Saving the murals
August 26, 2019 § Leave a comment
IT’S BEING HAILED as a victory. The school board in San Francisco reversed course and voted merely to cover up — not paint over — a remarkable series of murals by noted artist Victor Arnautoff at George Washington High School. But the plan is still to make the frescoes disappear.
That’s a shame. A quickly scheduled, little noted public viewing of the controversial murals on a weekday afternoon nonetheless brought out scores of people eager to see for themselves what the fuss was about. It turned into an art party, with a gathering of many leading figures from the Bay Area art world. Most seemed to agree it was a silly idea to destroy — or even hide — the murals so that the young minds of high school students would not be subjected to the trauma of passing by Arnautoff’s intentionally provocative art.
Said one: “If they’re worried about the kids being traumatized, don’t let them read the front page of The New York Times.”
MORE: “The case for keeping the murals”
My first brush with art
March 4, 2018 § 2 Comments
FIRST PERSON | THOMAS R. REYNOLDS
Sarah Segrest taught 7th grade English and Holmes County French. She was the first touch of culture that came into my young life as a country kid growing up in the backwoods, and my first brush with art.
At the rear of her room she had a display space for her flower arrangements, usually featuring camellias in the winter from her garden. She was an artist, and an ever-changing show of her paintings lined the walls. Plus, she had an air conditioner when no one else did — no small attraction in our farm town in the heart and the heat of the Florida Panhandle.
Mrs. Segrest was just the right combination of nurturing and challenging for 7th graders, no longer in elementary school but not quite teenagers yet. When I got to 9th grade and had her again for French class, her elevated aesthetic sensibilities became ever more obvious. French! With a southern accent.
By the time I had graduated a few times and had an opportunity to try out my French in France, I had also moved to Chicago, far from home. As I got more interested in art, I wanted something real to go along with my posters. I thought of Mrs. Segrest, and wrote her a letter asking if I could visit on my next trip back home and possibly acquire one of her paintings.
And so I did. She and Dr. Segrest lived in a secluded 10-acre woodland just south of town that was thick with hundreds of camellia bushes. Their home was filled with her paintings. I especially liked a still life of a watermelon she had just finished.
“Well, you may not want to pay what my teacher says it’s worth,” she warned me: $100.
It was my first original oil, and the subject matter made it a perfect way to remember her and home. I had also been attracted to a earlier painting of persimmons — especially after she said that another favorite teacher, Mrs. Gavin, who taught 10th grade biology, had brought her those persimmons. As I wrote the check and claimed my prize, Mrs. Segrest took the canvasboard with the persimmon painting on it and tucked it unnoticeably inside the back of the framed watermelon painting. “Dr. Segrest doesn’t like me to give them away,” she whispered.
A few years later, as the art bug was taking hold, I went to see Mrs. Segrest again on another trip back home and asked if I might buy my mother one of her paintings as a Christmas gift. She suggested an oval of roses. After mother died, I reclaimed it for myself — and now it reminds me of them both.
Reynolds, who opened the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco in 1994, credits Sarah Segrest with stimulating his early interest in art.
An honest opinion
December 15, 2014 § 4 Comments
My pal Judson Orrick, a lawyer, was moved to begin painting. One day his friend the artist Joe McFadden came by his law office. As Judson tells the story:
“I represented Joe in a dispute with a gallery owner who wasn’t paying him. Joe came by my office, which is festooned with examples from my abstract expressionist period. Big canvasses. Lots of bright squiggles and whathaveyou’s. Everyone who comes in compliments my rare talent. Joe said nothing. So I said to him: Everyone compliments my artwork, Joe, but yours is the single opinion that matters to me. Honestly, what do you think?”
“It’s dreadful,” he said. “Truly horrible. A waste of paint and canvas. I know orangutans working with dung who have shown more promise. Seriously, it’s bad. You should stop.”
Then he turned up his palms, cocked his head, smiled and shrugged. “You asked.”
Read more: “I really, really liked that guy”
‘Okay, you win’
May 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
ONE OF OUR strongest supporters — and one of our neighborhood’s truly good guys — was laid to rest the other day. Hayes Keeler was a lawyer turned investment advisor who lived nearby. Over the years, he’d stop by on his neighborhood rounds, always ready to joust, tickled that another lawyer had turned gallery owner. Even as Parkinson’s Disease took its toll, he remained amazingly upbeat.
