Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Pine Lodge Club, Pollock Pines, CA

A new addition to my growing collection of neon cocktail glass signs in front of bars. This one is up in the Sierras, in a little town called Pollock Pines. This one has an unusual flourish in the shape of the stem. The glass itself is unusually shallow. The arrow is a nice touch. It looks like a custom design. For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Miscellaneous: Blues Legend B.B. King: RIP

It was in November of 1997 that B. B. King released his 35th studio album "Deuces Wild," a collection of duets with the likes of Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Dionne Warwick, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, and Willie Nelson. Tokyo-based blues writer Allan Murphy had gotten a one-hour interview slot with Mr. King while the musician and his band were on tour in the city just after Deuces Wild had been released. At that time, Allan had been helping my brother, Ian Talcroft, and me produce "And This Is Maxwell St," a three-CD set containing music recorded for the soundtrack of Mike Shea's 1964 film "And This Is Free." I got to tag along to the interview, nominally as the photographer.

Mr. King impressed me immediately as a soft-spoken, intelligent, thoughtful, and gentlemanly man. He was dressed in a suit, wearing sunglasses, and carrying one of his guitars--guitars that were always named "Lucille." He set the guitar aside as we began to talk. The interview started with the usual courtesies and questions about "Deuces Wild," but quickly ranged widely with a lot of talk about Mr. King's early career and what it had been like growing up in the south in the early part of the 20th century. It finished with some talk about the Maxwell St. Market area in Chicago--the subject of Shea's film. We got Mr. King to wear a "Save Maxwell Street" button for us. At the very end of the talk, I asked if he'd stand up with the guitar for me so I could get a few photographs. He politely asked if it would be all right to do the photos sitting with the guitar--as he was getting old. One of my shots is shown above.

Allan happened to mention just as we were preparing to leave that his second daughter had been born that morning and that he'd be rushing off to the hospital to join his wife and the new baby. Hearing that, Mr. King quietly removed his wallet, pulled out a crisp $100 bill, and picked up a black marker that had been sitting on the table in front of us. He signed the bill "B. B. King" and then added "For the little one" and the date (February 28, 1998). He handed the bill to Allan as a souvenir.

Allan's daughter's middle name is Lucille.

One classy man. It was a privilege to have spent an hour with him. RIP.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Art I'm Making: A Collage in Prussian Blue (May 6, 2015)

A new collage: An arrangement of tones in Prussian blue, with a couple of sidesteps into other colors. Untitled Collage No. 99 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. May 6, 2015. Image size 8 x 11.6cm. Sometimes I think I'm happiest in Prussian blue.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at Or, come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015. I'll be showing at Studio 48, in Sebastopol.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: John Anderson at Paul Mahder Gallery

On the same night as the opening of "Aint Natural" at the Hammerfriar Gallery, Paul Mahder Gallery, also in Healdsburg (and quite new, apparently; I discovered it by chance only a couple of weeks ago), opened a retrospective of work by John Anderson (1932-2011). John Anderson is a new artist to me, although he appears to have a solid reputation. He was long the assistant of painter Gordon Onslow Ford, early a surrealist who was later occupied with depicting inner realms of consciousness and trying to escape from what he seems to have seen as the tyranny of the visual. Ford was a mentor to Anderson and Anderson's work shows a similar concern with capturing expressions of inner consciousness.

I'm always suspicious of art that seems to rely heavily on theory or that claims to be entirely spontaneous and unguided. The idea of representing inner consciousness without reference to the visual is an intriguing one, but is it really possible? What does consciousness look like? The surrealists looked to dreams for images of the unconscious, but that approach was inherently contradictory; dream images ultimately are images rooted in the visual, images from waking life (which isn't to say surrealism didn't yield some good art). Ford and Anderson apparently wanted to go beyond dreams to directly depict a world beyond consciousness--Ford emphasizing speed and spontaneity, Anderson taking a more deliberate approach, at times trying to work in a trance-like state.

What does inner consciousness look like according to John Anderson? Inner consciousness appears to be crackling with energy--radiating energy--and filled with particles--points, tiny circles, dots, blobs. Read the dots as stars and the images evoke the infinite. Read the dots as subatomic particles and they evoke the infinitesimal. Much of the appeal of Anderson's work comes from this ambiguity; are we floating in space or are we on Jules Verne's fantastic voyage?

