Friday, September 15, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The City Club, San Francisco

Another neon cocktail glass in San Francisco. This one is at The City Club, 2950 16th Street. The glass itself looks fairly generic in design, but yellow is somewhat unusual.

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right at the top of the page.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Andersonville

My grandmother always spoke highly of this book. Her interest in it stemmed in part from the fact that an ancestor of ours was captive at the infamous prison depicted in the novel, formally known as Camp Sumter. One Bernhard Kratzsch, an Ohio volunteer, (also known as Rheinhard)--to me, an uncle with many greats before his name, was captured at Gettysburg and ended up at Andersonville. According to my grandmother, he died there. In 2013, on a trip across the southern states (mostly for birding), I visited the site. I was unable to find Bernhard's name among those buried in the cemetery adjacent to the stockade that housed the captives. A guard told me many Union soldiers that had been at Andersonville--thousands of them--were moved south and east as Sherman's army advanced, and that many died en route or at prisons deeper in confederate territory. Our Bernhard was perhaps among those men.

It's a book I've long meant to read. And so I have now. I see that it would have interested my grandmother also because it is beautifully written. Her second husband owned a well-respected independent bookstore in Dayton, Ohio, McLean's Books,  in the days when nearly all bookstores were independent bookstores. She taught high school English for many years in Dayton. She read voraciously. She was an admirer of fine literature.

Andersonville was a shockingly horrible place. Kantor vividly describes the conditions in the camp--a simple rectangular stockade of upended pine trunks filled with tens of thousands of men given no shelter and little food, men with access only to fouled water. Though a novel, Andersonville is based on meticulous research. While characters in the story living outside the prison itself are mostly fictional, many of the guards and officers in charge and even some of the prisoners are based on people who actually lived. Some of the reports on conditions at the prison quoted are taken from contemporary reports. A substantial bibliography is provided. I see no reason to believe the author has done anything but bring to life the horrid place much as it must have been in reality. Although Andersonville was written almost 65 years ago. It remains quite fresh. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Buckhorn, San Francisco

On a recent day of driving around San Francisco after dark I passed this simple but attractive neon cocktail glass (with skewered cherry) at The Buckhorn. Unfortunately, I've lost track of the location. A Google search brings up only the Buckhorn Grill, with three locations in the city, but this appears to be an independent bar not connected with the grill. Somewhere in San Francisco....

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right at the top of the page.

Rain: Another Quarter Inch in 2016-2017

We had a rare thunderstorm today. It very quickly dropped a quarter inch of rain on us. As the official rain year is now calculated from October 1 to September 30 of the following year, this new precipitation, although it feels like the start of the 2017-2018 rain year, will be credited to the preceding year. That brings our already record-breaking total for the 2016-2017 rain year to 55.55 inches at my northeast Santa Rosa location.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 185 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage, this one a kind of diptych, the two halves separated by a thin white line. This is Untitled Collage No. 185 (Santa Rosa), finished August 8, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 25.1 x 15.5cm (9.9 x 6.1 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Wines I'm Making: The Waiting Game 2017

It's almost mid-September. The commercial vineyards, growing many varieties in many locations, are in the middle of a harvest that will last into early November in the higher elevations but mostly finish by mid-October. My Cabernet and Sangiovese vines will be ready soon, but the grapes aren't mature yet. They have been netted against critters. The electric fence is on. So far, no damage from animals, but a fair amount of the Sangiovese got hit by mildew earlier in the season and a lesser amount of the Cabernet. The removal of trees in the neighbor's yard right next to the grapes has helped to keep things healthy otherwise--more sun, more light. As long as the animals continue to leave the berries alone, we'll have a harvest at least as big as the very small harvest of last year. Now I simply wait for the grapes to mature while keeping an eye on their sugar levels. Quite a few raisins already, a result of the very high temperatures (well above 100 degrees) we had last week and the week before. I've watered only twice this year, once a deep watering of 7 hours and more recently, following the heat, about 4 hours. As always, we won't really know what's going on until the berries are picked and crushed. That's probably about two weeks away.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Delirium Bar, San Francisco

I recently passed by the Delerium Bar, in San Francisco, at 3139 16th Street. This appears to be a custom design with the cocktail glass in blue. It's unusual in that it doesn't have a skewered olive or cherry in it.