His friend Tim Smith gave the eulogy at what was billed as the “Celebration of the Life of Hayes Keeler” on May 3, just down the hill at the beautiful little Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin.
“He was tough,” Smith said, “challenging, probing, engaging and professorial. I always had to be sure I knew what I was talking about, even if I thought it was obvious. After he continued to challenge me and I continued to squirm, he would suddenly smile and say, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Okay, you win.’ ”
Sandy Ostrau’s expanding vision
June 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
By PAUL KARLSTROM
About two years ago I fortuitously encountered some of the colorful and lushly painted landscapes of Sandy Ostrau. To a one they had a distinctive sense of their creator’s personal vision and evident grasp of the principles of modernist art. The best examples were the most reductive in composition and details, minimalist works that were as much about the structure as the look of nature. I was greatly attracted to the abstract qualities Ostrau was beginning to explore within the plein air framework.
Building upon that foundation, Ostrau next did a series of landscapes that pushed further to pure abstraction, plein air representation all but abandoned. As the landscape flattens, shapes and color become the subject. Some of the works suggest landscape; in one, for example, a peach-colored sandy beach dominates the composition with its narrow band of dark blue sea in the distance surmounted by a somewhat wider horizontal lighter blue sky — a minimalist composition defined by three horizontal lines.
Now Ostrau has carried her evolving treatment still further, introducing the figure into an otherwise abstract pictorial formulation. The human presence, nestled in Ostrau’s abstract environment, serves to animate the composition. Figuration embraces abstraction in what I can only describe as an authoritative and resolute integration of visual forms, as successful as almost anything I have lately seen. I look forward to the next iteration of Sandy Ostrau’s artistic journey as she moves toward ever greater expressive vigor.
Paul J. Karlstrom was the longtime West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. © June 2013 by Paul J. Karlstrom.
What I’ve learned
January 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
An old friend — a prominent and prosperous lawyer — passed through town a few weeks ago. We had dinner at The Big Four on Nob Hill. I wrote to thank him for a pleasant evening and asked the great man how he would sum up what he had learned in his long and successful life about what really matters, and what advice he could offer.
His reply, in its entirety:
What really matters: Family and friends.
What have I learned: Didn’t take enough risks.
What advice do I have: Take them.
For Terry Miura, a new path
September 2, 2004 § Leave a comment
Terry Miura, who moved from Brooklyn and now lives near Sacramento, departs from his earlier paintings of urban cityscapes in these painterly evocations of a nearly pure landscape, encroached upon only slightly by humans.
Avoiding the pitfalls of contemporary impressionism, which too often comes off as sweet and sugary, Miura follows a path more akin to the tonalism of early California painters such as Xavier Martinez and Giuseppe Cadenasso. Using earth colors and a structure based on light and dark tonal variations, he gives us subtle and emotive scenes of foothill vistas and Napa Valley roads.
Evidence of human habitation is limited in Miura’s landscapes, faint reminders of transitory dwellers on the land. A barn sits under a romantic twilight sky, a footpath unfolds ribbonlike over rolling green foothills, a road sign and telephone poles flank a highway. Nature itself is the main subject here as Miura concentrates on the atmospheric effects of light and air on the landscape.
Miura is sensitive to the changes in light as he moves from place to place, giving us a bleak and arid sky over I-5, capturing the ironically lovely rosiness of smoggy Pasadena and the misty blue air surrounding a river oak. He is especially adept at conveying the mysterious beauty of Napa at nightfall in a magical scene of a foggy Highway 29 lined with looming eucalyptus trees at dusk. It’s a gem.
— VICTORIA DALKEY, The Sacramento Bee
Sweeping up the heart
January 13, 2004 § Leave a comment
Our friend William had 88 good years and was in the hospital for only a few days at the end. He died peacefully, in his sleep, at about 7 in the morning, as we held his hands. He just stopped breathing.
We said goodbye for the last time. Then we walked back down the hill to his house, a block and a half away, near the park where he played as a child. We went into the back, into his garden room, with its burnt orange walls, and lit a fire.