Another ambiguity is created by the way Anderson's visual vocabulary simultaneously evokes physical phenomena on the one hand, living creatures on the other. Lines radiating from a bright spot and surrounded by a field of dots. Rings of increasing size as they move away from a point of apparent origin. Wave forms. Star clusters. Entire galaxies. Lines that suggest the tracings of subatomic particles in a particle accelerator. Electrostatic charges in a Van de Graaff generator. Excited plasma. Electron flows. All these images come to mind. Some of the paintings put me in mind of Dr. Frankenstein's lab equipment (at least the Hollywood depiction of his lab equipment). At the same time, it's easy to see circles filled with radiating lines as diatoms or pollen grains greatly magnified. Much of Anderson's imagery is as reminiscent of microscope views of living things as it is of physics experiments. Volvox, an old friend from high school biology class, is here. Cells and their nuclei and fields of protoplasm are here, some with embedded mitochondria and with vacuoles. The double helix of the DNA molecule is here.

The paintings by Anderson in the new Paul Mahder show seem to make abundant reference to the visual--specifically to the visual language of physics and biology. Thus, I wonder how successful Anderson can be said to have been at escaping the conscious, the visual. Perhaps it doesn't matter. I don't belittle the attempt. The process is important, and the art that resulted from years of effort toward achieving a goal (however elusive) is compelling. John Anderson at Paul Mahder Gallery will be on display through June 2015 (the gallery website does not give an end-date in June). Well worth a visit for the John Anderson work and a great deal of other good work in this very large display space.

Beekeeping: Bees Swarmed, Bees Captured (May 4–May 5, 2015)

Our bees swarmed yesterday. Rather conveniently, they initially landed in an accessible place in our next-door neighbor's yard. It was fairly easy to get them into a box and seal them up for the night. I was going to try to sell them (a swarm of bees goes for about $100 these days), but, with no immediate takers on Craig's List, I went down to Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa and got a basic hive set-up to give them a home at least temporarily. I may sell the whole shebang if someone's interested. I may keep them. For the moment, anyway, we now have two beehives. I'm giving them a little supplemental food (the sugar water feeder visible in the photo) to get them started. It's amazing how quickly bees will settle in to a new space. They start drawing comb almost immediately. Bees line up at the entrance fanning their wings, spreading the queen's pheromones, encouraging stragglers to come into the hive. I cut the swarm from a half-dead juniper. Inevitably, pieces of the tree got mixed up with the bees. Within minutes, housekeeper bees were pushing debris out from the front of the hive box. They're behaving as if they never left home. Next task will be to paint the exposed wood areas.

Art I'm Looking At: "Ain't Natural" at Hammerfriar Gallery in Healdsburg

I attended the opening of the latest show at Hammerfriar Gallery in Healdsburg on May 2. The show, called "Ain't Natural," brings together four superb collage artists working in the Bay Area--Jenny Honnert Abell, John Hundt, Sherry Parker, and Scott Wilson.

Collage unites the four artists but they work in very different styles. Jenny Honnert Abell's work combines the surreal with religious iconography. Brought up a Catholic, she attended parochial girls' schools through high school. While explicitly religious themes don't seem central to her work, clearly the imagery of the church made a lasting impact on her sensibilities. In talking with her about her collages I sensed in her an uneasiness about making fun of the religious imagery she appropriates, a hard-to-shake compulsion to take it seriously, at least at some level. Yet, the work is irreverent. The show includes several small pieces on worn but fancy book covers, in themselves evocative of churchly things like decorated vestments. Onto these covers she's attached perches for Jesus-headed birds that somehow manage to look content and not unnatural--the serenity of expression of the Jesus heads doing its work. In other pieces on display, bird heads grow out of tree branches. Pictured here is a somewhat different piece entitled "The Monroe Flower" that I liked for its use of color and the multiple levels of enclosed detail it employs.

John Hundt seems to work exclusively with engraved book illustrations. He carefully cuts out architectural fragments, figures, animals, snippets of scenery and other elements with a tiny pair of scissors and assembles the pieces to create imaginary spaces that are clearly unreal but spaces that use perspective and subtle overlaps to trick the eye into seeing them as plausible, inhabitable. I'm reminded of the photographic work of Jerry Uelsmann. Merged and blended contradictions in Hundt's work involve not only physical space but also time; inevitably the old engraved images are evocative of something old-fashioned--we no longer illustrate books with engravings much and the subjects Hundt chooses are often historical--but, at the same time, the strange juxtapositions seem modern--at least modern in the sense the word is used in art history.

Sherry Parker is among the most delightfully inventive artists I've encountered in the Bay Area. Her work is consistently of the highest caliber. She has an exquisite sense of composition. Her subtle color sense is equally impressive. Most especially, though, I like her work for the slightly edgy whimsy she nearly always achieves. Bizarre creatures, part human, part machine, inhabit her surreal landscapes. These are dream worlds, yet they are familiar enough to be both seductive and deeply unsettling. They are inviting and a little frightening at the same time.