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right at the top of the page.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Art I'm Looking at: Claude Smith, on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi

I'm pleased to announce the next show on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi will feature work by Graton-based artist Claude Smith. These are the last few days to see the exquisite work by Bob Nugent up on the Art Wall now (through tomorrow, Sunday, September 3). Claude's show will go up over the long weekend and open on Tuesday, September 5. The opening reception will be the following Monday, September 11, from 5:30 to 7:30PM. Drop by, meet the artist, have a glass of wine, take in the art.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 184 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage, using a comparatively limited palette--mostly reds, browns, and oranges--with some subtly contrasting elements in shades of blue. This is Untitled Collage No. 184 (Santa Rosa). July 20, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. Image size: 19.6 x 16.8cm (7.7 x 6.6 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat, signed and dated on the reverse.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Picture This: How Pictures Work

Children's writer and illustrator Molly Bang's Picture This: How Pictures Work has come to my attention in the form of a recently released 25th anniversary edition. A new, hard-cover anniversary edition suggests the book has long been well known and loved, yet I'd never seen it before--never even heard of it--despite a habit of reading about art and perception. It was originally published in 1991 by Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company as Picture This: Perception and Composition, but I read the revised and expanded (slightly re-titled) 25th Anniversary edition of 2016 from Chronicle books shown here.

It's a shame it's escaped my attention all this time because this simple, easy-to-grasp book is a remarkable distillation of much of what artists know about composition presented in a way that virtually anyone will understand. So, I wish I had read it long ago. My instinct now will be to recommend Picture This every time someone looks at a piece of my art and wonders what's going on, every time I'm in the presence of someone who expresses frustration with understanding art, especially abstract art. Although it can be read in a single sitting (the expanded edition is about 132 pages, mostly pictures), it's nothing short of revelatory. This book is quietly brilliant.

Picture This is likely to be extremely useful in teaching or presenting basic concepts of perception and composition to laymen. It provides a handy framework for talking about art, particularly with people who think they don't understand art--and again, abstract art in particular because the discussion is presented using simple paper cutouts, themselves abstracted distillations of the things they represent; Bang looks at how shape, color, size, and placement on a page affect our feelings.

At the same time, I suspect many artists will find the book concisely articulates much of what they instinctively know already about these subjects but may be unable to express in words. For artists, the book is likely to feel like an affirmation of instinct. The author touches on the subject explicitly at the end of the book (I suspect this is an addition to the anniversary edition) in a short chapter called "Finally, in Defense of Instinct." The chapter comprises a single illustration (from the author's book Dawn, an adaptation of the Japanese folktale known as "The Crane Wife") and a single page of text. She says "I made this image long before I wrote Picture This and before I understood its principles." You can almost hear her inwardly saying "Yes! See! I knew what I was doing all along!" And, as an artist, it's hard not to share her feeling.

But she's thinking about instinct in another, more fundamental sense. Throughout the book, Bang looks at pictorial elements pared down to essentials and draws attention to the basic human instincts these elements play on to evoke feeling through the agency of the artist. For example, she makes it abundantly clear how our intimate, unavoidable relationship with gravity informs the way we interpret nearly all pictorial forms. Almost the entirety of the book is illustrated with diagrams made using only black, white, red, or lavender paper cutouts--just the essentials (see the book cover above). The first example in Picture This not such an explanatory diagram appears only on page 117, at the very end of the book. Presenting the illustration from Dawn mentioned above, she invites the reader to contemplate the image using the ideas presented in Picture This without herself "deconstructing the picture." By page 117, however, there's no need for her to reiterate. With the concepts leading up to this image in mind, it's easy to see how the illustration works. Her ideas are clear, elemental, and obvious once presented; they leave a deep impression. The last time I encountered such a clear, convincing, extended argument about any topic was reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Highly recommended. This book should be in the collection of every artist, every school, every man or woman who's ever struggled with interpreting (or making) imagery of any kind.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Serendipitous Art: Paint and Shadows (August 19, 2017)

A patch of paint, a spill, pieces of tape, and light came together to make this unintended composition. Serendipitous art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 183 (Santa Rosa)

Untitled Collage No. 183 (Santa Rosa). July 10, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. Image size: 18.7 x 21.4cm (7.4 x 8.4 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. One of the only two pieces I managed to finish in July.
Click on the image for a larger view.