Yesteryear’s amusement parks
October 15, 2001 § Leave a comment
Francis Livingston is fascinated with dramatic architectural structures. Using oil on wood panels, he depicts antique roller coasters, rhythmic effects of water towers on old roof tops, unique configurations of yesteryear’s movie theaters and amusement parks, as well as the dramatic effects of scale as oversized construction looms over a subdued city.
The artist honed his skills in Northern California, working as an illustrator. He absorbed the Bay Area look — bold and free impressionistic brushstrokes, emphasis on shape rather than on line and an abstract approach to realism. Yet the tone of Livingston’s art — its most essential characteristic — is in the vein of the Ash Can School of the early 20th century. Ash Can painters, such as John Sloan, created haunting vignettes of cityscapes in thickly applied brushstrokes, with a dark and muted palette to project the feeling that pervades how isolated an individual feels in a large metropolis.
Livingston, too, render portraits of urban realism — attractive and impressive worlds that express the city environment as it exists but is little noticed. Livingston searches for the beautiful in the mundane, crafting pictorial representations of the authenticity of urban living. As artists have done throughout the ages, Livingston often reorders the components of a particular city scene. His keen artistic eye brings together buildings, streets and assorted structures from several locales, giving the final painting an optimally engaging composition.
Living in Sun Valley, Idaho, Livingston travels to large cities to seek out architectural subject matter. Cities are filled with exotically shaped ’30s and ’40s theaters with lavish patterns. New York City provides a rich palette of diverse designs. Tenements, brownstones, Greek and Victorian Revivals and Art Deco facades of brick, ornamental marble and cement — once elegant buildings that have lost their luster become enlivened in Livingston’s work.
In Coney Island and Santa Cruz — known for their turn-of-the-20th century amusement parks, beaches and playground decor — Livingston has found a wealth of subject matter. As many of these amusement park structures no longer exist, he documents the exhilarating feeling of being confronted by the enormity and grandeur of a majestic roller coaster, with bright yellow cars on red tracks rushing downward at high sped. Or, he portrays gargantuan Ferris wheels surrounded by brightly colored, circus-like tents with a carnival atmosphere.
In this varied collection of urban reality, Livingston brings to life a range of architectural structures — from dark-toned, somber brown buildings with vertical and horizontal alignment, antiquated signage and ornate embellishments to playful, upbeat forms of circular gyrating mechanization. Add to this the artist’s love of nostalgia and mood and what emerges are paintings that exude a uniquely spirited ambiance. Livingston captures the pulse of cities and transports the viewer back in time to countless places, many of which still exist in the 21st century.
— ROBERTA CARASSO
She keeps giving
March 20, 2020 § 2 Comments
FIRST PERSON | THOMAS REYNOLDS
WE HAVE BEEN sustained on the mornings of the first week of the great lockdown of 2020 by a loaf of Irish soda bread, left with a neighborly note at our front door on St. Patrick’s Day.
This was unexpected, since March 17 was the first day those of us in San Francisco were ordered to stay inside — and also because our neighbor who baked it, Suzanne Burwasser, died last year.
Suzanne was a great baker, and soda bread was one of her specialties. A couple of St. Patrick’s Days ago, I went to check the gallery mailbox at Jet Mail. Kevin, the manager, saw me open the box and take out the usual assortment of bills and notices. “Just a minute,” he called out as I started to leave. “There’s something else.” He reached under the counter and pulled out a loaf of soda bread, which Suzanne had dropped off and asked him to pass along.
As I walked home, I ran into Kenyatta, the much-loved letter carrier for our part of the neighborhood, who always has a friendly greeting and a warm smile. “Hey baby,” she said, “whatcha smiling about?”
“We live in such a great neighborhood,” I replied, as we exchanged our customary hug. “I just checked our box at Jet Mail and got this loaf of soda bread from Suzanne Burwasser.”
She reached into her mail bag and pulled out another loaf.
“I got one too!” she said.
Suzanne and her husband, George, have always been among the most neighborly people in our little village. They have been great patrons of our gallery and of many other local businesses in our neighborhood. Suzanne died last year after a fast and ferocious battle with pancreatic cancer. George said she continued to bake, even during her illness, leaving a freezer full of goodies.
She keeps on sharing from the great beyond.
EARLIER: “The art of neighborliness“