To take just one example, "Yellow-throated Lookout Bird" is immediately amusing because of its title, which plays on the conventions of real bird names, and many of Parker's titles are funny, but here we see a lone, one-legged sentinel on what looks like a coastal rock, keeping its squinty eye out for signs of approach. But its ability to see is illusory. The bird's eye is just a screw at the base of a blade from a pair of clippers--a rather long, decurved blade from a nasty-looking pair of clippers. The antenna, perhaps, takes in more useful information?

Scott Wilson's work is also slightly disturbing, but in a different way. Made largely from illustrated medical texts, the collages are interesting for their formal qualities of composition and attractive for their combinations of pinks and beige and palest orange--the colors of flesh and viscera. But many of the images used illustrate pathologies, so this is diseased flesh we are looking at. Collage titles name the diseases. Wilson presents his odd combinations as if they are plates in an actual text--deformities to be studied, learned from, repelled by. Abstract shapes often overlay or augment the human body parts suggesting early 20th century Russian abstraction. As a child, I remember being given an encyclopedia of the insect world. It was a very thick volume. I don't remember the text, but the plates were photographic and numerous. Each plate was an array of related insects--bizarre insects, large and small. Round beetles, oblong beetles, elongated beetles. Beetles with antennae longer than their bodies. Grasshoppers of every description. Walking sticks. All in black and white. Repellent yet fascinating at the same time. I spent hours looking at that book. I was immediately reminded of it when viewing Wilson's collages. They are likewise simultaneously fascinating and repellent.

Hammerfriar Gallery is at 132 Mill Street, in Healdsburg. The "Ain't Natural" show will run through June 22. Well worth a visit.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music I'm listening to: Two San Francisco Symphony Concerts

I recently attended two excellent San Francisco Symphony concerts. The Symphony performed with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting and Igor Levit at the piano on Thursday, April 17 at The Green Music Center and I heard the April 24 concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, with guest conductor Vasily Petrenko on the podium. The soloist was Sa Chen, who performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. It's always best to write about concerts when the memories are fresh. Work and other obligations have caused me to delay in this case, but a few thoughts follow.

The Green Music Center concert was remarkable mostly for its overall clarity--everything where it should have been from start to finish. Heras-Casado conducted Haydn's Symphony No. 44, followed by the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 (with Levit at the piano) and, after intermission, Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun (Debussy) and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. Levit isn't a showy performer, but he handled the Mozart deftly.

The hall, sadly, was only about two-thirds full, which is a shame. I really don't understand why Sonoma County classical music enthusiasts haven't supported the SFS concerts at the Green Music Center with more attendance. This is one of the finest ensembles in the world. It's so much easier to see them here in Sonoma County than to drive into the city, and the ticket prices have been very reasonable. As a result of the poor turnout, the Symphony will not continue the Green Music Center series next season--again, a shame.

I sat in one of the balcony seats over the performers at the Green Music Center, where the sound suffers a little but you get a good view of the conductor and you can watch the music move through the different sections of the orchestra. The program provided a lesson in the development of orchestral ensembles. The Haydn piece, written in 1771, was scored mostly for strings with the exception of two oboes and two natural horns. Natural horns have no valves and are limited to a single key, if my understanding is correct, but the key can be altered by adding extensions of curved tubing to the existing tubing. It was fun to watch the changes from above. The Mozart, written only six years later, was scored for a nearly identical ensemble. The Debussy, written more than a century later (1894) adds three flutes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two harps, and antique cymbals. There are four horns instead of two, and these are now modern, valved horns. With the Stravinsky, the ensemble swelled further.

The April 24 concert in the city was memorable mostly for Sa Chen's playing. I had never heard Sa Chen play or even heard of her. There are so many young Chinese piano wizards these days, it's hard to keep track sometimes. I don't really like Rachmaninoff's piano concertos--much too much bombast for my taste, but I know they're admired by many and they're known for being technically challenging. They require speed, precision, and power. Sa Chen, although she is a small woman, has all three of these qualities in spades.

My seat is in the fourth row, slightly to the left of center (from the audience's perspective). That puts me right across from the soloist, giving me an excellent view of a pianist's hands when the soloist is a pianist. Sa Chen wore a gold lamé gown off the right shoulder, allowing a view of her entire arm on the side closer to me. Her skin is pale and the spotlights from overhead made her arm look like it was carved from ivory-colored marble--although marble that was clearly alive. I was put in mind of the Pygmalion story. Watching the muscles move in her well developed forearms and her sometimes difficult-to-follow fingers was fascinating. Her hands are not especially big. It's remarkable that she achieves what she does. Her playing has the same compact, muscular power that you sense just looking at her. I was more impressed with her playing than I was prepared to be. She got an immediate standing ovation at the end of the piece and the applause lasted long enough to bring her out for an encore--a Rachmaninoff prelude, which was disappointing, as I had had enough of Rachmaninoff. I had hoped she would choose something more lyrical. I'm very curious now to hear what she sounds like playing other styles. Does she excel only at the biggest late romantic works? What does she sound like playing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy?