For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Miscellaneous: North Dakota License Plate Finally Spotted

Yesterday I spotted a car near Santa Rosa, CA bearing a North Dakota license plate. That's not a big deal, except in the context of a game I've been playing with myself for about three years now. I've been trying to see a license plate from each of the 50 United States--without going out of my way to do that. I had been stuck at 48 states for well over a year.

North Dakota was one of the two I'd never seen (oddly, South Dakota is moderately common around here; I've seen South Dakota plates a handful of times). Logically, Hawaii and Alaska would seem the most unlikely in Northern California, but I see Alaska plates once or twice a month and Hawaii not infrequently either. In addition to the 49 states I've now seen, I've seen plates from Washington D.C. and even the Marshall Islands--all in the course of my regular wanderings around the San Francisco Bay Area. One state still eludes me.... Care to guess which one it is, or what the other rare ones seem to be?

Miscellaneous: New Yard Bird

I've long had Hooded Oriole on my list of yard birds as I define a yard bird as any bird I see on my property or FROM my property. I've seen them in tall trees in a neighbor's yard, but never in my own garden until a few days ago. A female Hooded Oriole, probably a young bird, was in a bush right outside my kitchen window. I got a nice photograph of it even though I had to shoot through a window screen. I feel like I can count it as a more authentic yard bird than before.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 182 (Santa Rosa)

Sometimes you finish a piece of work, reluctantly, not entirely happy, but somehow needing to move on, and you're left with something that demands more work or a complete re-think after a little time has passed.

This is Untitled Collage No. 182 (Santa Rosa), initially finished June 8, 2017, but completely reworked on July 13, more than a month later. Originally a horizontal piece, transformed into a much more dynamic and satisfying vertical composition. Now I'm very pleased with it. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size: 25.4 x 35.7cm (10.0 x14.1in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Monday, August 7, 2017

Miscellaneous: Location, Location, Location

I found myself recently in the town of Larkspur, in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate. Looking for a shady place to park, I pulled into a side street and came to a stop in front of the house pictured here. In front of the shack-like building was a "for sale" sign. One bedroom, of less than 700 square feet, un-landscaped, old and not very well put together to begin with, this is something you might pick up for about $30,000 in many parts of the United States--say, in central Alabama. Price in Larkspur, California? $800,000. It truly is all about location.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 181 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 181 (Santa Rosa), May 17, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size 22.9 x 29.7cm (9.0 x 11.7in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat, signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/


Wines I'm Making: 2015 Cabernet Labeled (July 29, 2017)

Yesterday I got labels printed for our 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. 2015 was a tiny harvest. We made only 18 bottles of wine, but the wine is very good--perhaps as good as the 2014. 2016 was a wash. I made no red wine at all last year because the yield was so bad. I pooled all the Cabernet and the Sangiovese and made a blended rosé--and only about a case of that. With a row of trees behind my little vineyard creating shade, yields have been very low and mildew has been a problem. This spring I persuaded the neighbor to remove the trees, which has greatly increased the sun on the vines. I'm hoping to get a more normal yield in 2018. In past years, we've made as many as six or seven cases of wine from our 34 vines.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 180 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage using a rather bold magenta-tinged blue. Unintentionally, this ended up with the feel of a landscape. Whatever you happen to see in it, I think it achieves the kind of dynamic stasis that is crucial to a good abstract composition.

This is Untitled Collage No. 180 (Santa Rosa), May 21, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 25.5 x 19.8cm (10.0 x 7.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

On a technical note, I've been describing my collage work as "abstract monoprint collage" but I now think that was a mistake. Strictly speaking, the collages I make are made from monotypes rather than monoprints. From now on, I'll be calling them "abstract monotype collages."

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Pan Am: History, Design & Identity

I bought Pan Am: History, Design & Identity (Callisto, 2016) on impulse because it appeared to present the entire history of Pan Am's branding in photographs of the company's aircraft, destinations, hotels, and personnel at work as well as in reproductions of posters and other ephemera the company used—hundreds of posters, luggage labels, brochures, and other promotional material. But the book turned out to be much more. I hadn't really expected a lot of text, but, in addition to a remarkable collection of images, author M. C. Hühne presents a succinct yet thorough history of Pan Am's origins, it's development into probably the most influential airline in the world, and then its slow decline and failure. Along the way, we get an insightful portrait of Pan Am's visionary leader, Juan Trippe, and a look at some of the people he worked with, including Charles Lindbergh. The illustrations are beautifully printed on heavy, coated paper, which makes the book feel like a brick, but it's a brick that's very pleasurable to peruse. Owning it is an indulgence, but it's the kind of book that will reward repeated visits—in the end, a worthwhile investment.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Exhibit Pipeline on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi

Susan Stover: Where is My Allegiance?
I'm excited about the artist line-up for the rest of 2017 and into 2018 on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi. I've now filled the next five show slots (from July 2017 through the end of April 2018).

