENT VISIT to the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, artist Kim Frohsin rounded the corner to visit the work of old friends from the Bay Area Figurative movement and found her own “Grasshopper Pie” from the 1993. It was in good company, with an Elmer Bischoff landscape and a Manuel Neri sculpture nearby.

“Since the early 1950s, when the Bay Area artists David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and others began to return to representational motifs, California artist have pursued abstract depictions of the human figure,” the label noted. “Few have done so with the consistency of Kim Frohsin, who finds fresh inspiration in figures both nude and clothed, indoors and out. Flat and patterned, Frohsin’s figures often seem to become one with their environment, such as this woman at a bakery counter.”

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Neri, Bischoff and Frohsin at the Crocker Museum.

Thanatopsis — Aeterna

April 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

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CAROL AETERNA VOLK IS DEAD. She did not pass! She did not fall asleep! She did not go to the great beyond! Aeterna Volk just died. She was never afraid of death, for if you are afraid of dying, you cannot love to live.

Aeterna Volk does not need a memorial or funeral service to convince herself that she truly is dead. The people who have known and loved her will memorialize her in their hearts. Those who never understood her philosophies will not be moved because she has expired.

— Final entry in a book of poems left behind by Carol Aeterna Volk, published posthumously with watercolor paintings by Gary Bukovnik.

Carol Peek’s journey

July 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

Carol Peek | Subtle Shifts

THE CALENDAR STAYS FULL as Carol Peek soaks up courses in art history, wraps up the remodeling of a new home and studio, and occasionally sneaks off to her cabin in Wyoming. She finally feels settled, but the memories never fade completely. Back in 1999, she was giving birth to her second child as her husband lay dying in the same hospital in Santa Rosa, California.

Peek recites a timeline of events, pausing to process each chapter. She met Bill Griffin at an art show, and it was love at first sight. Recognizing each other as soul mates, they talked about art, and he bought two of her paintings that first day. Once Peek said “I do” to the fun-loving attorney, the couple searched for a place where they could enjoy horses and Carol could concentrate on her art. A 30-acre ranch in Santa Rosa fit the bill.

“I thought I’d marry a cowboy, not an attorney,” Peek laughs of her preconceived notions. “Instead of working on the ranch, we bought the ranch.” As daughter Anna came along, Peek savored her enviable life. She had it all — a great husband and daughter, a healthy place to raise kids, and an inspiring setting for her art. “I had my dream studio, and the neighbors had a dairy, so I had 90 subjects right next door,” Peek says, alluding to her frequent bovine portraits.

Shortly after the 1997 ranch purchase, however, Bill brought home the devastating diagnosis of lymphoma. Doctors gave him a dismal prognosis and, by 1999, he was declining drastically. As his time grew short, physicians induced labor for Carol so Bill could meet his new son, Will. He lived a few more weeks.

For Peek, grieving became incremental, as she raised two children and pondered her future. “I didn’t want that tragedy to define my life,” Peek says. “I committed to two things: raising my children and staying an active artist.”

In 2010, after living in Utah for six years, Peek returned to California, where she finds inspiration everywhere she looks, even during a 10-minute drive as she takes her son to school. “I can see between one and 20 paintings along the way,” she says. “They’re unexpected miracles.” Peek spends much of her time in the studio, but she also goes out on location to paint and to be inspired — “to fine tune my color work and to remember the light and shadow,” she says.

Along with painting and teaching, Peek also is continuing her studies, as she works toward a Master’s in Fine Art from the Academy of Art. Her daughter is now 21, and her son is 18, which means that Peek soon will become a member of the empty-nester club, something she views with mixed emotions.

“Maybe I’ll travel for a year and paint,” she says. “I feel like the whole world will open back up for me, but raising my two children has been the most wonderful thing I have ever done, or ever will do. The last 21 years have been doing that’s best for my kids; I want to see how the next five years unfold.”

— Excerpted from articles published in Art of the West magazine in 2006 and 2017.

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.

But let’s cut to the chase. Marion made it clear she did not want a memorial. Yet here we are. And I think that’s great. So while we’re misbehaving, let me tell you about the time Marion almost got married. These are her own words, from a letter — with show and tell — she wrote to us on January 8, 2005.

I was a normal girl from Walla Walla, Washington, until age 19, when, in Big Sur, California, I was transformed into a wild Bohemian. I lived for a time with the Fassett family and helped them build their fabulous Nepenthe restaurant. Dan Harris (aka Zev), the most imaginative artist I have ever known, was often there. His wife, Gertrude, ran the best art gallery in Monterey at that time and they were in the process of building an incredible home called Crazy Crescent.

It was my good fortune that Dan and Gertrude happened to be in New York for three months when I arrived there two years after meeting them in Big Sur. They had grown up in New York and knew all the most interesting things for me to see and do in the short time I could afford to stay. (It turned out that I got a job and stayed two years.)

One day Dan said: “We must take Marion to meet Oronzo.”

“Oh yes,” Gertrude replied, “Oronzo must meet Marion.”