The second half of the program was taken up by Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12. Shostakovich is one of my favorite composers, but not because of the symphonies. I mostly enjoy him for his piano works, the string quartets, and the many quirky little pieces he wrote. Symphony No. 12, written in 1961, is subtitled "The Year of 1917." It's dedicated to the memory of Lenin. It paints a picture of the events of 1917 in four movements headed "Revolutionary Petrograd," "Razliv," "Aurora," and "The Dawn of Humanity," but the headings might as well have been "Loud," "A Little Less Loud," "Louder," and then "Very Loud and Drawn Out." The ending of the fourth movement--the end of the symphony--seems to go on forever. It's rather too triumphal for my sensibilities, or perhaps Petrenko failed to give it enough nuance to keep it interesting. The piece was interesting to hear, nevertheless, and despite the above remark, I'm confident Petrenko's reading was a good one. Petrenko was a pleasure to watch. He is tall and thin with somewhat spiky hair--and very Russian-looking. His gestures are big, but not overdone. His hands are immensely expressive. I got the feeling that there was a very strong connection between him and the orchestra--which is not always the case. I enjoyed the concert even if the music on offer wasn't of the sort I normally listen to.

All photos courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony website. Photo of Pablo Heras-Casado by Harald Hoffmann for Deutsche Grammophon. Photo of Sa Chen by Hong Wei. 

Art I'm Making: New Collages (April 2015)

Two new collages since last reporting: Untitled Collage No. 97 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 98 (Santa Rosa), finished on the 14th and the 18th respectively. Both use some new Prussian blue papers I've made using a fairly thick layer of paint that I then raked through with a tool to expose the paper below, leaving streaks of thin, transparent color between thicker ridges. I like the luminous quality the thin paint creates. There is something that puts me in mind of stained glass in Untitled Collage No. 97 (Santa Rosa), shown at the top of the page.

The second piece uses scraps of the Prussian blue paper at the bottom and in the main form toward the upper right. The very pale lavender background is left over from some recent paper painting. The reddish purples are scraps from last summer.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rain: Heavy Rain (April 24-25, 2015)

On the night of April 24 and into the following morning we had a short but heavy rain that has perked up the plants again--a very welcome turn of events. On the morning of the 25th I found 1.26 inches in the rain gauge--which seems like more than there should have been. The official Santa Rosa rainfall was about 0.4 inches. I'm not sure why we'd have had three times as much, although rain can very quite a lot locally. Alternatively, there may have been some water left in the gauge from a hose that I was unaware of--although that's never happened before. We had had an even 24 inches of rain so far this year before the recent rain. If the gauge is correct, that would bring our local total to 25.26 inches. Using the official Santa Rosa figure would make it 24.40 inches. That is well below normal in either case. In the short term, however, the rain will allow us to leave irrigation turned off for another week or so--which is a good thing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) April 24, 2015)

The potted beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) in the side yard bloomed today. The plant has only a few buds on it this year, like last year, but they're always pretty. This is a very early flower for this plant. The cactus bloomed on May 9, in 2009, on May 29 in 2010, on May 18 in 2011, on June 3 in 2012, and on May 17 in 2014. I can't find a record for 2013, but this plant usually blooms in mid-Mayor later.

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Fagiani's in Napa

Another neon cocktail glass--this one at Fagiani's in Napa (813 Main St., in an interesting old building). The glass here appears to be a ready-made, as I've seen ones of identical shape before (in fact, the last example I posted appears to use the same glass or a very similar one--Mario & John's Tavern, in Petaluma). Still, the effect with the Fagiani's script is not bad.

To see others in this series of photographs, click on the "cocktail glass collection" label. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 96 (Santa Rosa)--or the case of the purloined sandpaper

For weeks, a scrap of fine sandpaper that my son had been using for something and failed to put away, despite repeated requests, kept staring at me every time I walked by the place it rested, on the edge of a shelf, at the top of the stairs. Today, it finally got cleaned up. I cleaned it up. Though it was, technically speaking, already mine, I stole it. I used it in a collage today. I transformed it from an annoyance into a field of grey that was just the thing needed in the place I put it. I made art today. Untitled Collage No. 96 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (sandpaper). Image size 19.8 x 26.3cm.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Art I'm Making: Two New Collages (March-April 2015)

Here are my two most recent collage pieces. Both were created at the end of March. With this post I'm finally caught up. Untitled Collage No. 94 (Santa Rosa), shown at the top here, uses some new orange and lavender papers I've created along with scraps from last year made using Sennelier's "Blush Tint" and "Neutral Tint" paints. As I've said before, I think the Sennelier acrylics are especially beautiful, although I occasionally use colors made by other manufacturers.