Bob Nugent: Sementes 80
First up will be Bob Nugent: Dialogues with Nature, a show of works by Bob Nugent, inspired by the time he spends in the Amazon River Basin in Brazil. Bob's work will be on the walls from July 5 through September 3, 2017. The opening reception will be July 10, 2017 from 5:30 to 7:30.

Claude Smith: Margins 06


The September–October 2017 slot will go to Graton-based artist Claude Smith.  Claude was a participant in the very first show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, in December 2014. Claude is primarily a painter, but he also does mixed media and collage work.

The November–December show will feature the work of Susan Stover, known for small, wall-mounted sculptural objects and abstract mixed-media pieces and encaustics.

The first show of 2018 will be devoted to work by Oakland-based printmaker Linda Yoshizawa who does intricate stencil-based prints and solar plate etchings of mostly botanical subjects.

Linda Yoshizawa: Morning Magnolias
 The February–March slot will go to Katie McCann, also an Oakland-based artist known for her wonderfully imaginative collages.

Katie McCann: Mind Full

Art I'm Looking At: Bob Nugent on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (July 5 through September 3, 2017)

I'm very pleased to announce the upcoming show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi. We'll be showing works inspired by the Amazon River Basin by Bob Nugent. Nugent's work has been shown around the world (over 100 solo shows and inclusion in more than 550 group exhibitions across the US, in Europe, Asia, and South America.) Don't miss this opportunity to see a selection of Nugent's subtle, evocative paintings. The show runs from July 5 through September 3, 2017

OPENING RECEPTION: MONDAY, JULY 10, 5:30 to 7:30PM

Bob Nugent appears on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi courtesy of Erickson Fine Art Gallery, Healdsburg.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 179 (Novato)

Finally getting around to posting the last of the four collages I made while co-teaching a class with Suzanne Jacquot at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art back in April.

This is Untitled Collage No. 179 (Novato), April 22, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 34.8 x 26.7cm (13.2 x 10.5in). Matted to 24 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wines I'm Making: 2015 Cabernet Bottled

Bottling by hand siphoning
Yesterday I finally got around to bottling our 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. It was a short job as our 25 vines (21 Cab Sauvignon, four Cab Franc) produced a tiny harvest that yielded only three gallons of finished wine, or 15 bottles. The low yield was in part because of a row of overgrown trees in my neighbor's yard that have increasingly shaded the vines over the years. This spring, I persuaded him to remove them, as he had wanted to anyway. I'm hoping the greatly increased sunshine now will result in both better yields and fewer problems with mildew.

Siphon and bottles ready
I tasted the wine as I was bottling it. It promises to be very good—perhaps as good or better than the 2014, which has been the best wine from our little vineyard to date.  2016 was a disaster—so little fruit that we made no red wine at all, only 15 bottles of rosé from the combined fruit of the 25 Cab vines and our nine Sangiovese vines. I'm hoping 2017 we'll be the turnaround year.  Below is a finished case of corked wine. Now it's time to design the label for the 2015 wine.


Music I'm Listening to: Garrick Ohlsson with Susanna Mälkki Conducting the San Francisco Symphony

Garrick Ohlsonn following his performance of Beethoven's
Piano Concerto No. 1, Conductor Mälkki to the right
I attended the June 9, performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall. The program began with a performance of Stravinsky's Scherzo Fantastique. Garrick Ohlsson performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 before intermission. The second half was devoted to a performance of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, and a very powerful performance it was.