Oronzo Gasparo, they told me, was very active in the New York art scene. I was thrilled when they arranged to take me to his studio on East 115th Street. The year was 1950 and that was not a smart address.

When we entered his studio I was flabbergasted to see the walls covered with oil paintings of someone who looked just like me. Straight dark hair with bangs, dark eyes, the face almost identical, as was the shape. Some were nude. Some in exotic dress. Sitting, lounging, bending — pictures of me all over the place.

Oronzo was beside himself. His dear friends Dan and Gertrude had brought him his dream girl in real life! All those paintings were from his imagination. I looked just like the female he had made up.

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We all laughed and drank wine and marveled at the incredible similarity. Oronzo sat next to me, held my hand and gazed up into my eyes. I was about eight inches taller than he. He had a funny little raspy voice, unlike any Italian I had known — and he was much older than I. I was definitely not attracted to him physically, but it was kind of fun to be looked at in such an adoring way.

OronzoWe had dates. He brought me ethnic jewelry that made me look like a gypsy. He took me to art openings where everyone thought I was his model. He sent me adoring cards and photos of himself. My favorite was taken when he was a professional flamenco dancer. It was inscribed: “May our transposed taught meet.”

When the day came that he was getting ready to propose, I realized I had to bring all this to an end.

I had learned something important about Oronzo. When it came to selling his paintings, he was very businesslike and shrewd about the payment arrangements. Not all of his paintings were portraits like me. He had one I specially liked that he had done in Santa Fe, New Mexico — a street scene in bold colors. I told him I’d like to buy that painting if he would let me pay him $10 per month.

Everything changed. Yes, he agreed to the terms. Yes, I could take it to my fifth floor walk-up on 14th Street. And yes, I made all the payments when due. But the romance was over. From the moment I owed him money, Oronzo fell out of love with me.

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RIP, Marion. This has certainly been a lot of fun.

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.

She was a lot of fun

April 13, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Marion Seawell | President Taft Touring Walla Walla in Grandfather’s Car (1994)

By THOMAS R. REYNOLDS

With her right hand she painted as Marion Seawell. With her left hand she wrote as M.C. Wells. In both her right-handed paintings and her left-handed writings, she spent a lifetime exploring the quirks and contradictions of her dual personalities.

That lifetime came to an end on April 7, 2017, when Marion Seawell died at age 88 in Mill Valley, California, after a fall and a short hospitalization.

She led an interesting life, as she acknowledged in the dedication of a monograph of her work, published in 2008 on her 80th birthday: “To all the dear friends, young and old, past and present, who have helped make my journey through life such an interesting adventure.” The book was titled This Has Certainly Been a Lot of Fun.

In the book, as in her life and art, she told a rigorously honest personal story. « Read the rest of this entry »

94 little paintings

March 11, 2017 § 1 Comment

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FOR HER MOTHER’S 80th birthday party up at The Sea Ranch, Sandy Ostrau was enlisted to paint 94 little paintings of the area on cards. Her mother, still strong of fighting spirit, added an action item on the back of each as a way to resist the political tide.

“Take the card that has both a painting you like and an action you would be willing to do,” she asked her guests. “Carrying out the action would be a meaningful birthday present to me.”

Sandy’s verdict: “A big hit and fun project.”

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In the studio with Kim Frohsin

February 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

Q & A | KIM FROHSIN

What is the creative process like for you?
To date it’s one in which one series or interest will somehow, in a deeply intuitive and subliminal way, lead naturally into the next work. To me, it seems like an innate flow and natural transition typifies my modus operandi over the last 29 years. There have certainly been times when my art is directly influenced by life circumstances or my reaction to those circumstances. Life on a personally intimate scale or on a large scale — for example, the death of my dog, or my reaction to 9/11. The art can serve sometimes as documentation, therapy or an emotional necessity for self-expression; the art simply emerges, life translated into imagery.

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When I became an artist

February 2, 2017 § 1 Comment

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Marion Seawell | Metamorphosis (1989)

FIRST PERSON | MARION SEAWELL

When I was 19 years old, I was a waitress at Deetjen’s in Big Sur, California. A year later, I lived with the Fasset family, who built Nepenthe, and Lolly Fasset and I dug the clay and baked the adobe bricks that surround their magnificent terrace.

I was confident I was a superb artist, and I drew countless pictures of horses. One day I was trimming my long hair and asked a visitor from Los Angeles — an art teacher — if he would trim an inch off the back while I held my hand mirror. He was not shy about letting me know my carefully shaded pencil drawings of horses did not add up to much in the real world. He lifted up a long handful of my hair and — whack — cut it off at my neck. As I gaped in horror, he proceeded to cut off all of my long hair. Then he said I needed bangs and snipped some more. I was in a state of shock.

The blow to the self-esteem of my sensitive (left) side was devastating. From that moment on, I was transformed into a short-haired Bohemian. I wore togas, sandals and belts of yarn. I didn’t draw a horse for years — in fact, I did no artwork at all except for learning to weave wild things. That was when I really began to learn about art.

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