Untitled Collage No. 95 (Santa Rosa) is diminutive. At 5.8 x 6.7cm (about 2 x 3 inches), it's the smallest collage I've made to date. It uses scraps left over from other collages and the last bits of a piece of pastel-covered paper (the rust areas) I got from another artist. I'm now working on a new collage that will use piece of a pastel drawing of my own.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol.

Art I'm Looking At: Suzanne Jacquot on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi--Opening Reception (April 6, 2015)

We had a successful opening last night at Shige Sushi. One of the guests, a musician, brought along flutes and gave us some unexpected live music. Most of the attendees were themselves artists, which resulted in some lively discussion about the work. Jacquot's abstract paintings are notable for their command of composition and expressive use of color. I especially like the way her work combines gestural detail with diffuse color fields that work on a larger scale. The combination creates a dynamic between close examination of the finer elements and a simultaneous assessment of the surrounding visual field.

The show runs through May 31 on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi. For more information about art at Shige Sushi, including information about upcoming shows, about purchasing art, or about submitting art for consideration for display on The Art Wall, visit

Wines I'm Making: New Leaves on the Vines (2015)

Bud break was early this year with the lack of rain and unusually warm weather. Our Sangiovese vines already have about a foot or more of new growth on them. The Cabernet vines have shoots of about four to six inches. It's already time to do the first sulfur spraying, but with rain in the forecast yesterday and today, I'll be waiting until the weather clears again. Tiny grape clusters are already visible, the raw material for our 2015 wines. 2015 will be our 12th vintage.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collage

I finished this piece in the middle of March. It uses test strips made by local photographer Barbara Elliot, who is learning the platinum/palladium printing process. I visited her studio not long ago to talk about showing her work on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, which I'm now curating. We'll be doing a show of her work later this year. While talking she showed me some of the tests the was doing and I noticed these scraps with penciled lines and numbers on them. She kindly gave them to me when I expressed an interest in them as collage material. This is Untitled Collage No. 93 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (platinum/palladium test strips with graphite). Image size: 16 x 21.7cm.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol.

Rain: Morning Showers and More to Come (April 5-7, 2015)

Early morning rain on the 5th added 0.20 inches to our total for the year. Not much, but better than nothing. The forecast is for possibly rain today (the 6th) and for thunderstorms tomorrow. Let it rain. As of the morning of April 6, our total for the 2014-2015 rain year stands at 23.10 inches, which is about ten inches below normal.

[Update: Overnight and into the morning of April 7, we got heavy rain, but the predicted thunderstorms didn't materialize. Nevertheless, we got an additional--very welcome--0.90 inches of new precipitation at my location (northeast Santa Rosa). That brings the 2014-2015 total here to 24.00 inches. The weather website I monitor for historical data in Santa Rosa is reporting a total of only 21.80 inches. That station has received 0.6 inches of rain so far in the first seven days of April, for example, while I've recorded 1.1 inches during the same period. The historical average for April 6 is 32.67 inches, according to that site. So, we're still 8.67-10.87 inches below average this year. The forecast is still noting the possibility of thunderstorms (and hail) later in the day.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: High Style at the Legion of Honor

Featured now at San Francisco's Legion of Honor is High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection--a rather poorly named show, it turns out. I'm tempted to call the subtitle deceptive. It gives the impression that a large swath of the Brooklyn Museum's costume holdings awaits the visitor. In reality, the selection is modest and everything being shown is from the first eight decades of the 20th Century--hardly the sweeping display of the collection suggested.

The show is poorly lighted. While I understand the need to keep light as low as possible to prevent damage to fabrics, the first room was so dark it was difficult to read the labels. Other rooms were only slightly better. Coming in from outdoors, my eyes were poorly adjusted to the dimness. With that in mind, I went back at the end of the show for another look at the earliest pieces, but the lighting still seemed inadequate. Also, a number of pieces were displayed on raised platforms divided into quadrants by semi-transparent plastic panels that created distorted reflections of some figures overlapping with veiled views of others through the plastic partitions (shown here). While visually interesting, the distortions distracted from the costumes.