I'd never heard the opening Stravinsky piece at all, never heard Le Sacre du Printemps live, and Ohlsonn gave a fine performance of the Beethoven concerto, all of which made for an excellent concert experience. The 1795 Beethoven concerto is an interesting transitional piece between the classical and romantic styles. Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 of 1803, is usual considered the composition that ushered in the romantic period, but here in the first piano concerto you can already hear something new. The first cadenza is very, very long, for one thing, and, in both that cadenza and the piece as a whole there are sections that sound like the future Beethoven amidst sections that sound more like Mozart. I don't know if Ohlsson's interpretation made the contrasts more obvious than they sometimes are, but it's something I'd never noticed before.

The highlight of the evening, however, was Le Sacre du Printemps. I own half a dozen recordings and I've heard it on the radio many times, but seeing the piece played live is especially exciting because so much is going on on stage (and it's a very big ensemble—according to the program, scored for: three flutes plus piccolo and alto flute (third flute doubling second piccolo), four oboes and English horn (fourth oboe doubling second English horn), three clarinets plus E flat clarinet and bass clarinet (second clarinet doubling second bass clarinet), four bassoons and contrabassoon (fourth bassoon doubling second contrabassoon), eight horns (seventh and eighth doubling tenor tubas, also known as Wagner tubas), three trombones, two bass tubas, five timpani (divided between two players), bass drum, tam-tam, triangle, tambourine, guiro, ancient symbols, and strings). It's as interesting to watch as it is to listen to. (A guiro is that Latin American percussion instrument made from an open-ended gourd with parallel notches cut in the side). There was barely enough room on stage for all the musicians. I don't think I've ever heard a performance of Le Sacre du Printemps as good as this one. Mälkki kept things taut, precise, and powerful without ever giving in to what I suspect must be a huge temptation to let the tempo pick up as the energy of the music increases. Maintaining the relentless drive but without rushing is probably the key to making the piece a success. Mälkki kept things right on the edge from start to finish. It was electrifying. Goose bumps and giggles. It was electrifying and I've never seen a longer, more enthusiastic standing ovation in the many years I've been attending the San Francisco Symphony concerts. It must have lasted a good eight minutes. A memorable performance.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 178 (Novato)

Here is the third of the four collages I made using material I printed at a recent class I co-taught with Suzanne Jacquot at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. All four use the pattern of circles as a basic element.

This is Untitled Collage No. 178 (Novato). April 22, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image dive 23.7 x 31.9cm (9.2 x 12.5 inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Friday, June 9, 2017

Books I'm Reading: The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

Eric Siblin's The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece (Grove Press, 2009) was a birthday gift some years back. I should have picked it up sooner. It was a very entertaining read. As the title suggests, it's a look at what today are among Bach's most famous compositions, the suites for cello, through the lens of Pablo Casals's relationship with the music (he was their early champion in modern times) and through the author's research into that relationship and into the history of the original manuscript of the suites (which remains lost).

Despite their fame today, the suites were largely forgotten not too long after Bach wrote them, and when they were played, they were usually considered exercises rather than music to be performed on stage.

Much of the book is biography, sketching out details of the lives of J.S. Bach and Pablo Casals (the book looks at how a young Pablo Casals brought the cello suites new attention; Casals was largely responsible for establishing them as concert pieces)—but much is about the music itself, the chapters and the book laid out out in a pattern that mimics the structure of the suites. It's a bit frustrating that you can't hear the music as it's being discussed. This book could be very nicely adapted to the screen, becoming a mini-series with an episode devoted to each of the suites, the music in the soundtrack. Well written, well researched, and engagingly written. Highly recommended.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rain: A Little More Rain in a Record Year

The 2016-2017 rain year ends on September 30, but we rarely get rain in June, July, or August, so, by the end of May, the annual rainfall total usually is pretty clear. This year has been unusual. We got more rain than ever before recorded in Santa Rosa since record-keeping began in the 1880s, and today we got 0.3 inches of rain in the first week of June—not unheard of, but unusual. It started late last night and it's been misting pretty much all day. That brings our total at my location in Santa Rosa to 55.30 inches and the first rain since April 19.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 177 (Novato)

I co-taught a class with Suzanne Jacquot at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art back in April. My role was mostly showing how I make the monoprints that become raw material for my abstract collages. This is the second of four collages I made from monoprints that came out of demonstrating for the class. Suzanne had brought a pile of cardboard sheets with circular cutouts and these made interesting prints. All four of the collages from Novato use images made using the cutouts.

