October 21, 2019 § Leave a comment
IN THE EARLY 1880s in San Francisco, Samuel Marsden Brookes had been hard at work, waiting patiently for better times. His paintings, of which he by now had a large number, were stacked all around the studio, with good prices affixed to them. Once Brookes put a price on a canvas, not even Satan himself could make him reduce it.
One portrayed a life-size peacock, posed on a balustrade before a palatial country house. The painting had been languishing in Brookes’ studio for quite some time, waiting for a buyer. The longer the bird remained on his hands, the higher Brookes jacked up the price. He had started at $750, a figure already pronounced much too high by his dealer. Out of sheer spite Brookes immediately raised it to $1,000. Thereafter, the price of the peacock had steadily escalated. From $1,000 it went to $1,200, then $1,500, then $1,700. By the time Timothy Hopkins, adopted son of the late Mark Hopkins, came to see the painting, the price had soared to $2,000. A few days later, when Timothy returned with Mark Hopkins’ widow for a second look, Brookes promptly raised the price to $2,500, announcing that, while he did not have any money he did have the picture, “and here it stays until I get my price.” In the face of such rapid developments, Mrs. Hopkins surrendered on the spot, adding two still lifes, one with apples, one with fish, for a total of $3,000.
The idea of the solitary artist brandishing his mahlstick on the ramparts of High Art, willing to die, yet prevailing in the end, was inspiring. However, it was merely the exception confirming the rule.
— From Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco by Birgitta Hjalmarson
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”
August 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
FIRST PERSON | D. A. PENNEBAKER
I WANTED to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and its packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like John Sloan’s New York City paintings, and I wanted it to go with my Duke Ellington record, Daybreak Express.
May 19, 2019 § Leave a comment
Says Sandy Ostrau: “The Northern California coast has always been an important inspiration for my work. Now I’ve leased a beautiful studio space on The Sea Ranch and plan to spend more time up there working. The surrounding coast will undoubtedly continue to influence my work.”
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.
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.
April 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
IT ALWAYS SEEMED a bit incongruous, at the very least, to walk into Susie Tompkins Buell’s penthouse atop the 2500 Steiner Street tower in San Francisco — a full-floor flat with 360-degree views of the city and the bay — and be confronted by images of the Depression.
She was a serious photography collector for decades, and the collection she built has been called “one of the finest and most select collections of photography in private hands.” Back in 1996 she said: “I wanted to collect photos with real social significance — I didn’t want to collect just pretty flowers.” And she did, acquiring straight-to-the-gut images by Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti and other revered photographers, just as photography was becoming a more respected and collectible art form. She helped to make the market for fine art photography.
Now her collection has been dispersed into other hands, in other neighborhoods. On April 4, the Phillips auction house in New York offered 58 images from her collection, including these three by Tina Modotti. View the collection and the auction results here.
Read more: “Susie Tompkins Buell: A Collector’s Story ”
March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
THE CROCKER ART MUSEUM in Sacramento has received more than 1,800 works of art by Paul Wonner and William Theophilus “Bill” Brown and established the Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown Endowment Fund.
In accordance with the artists’ wishes, the fund will support museum projects relating to emerging artists or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning and intersex artists.
By 2023, the Crocker Art Museum will use the fund to mount an exhibition of the work of Wonner and Brown — the most comprehensive show of the artists’ body of work ever presented — and produce an accompanying catalogue.
“Paul Wonner and Bill Brown were trail blazers, both individually and as a couple,” said the museum’s associate director and chief curator, Scott A. Shields. “It is wonderful that their legacy will live on, not only through their own art, but though their forward-looking support of other artists. It is what they wanted, and everyone at the Crocker is honored to be able to realize their vision.”
Read more from the Crocker Museum
March 26, 2019 § Leave a comment
By THOMAS REYNOLDS
He’d lived in the flat on California Street for 37 years. Suddenly late one afternoon Jim Scott realized something was wrong. He called 911 and tried to answer all the dispatcher’s questions. Finally he told her: “Look, I have to get out of here. My room is full of black smoke.”
Sparks from a welder working next door had started a fire. The squadrons of firefighters soon on the scene flooded the blaze before it reached Scott’s apartment — but only after they had bashed in his ceiling and windows, leaving his home a soggy and smoky mess.
In his book, The Al Tarik, Scott, now 96, gently unfolds the story of the three years that followed and landed him in a residential hotel on Sutter Street he describes as “a century-old San Francisco pile” that is “a refuge for those like myself who in their last years have been roughed up and tossed on the rocks and shoals.”
At first his landlord assured Scott he would be back in his apartment within a few months. He moved in temporarily with a neighbor across the alley. But as the renovation of the building languished, he needed another place to stay, and found no good options. So he moved back into his charred apartment.
“There was no heat or light, but the water was still running,” he writes. “It was much better than the Tenderloin cesspool I had fled. On my first night in what had been my old bedroom, I looked up through the blackened rafters to the shingles of the roof, which roared with a great downpour and thunder while lightning lit the plastic sheets stretched over the window spaces. Oddly, it all felt elemental and reassuring and that something positive could now happen.”
October 17, 2018 § Leave a comment
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.”
October 11, 2018 § 1 Comment
FIRST PERSON | KIM FROHSIN
These four paintings on panel were created in succession during 1991, “my year of the ruler” — as in using the literal measuring tool to make marks or hold a brush load of paint against. That was my 30th year, near the beginning of my three-decade career in fine art.
I was then — as I have been in the decades since — exploring new subjects and new ways of making work. My exploration was informed by direct, concrete, personal life experience, and also by intuition, imagination and risk-taking.
These particular small works were borne during many months of making paintings on paper and panel that were as close to pure abstraction as I have ever come. In 1991, while walking in the hot Scottsdale, Arizona, sunshine, I made a simple linear drawing of a white tent. Then, back in San Francisco, this minimal drawing was the spark for a flood of work, over many months, which had as its core subject a house or tent shape. Numerous “architectonic” paintings evolved.
These four “scapes” were directly influenced by a 30th birthday gift from my grandmother: a trip to Turkey. These paintings in a muted palette, completed post-trip, stem from memories of our travels and things arid, ancient and beige.
The elements of earth, sky and water appear in these four, along with a sense of vastness and timelessness. They each are anchored by fictional objects and shapes: a floating mound as black mass, a berm of land with a steep linear road, a castle-like silhouette and wall, a banner shape like an enormous volleyball net. They seem expansive in their small-scale format. Yet they are condensed and quiet — an internal distillation of that lovely gift of travel to an ancient place.
Like all of my work, this group of four paintings are autobiographical. Until now, I’ve held on to them like entries into my private diary. In 2017, I finally decided to take them out of my youthful handmade frames and have them professionally framed. This year I am finally ready for them, for the first time, to go out into the world.