The show is worth seeing--if you're seriously interested in the history of 20th century haute couture, including shoes (there is an entire room full of shoes, with some especially extravagant examples by Steven Arpad, including the rust calfskin pair shown here, from 1939, printed with circular Japanese designs in green, blue, and lavender and embellished with peach and aqua metallic kidskin). The fabrics and materials used in fine clothing are always a pleasure to look at and the sculptural or even architectural approach to clothing design taken by some of the designers, particularly Charles James, is interesting to see here.

The 1953 "Clover Leaf" Ball Gown by James is perhaps the centerpiece of the show, presented complete with preparatory drawings and a media display explaining the materials used, including computer graphics showing the details of its construction. Also given special attention is his 1955 "Tree" Ball Gown in pink silk taffeta, the dress used in the main advertising materials for the show (top of page). I was attracted just as much to a group of rather somber outfits from the 1940s designed by Vera Maxwell, Bonnie Cashin, and others, however, perhaps because they seem more like clothes you might have seen a woman wearing on the street in the period. In the end, I was disappointed, having come with the expectation of seeing an overview of the famed Brooklyn Museum collection. The High Style show runs through July 19, 2015.

After seeing High Style, I walked around the permanent collection a little, noticing a few pieces I'd been unaware of--particularly a small 1889 depiction of an unfinished Eiffel Tower by Seurat, a beautiful little 1879 portrait of Sarah Bernhardt by Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose work I've noted before for the clarity of atmosphere he achieves, and a tiny 1650 painting of pea pods and various insects by Flemish painter Jan Van Kessel II.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: John J. Audubon's Birds of America

A friend of mine has just pointed out to me that all the plates from Audubon's birds of America are available for download in high-resolution format from the National Audubon Society. Cool.

Art I'm Making: Two More New Collages (March 2015)

Here are two relatively new pieces--these from early March: Untitled Collage No. 91 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 92 (Santa Rosa). Both are comparatively small pieces, the first measuring about four inches square, the second about six by five inches. As usual, I had no image in mind when I began these pieces, but No. 91 looks like a somewhat surreal landscape, perhaps a Martian landscape, although they say the surface of Mars isn't really the red we often imagine it to be. The colors here remind me of the rocks in the Arches National Park area of Utah, but, again, I had no place in mind when I began. This is another piece that incorporates a pastel-covered scrap of paper I got from another artist. Otherwise, these are colored papers I've made myself by monoprinting with acrylic paints.

The second piece shown here uses black papers I made recently with nothing in particular in mind, just prompted by a desire to work with form rather than color. Mostly black, although I've incorporated leftover blues from past work and accented the blues with a hint of green at lower left.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol

Art I'm Making: New Collages (February 2015)

It's already the end of March, but the most recent collages I've posted previously on this blog are from early February. Here are two more, both from later in that month--Untitled Collage No. 89 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 90 (Santa Rosa). I started making collages in the third week of July 2013. I set out to make one collage a week at that time, thinking it would be useful to be steadily productive--not because quantity matters, but because the process of working matters. Each new collage is an attempt to better what I've done before. Each one is a new attempt at solving the problem of creating a compelling composition. As of today (March 28, 2015), I've finished 95 pieces. To stay on schedule, I should have completed 104 by the third week of July in 2015, two years after my start. Thus, I have to complete nine more pieces in the coming 14 weeks--which is to say I'm somewhat ahead of schedule. The discipline has been very good. The more I make the better the work gets. I hope to continue at this pace for the foreseeable future.

Untitled Collage No. 89 (Santa Rosa) is a bit of a departure for me in that it uses more scissor-cut shapes than usual. I feel sometimes I rely too much on the paper cutter, that I use too many straight lines. Certainly, straight lines have their place, but I'm consciously trying to use more irregular shapes. In particular, this piece uses a comb-like shape that works rather well, I think. Untitled Collage No. 90 (Santa Rosa), shown below, uses more straight-edged shapes again, but these are strongly offset by the swirls in the deep lavender paper. This piece, too, is somewhat unusual for me in that I've used a piece of semi-transparent mulberry paper, which shows but transforms the colors and shapes behind it.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Music I'm Listening to: Ton Koopman, Mark Inouye with the San Francisco Symphony