This is Untitled Collage No. 177 (Novato), April 22, 2017, Acrylic on paper (acrylic monoprint), collage. Image size: 35.8 x 25.2cm (14.1 x 9.9in), matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Books I'm Reading: The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters

A Dover publication of a text originally published in 1957, I picked this up somewhere long ago and finally read it over a recent weekend. John Toland's The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters is not very well titled. It would be better called The Great Dirigibles: One Disaster after Another, as the author spends little time talking about the successful flights of these once-great airships. The book is mostly a telling of how some of the most famous of them met their ends—in great detail, based on eyewitness accounts. If nothing else, this book makes it clear just how fragile and dangerous dirigibles (especially hydrogen-filled dirigibles) were.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 175 (Santa Rosa)

Having just written a brief post about one of my recent collages (Untitled Collage No. 176 (Santa Rosa)), I realize that I skipped posting one I wanted to show here. This is Untitled Collage No. 175 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. April 16, 2017. Image size: 27.8 x 17.3cm (10.9 x 6.8in). Matted to 20 x 16in. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 176 (Novato)

The first of four collages I made recently from monoprints I did while co-teaching a class at The Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. This is Untitled Collage No. 176 (Novato). April 22, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 23.6 x 32.8cm (9.3 x 12.9in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Monday, May 29, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Chris Beards—Sculpture at Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg (through July 15, 2017)

Chris Beards And After opening reception, Paul Mahder Gallery
The Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg opened an impressive show of new sculptural work by Santa Rosa artist Chris Beards last night (May 27). The artist was in attendance, along with many of the North Bay’s best artists, gallerists, and curators. I say sculptures—and they are sculptures—but all the pieces are wall-hung rather than freestanding, and they are dramatically lit, casting complex shadows on the white walls almost as interesting as the art itself.

Chris Beards, Siege (2017), detail
The show comprises about 12 pieces made from steel—mostly formed from sinewy, twisted strips or wrinkled sheets of steel—mummified in paper. Beards works by encasing steel armatures in multiple layers (sometimes as many as 20 layers) of paper bonded to the metal with thinned glue and other media. The paper and glue layers are then heavily worked. The layers are sanded, overlaid with more paper and glue, re-sanded, painted or shellacked or gessoed, sanded again and then further overlaid and finished in a laborious process that results in remarkably refined, sensuous, satiny surfaces, suggestive not of the raw steel underneath but of other metals—well-used bronze, smooth-worn iron, patina-green copper—or even softly eroded marble. The underlying steel is present in that it defines form here, but the surface finishes Beards achieves are as important as form. The sculptures have a skillfully crafted look in an age of art that often celebrates the opposite, and they are refreshingly appealing for that. There is something decidedly seductive about the work. You’ll want to touch it—caress it, even. Happily, the artist gives permission to touch the work a little.

Chris Beards in front of Within/Without (2016)
Beards has titled the show And After. A statement on the wall explains that the work is about how memory transforms experience—in particular, about the way time distils raw experience into something softer. The work, Beards says, is about the way our “narrative of the past becomes smoother,” the way the “sharp edges and thorns are softened and dulled.” He speaks of his sculptures not as depicting specific memories but rather as addressing the idea of memory itself. The finished pieces are presented as the softened remains of their underlying rough metal selves. He likens these sculptures to “time-tumbled driftwood or bones” and the metaphor is apt.

Chris Beards, After the Last (2013-2015)
Among my favorites pieces were Within/Without (2016, steel, paper, glue, spray paint, acrylic paint), After the Last (2013–2015, steel, paper, glue, spray paint, graphite, soft pastel, shellac), and Tiered (2017, steel, tracing paper, glue, gesso). The first of these suggests an unearthed artifact—a scrap of an obsolete, abandoned farm vehicle, perhaps—rusted but its surfaces polished as if long-caressed. After the Last is evocative of more organic forms. It kept suggesting to me part of the mummified remains of a frilled lizard, perhaps squashed flat on a roadway, or a fragment of a grasshopper—but the sculpture is again transformed into something sensuous by its satiny surfaces.


