Bay Area Figurative Art
I got an email last week from Zach Leener – about the Bay Area Figurative Art 1950 – 1965 book (Caroline A. Jones, 1989, catalog for exhibition organized by Jones at SFMOMA) and his own early obsession with it “while an undergrad in Baltimore – far, far away from my California home.” Zach appreciated “all those painters who saw AbX going on and then applied their own casual (ccccasssssuallllllllllll) strokes – they were such an antidote to NY and weirdly announcing a devotion to sunshine and sunlight…” he went on, “I’ve always loved that Joan Brown painting in the LACMA collection (Girl in a Chair, 1962) it’s so impossibly thick, ugh – so gross and so good.”
We are lucky my friends that said Joan Brown painting is currently on view, see the full image below for details.
And this is how it starts, isn’t it my friends? With an obsession. We find a thing absolutely compelling yet that is also repellant to us. Both of these feelings are strong attractors.
When I went back to the book this time, after my introduction to it in 1998, it was for the paintings of David Park. Good Lord – I had the good fortune to see a bunch of Park’s paintings at the Oakland Museum a few months back and they are so so magic to me. About which more later, I do have a path here, that I am finding, if you stay with me.
Also in his email to me, Zach noted that “regionalism is such a perverse and underrated position…”
I might not have noticed the now obvious matter of regionalism in this subject – or at least not as a first thing. But I like it.
When I look at a thing it is with my own experience that I do it, and I bring questions to the looking from my own past.
Of course, we all begin somewhere.
Right now it makes me kind of happy, if a little self-conscious, to note that my (now deceased) parents lived in the Bay Area from 1955 to 1958. Before I was born, after they met. When they were first alone together. They weren’t of an age – my dad was 33 when he married and my mom was 22. They were beatnik-y and intellectual yet were engaged in the very dull business of selling insurance. This San Francisco Bay Area art scene with its intelligence, rigor, aesthetic edge and hot-bed jazz atmosphere would have fueled the sunshine and the darkness of their youth. Bob and Pat Tuck came back to Los Angeles with one son and another on the way, to join their larger families and to make a family of their own.
That I go back there in my own search for an aesthetics and for a cultural and civic passion in life is no surprise. This fits me like a glove, worn and comfortable.
The Regionalism I read about in this current art world feels like a thing that one may hold in one’s hand to consider – separately perhaps from the main stream of art history, or tributary to it. To be considered and then to be found wanting. Yes, maybe, just a little.
Why is this so?
Remembering that I am not a scholar, trained to these shores, I don’t want to go all big and make claims beyond my station, but – what else might there be than what I see before me? What other is there than my own experience, when it comes to looking and understanding?
A grand arc of Art History might be nice – maybe a Single Unifying Theory to make sense of all this… stuff that we make and write and sing. But that isn’t what I have to work from. Such a world would feel too figured-out for me, with my search for questions. (We are talking people here, people are culture, facts are not culture.)
During the past six weeks, while also becoming reacquainted with Jones’ book and some of the reasons that I love it – I have had the good fortune to experience the inaugural set of performances in Brian Getnick’s “Native Strategies” project. “So Funny It Hurts,” has comprised six performances over four consecutive Thursdays at LACE. Getnick and his curatorial team of Zemula Barr and Molly Sullivan invited artists to respond to the notion of satire (broadly speaking) by considering an “opposition” and then moving towards it. You may read more about this project and some of the performances here.
Before the final performance I stood on the sidewalk in front of LACE and spoke with Asher Hartman. I wanted to use an anecdote from our meetings to introduce the subsequent panel discussion – this anecdote related to my own nervousness and stumbling with the fact of Hartman’s transgendered nature. I felt that sharing this awkward moment could be a helpful tool to open a space for questioning and conversation. Asher smiled reassuringly, telling me that, “A lot of queers have trouble with trans – my straight friends don’t seem to notice. Perhaps the straights have never questioned their own gender.” After I related my human and sentimental reading of Jones’ Bay Area Figurative Art and how the several performances had reassured me in my quixotic-seeming defense of a personal and a regional art, he commented that, “I think often our initial or gut reaction to art is personal.” A bit later Asher asked, “I wonder if when we look to art – as we do in search of questions, if not for answers – we might be looking for ourselves?”
I started in California, in the hills.
And now I look at paintings.
Haphazard note: On the UC Press website I found “What’s It All Mean – William T. Wiley in Retrospect” available. Not much connection to our subject, but pretty cool of a book! Check artist’s official website for history and fun.
More on Bay Area Figurative Art:
Untitled, May 2011, May 20, 2011
Bay Area Figurative Art – Joan and the boys, May 9, 2011
Bay Area Figurative Art, April 13, 2011
About: Again. Plus, a note about non-Non-objective Painting, April 4, 2011