I always wonder how orchestra performers feel when they sit through an encore by a soloist. Impossible to generalize, of course. I imagine some genuinely enjoy listening from the best seats in the house, but I always suspect some may be a little jealous, that some may be in a hurry to get home and hope the encore doesn't go on too long. And usually encores don't. Is two to three minutes normal perhaps? Following his performance of the Hayden Trumpet Concerto last Friday (March 20), a prolonged standing ovation prompted an encore from Mark Inouye, principal trumpet of the San Francsico Symphony. Instead of taking center stage, however, he walked to far stage left and stood beside principal bass Scott Pingel. With a nod of the head from Inouye, Pingel began a jazz riff that morphed into a seven or eight minute-long improvisation by the two based on "Corcovado" (the 1960 bossa nova tune by Antônio Carlos Jobim, known also as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars"). Inouye is clearly a gifted jazz trumpeter. It was an extraordinary performance. The concert was worth the price of admission just for this unusual bit of stretching out. As I say, I always wonder what the other performers are thinking during encores, but the expressions on the faces of the symphony members suggested they truly enjoyed this extended bit of fun. The audience loved it, too. Afterward, I asked Pingel about the encore from the edge of the stage. He laughed and said they had planned to do something but hadn't thought too much about what. Pingel said that Inouye had told him to do something based on "Corcovado" and that he (Inouye) would just jump in--and so he did.

Before the Haydn concerto, guest conductor Ton Koopman--an incurably jolly-looking elf of a man (although he looks rather serious in the photo here)--led the symphony in the first suite of music from Handel's Water Music, which involves quite a work out for the French horns. After intermission, Koopman gave us a tight, precise, but expressive reading of Haydn's Sypmhony No. 98. Listening to this music from 1792, I was struck in places by how modern it sounds--a feeling I've had listening to Haydn before. There were passages that seemed to point directly to Beethoven and to Brahms. All in all, an excellent night of music.

Photos of Mark Inouye and Ton Koopman courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Wines I'm Drinking: 2006 Ardente Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserva

Intensely colored. A rather youthful-looking purple--which is unusual in a wine that already has spent nine years or so in bottle. Tobacco, earth, chocolate, leather, and black cherries on the nose at first, with something slightly musky in the background. Good acid, bright on the attack. Richer mid-palate with some nice tannins, but with a rush of acidity again toward the finish. Decent length, with leathery, chocolatey tannins lingering on the finish. Tasty, but still seems quite young, at least when just opened. I let the wine sit for a while and I began to get hints of butter and sandalwood on the nose, and later marzipan, brandied cherries, and even mint, and the rather prominent acidity on the palate began to soften a little. The bright acidity suggests this wine will keep and that it would nicely compliment rich meat dishes. I got this for just under $10 at my local Grocery Outlet. Recent vintages sell for about $36 a bottle elsewhere. Good value.

Art I'm Looking At: Suzanne Jacquot, Abstract Painter, on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, Cotati

In my role as a curator, I'll next be showing the work of Sonoma County painter Suzanne Jacquot on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi in Cotati. The show opens this coming Tuesday, March 31 and will run through the end of May. Artist reception Monday, April 6.

This week is the last week to see the current show: Janis Crystal Lipzin—Color Photographs from The "Starflex Series" (through March 29). For more information, visit

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rain: Unexpected Overnight Rain (March 21-23, 2015)

We had showers in the early morning hours last night--showers that I don't remember being in the forecast. We got 0.15 inches, which is hardly enough to make much of a difference, but better than nothing. That brings the total for the 2014-2015 rain year (which ends on June 30, 2015) to 22.90 inches at this location (other Santa Rosa locations have reported closer to 21 inches for the season). In either case, that's well below the historical average for this date (March 22), which is 30.88 inches.

[Update: More rain overnight on the March 22 - March 23 gave us an additional 0.25 inches, bringing our total to 23.15 inches.]

Monday, March 16, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: "Birds" at Ice House Gallery (March 16, 2015)

I attended the opening of the latest show at Ice House Gallery in Petaluma, "Birds" a show of art depicting birds--work by a diverse group of artists including Dick Cole, Sylvia Gonzalez, Diana Majumdar, Robert Poplack, Michele Rosett, Stephanie Sanchez, and Joanne Tepper.

Sylvia Gonzalez's work is attractive for its decorative qualities. She sketches birds on top of subtle, layered backgrounds created using a number of techniques, notably Xerox lithography. Some of her pieces are colorful arrays of smaller works. Diana Majumdar sketches very freely, but she nicely captures the kind of quizzical attitudes that often make birds so endearing, and she gets the birds right--which satisfies the bird watcher in me. Recognizable among her works in the show were Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus, detail shown above) and a sparrow that I couldn't positively identify but one rendered in a way that makes me confident I could have done so with a field guide in hand--perhaps Five-striped Sparrow (Aimophila quinquestriata) or Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata). Dick Cole's work shows some nice painterly effects. Joanne Tepper's work is realistic--with an emphasis on draughtsmanship--but often whimsical at the same time. In her paintings she likes to pose real bird species on teacups, for instance (one such painting was on the cover of the 2014 Art Trails catalog).

I spent about an hour walking around Petaluma after visiting Ice House Gallery and dropping in at Griffin Map Design & Gallery, a couple of doors down, where the Ladies Night show is still on. The most interesting bird art I saw during the evening may have been this 4-foot-high cardboard creation in a shop window along the main drag. I wonder who made this wonderful owl? If you're a bird lover and an art lover, however, my top recommendation would be to take the time to visit Erickson Fine Art Gallery in Healdsburg to see some of the wonderful bird paintings done on gold leaf by Antoinette Von Grone that Erickson shows.

Later I stopped at Riverfront Gallery where an eye-catching photographic montage by Jeremy Joan Hewes depicting a crow or raven seemed the most interesting thing on the walls. Finally, I checked out Prince Gallery, which has a new show of photography up. I especially liked the work of one Laura Alice Watt. Her dreamy pinhole images really struck a chord with me. They are beautiful, blurry  corners of the natural world--not at all in the tradition of "nature photography"--but striking nevertheless. She says in her artist's statement that she rejects the perfection of much nature photography. She says  "I am more interested in a direct connection with the world around me...attempting to see nature from the inside, via interaction, rather than simply admiring from afar." Compelling images.

Books I'm Reading: Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper

For my birthday I received a copy of Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper, a comparatively new (July 2013) book about the work of Richard Diebenkorn (a gift I had asked for). I came across it quite by accident on the Internet. I can't remember what I was searching for, but I'm glad I found this diminutive (6 x 8-inch) volume, one of three about Diebenkorn published in the same format by a small California press I'd never heard of--Kelly’s Cove Press--in association with the Richard Diebenkorn foundation. I knew I wanted the book simply because I like Diebenkorn and because in the Diebenkorn retrospective at the De Young in the summer of 2013 works on paper were some of the more interesting and rarer pieces (click here for my review of that show). Now that I have the book in hand, I'm deeply impressed--and thrilled to see this is actually a catalog for a traveling show of these and other works on paper (many never before published) that will make a stop in Sonoma County this summer, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, in the town of Sonoma, from June 6 through August 23, 2015.

The book contains 88 full-color plates and a number of black and white views of Diebenkorn’s studio spaces. It covers nearly his entire career, starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Sausalito, Albuquerque, Urbana, and Berkeley, moving on to the Ocean Park period (1967-1988), and then to his late period (1988-1992), in Healdsburg. I had no idea he had retired and spent his final years so close by. I was in Healdsburg today. There is little text and almost all of it is at the end of the book. There are no essays, only descriptions (titles, dates, dimensions, media, etc.) and these are presented in a block following the images rather than alongside them, so that each page of the book presents a single image with no distractions. Besides the descriptions there are only: a page of credits identifying the seven short quotes interspersed among the images on otherwise blank pages; a brief (five-paragraph) biography; and the end matter. It's a pleasure to flip slowly through the main section of the book, getting a new gem with every new page.

The quotes are wonderful. Diebenkorn appears to have been a man of few words, having given only a handful of interviews over the years, as far as I can tell, but what he says always resonates--although perhaps his words are especially meaningful to a working artist. I don't want to spoil the fun, but two quotes I liked in particular. "One wants to see the artifice of the thing as well as the subject," said Diebenkorn (this from Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting, Paul Mills, ed., Oakland Art Museum, 1957). It was probably uttered in response to a question about his figurative work, which in Diebenkorn's, case blossomed after an extended, highly productive period of pure abstraction, but it's a sentiment that bears repeating today in the context of an art world bamboozled by art that has become so divorced from the human hand that it barely supports the descriptor "art" any longer. Yes, indeed. One wants to see the artifice.

The other I liked was "There's nothing I cannot paint over." That made me laugh out loud. Here I suspect Diebenkorn is talking about the courage and clarity of vision it requires to see that nothing is sacred, despite that feeling we artists sometimes get that a particular effect, some combination of colors, some juxtaposition of lines is perfect and inviolable--although it's almost never the case that such details can't be improved upon, set aside, painted over, left behind during the process of achieving something better. A beautiful little book.  

The book has been produced in association with a traveling exhibition entitled The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper 1949-1992. The exhibition began its tour at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery, in Kentfield, moved to San Jose State University and then to American University in Washington DC. It will next appear at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, as noted above. The show ends at The University of Montana, in Missoula, on view there from September 24 to December 12, 2015. In conjunction with the same show, Kelly's Cove Press has also published Richard Diebenkorn: From the Model and Richard Diebenkorn: Still Lifes and Landscapes. The books retail for $20 each.

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