Chris Beards, Tiered (2017)
Tiered, my favorite piece in the show, reminded me of centuries-old stone steps worn smooth by the foot traffic of generations of pilgrims (the interior staircase of the leaning tower at Pisa, the steps inside Haghia Sophia, in Istanbul, came to mind) or the much-touched drapery of a recumbent figure on a white marble sarcophagus lid. These are only a few impressions, but Beards’s work is beautiful to look at and richly evocative.  And After will continue at Paul Mahder Gallery (222 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 473-9150) through July 15, 2017 (although Paul Mahder now represents Beard and will therefore continue to handle his work after the show). Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Stuart Davis at the De Young, San Francisco

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, installation view
I've been aware of Stuart Davis since I was a teenager. He's always been among the 20th century American artists I've enjoyed most, along with other early American modernists such as Arthur Dove, John Marin, Charles DeMuth, and Charles Sheeler, but, having just seen the Stuart Davis show now on at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco (Stuart Davis: In Full Swing), I realize that I knew little about Davis the man, that I've never seen much of his early work, and that I've never seen large groups of related canvases by him together in one room.

Stuart Davis, Odol (1924)
Museum of Modern Art, New York   
Walking into the exhibition, one thing struck me immediately: the galleries were largely empty. The contrast with the Matisse/Diebenkorn show at SF MoMA was startling (it's been hard to walk in the Matisse/Diebenkorn galleries at times for all the people). Is Davis so obscure? Perhaps the high attendance at the SF MoMA show just reflects the ongoing power of early modern European artists to draw crowds. I imagine the Impressionists, for example, remain the single most popular group of artists among the general population and that most people attending the SF MoMa show go to see Matisse rather than Diebenkorn. There's a certain irony there. Davis was among the important American artists struggling for recognition in the 1920s and 1930s when US collectors and museums were still very much focused on European art, while American art—particularly modern American art—was viewed with some skepticism.

Stuart Davis, Lucky Strike (1921)
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Having never seen much of Davis's early work, I was unaware of his heavy quotation of advertising imagery. His well known later work, with its frequent use of text, is certainly suggestive of commercial signage, but early pieces in the De Young show are much more direct in their use of this kind of imagery. Odol (1924), for example, anticipates Pop Art's direct appropriation of product advertising by at least 20 years. In Lucky Strike (1921), Davis has, in effect, painted a collage of scraps of cigarette packaging. At this stage, the painter had already learned a great deal from Cubism, but his wholesale incorporation of advertising imagery into his paintings went well beyond the occasional, fragmentary quotations in the work of Braque, Picasso, and Juan Gris.

Stuart Davis, Place Pasdeloup  (1928)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Davis spent a year in Paris, in 1928–1929. The look of his paintings suddenly changed. Oddly, the influence of Cubism seems less here in the city that gave birth to Cubism than in his earlier work. Davis's Paris scenes are blocked out in flat planes of color overlaid with simple black outlines that depict cafés, storefronts, street lamps, and architectural details—although details, in general, are comparatively few. The work is simple, highly stylized. These paintings suggest travel posters or illustrations in picture books for children. The work of Raoul Dufy comes to mind. The De Young show includes several examples from this period, among them the pictured Place Pasdeloup (1928).

Stuart Davis, New York Mural (1932)
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach
Also of interest among the early pieces are the "Eggbeater" paintings (not shown here), these among works first championed by Edith Halpert of the Downtown Gallery. Having recently read Lindsay Pollock's biography of Halpert (The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market), it was fun to see the actual paintings. There is a striking 1932 mural of New York as well, which, according to the wall label, was made in response to an invitation from the Museum of Modern Art to produce mural designs about life in America after WWI. Davis's design includes many coded political references (Alfred Smith's brown derby and bow tie, a banana referring to the 1928 Smith campaign's use of the song "Yes, We Have no Bananas," and a champagne glass turned on its side (upper left) referring to the candidate's support for the repeal of Prohibition, among others).

Three compositionally related works
The show would have been worth seeing just for these early works, but there is a good selection of later, more familiar pieces, including several "sets" of compositionally related works mounted side by side that illustrate the way Davis repeatedly drew on his own canvases to create variations in the manner of a musician improvising variations on a theme. Davis was a jazz enthusiast and thought of his working process as being akin to jazz performance.

Throughout the show, and particularly in the later sections, I was struck by how strongly Davis's canvases suggest collage; most are very easily imagined as pasted paper cutouts. Some of the busiest pieces, such as The Mellow Pad (1945-1951) are notable also for the way Davis covers the entire canvas with color and form in a way that flattens and de-centralizes. He creates a dynamic overall pattern with almost no part of the image more important than any other. Here Davis would seem to have anticipated Jackson Pollock's drip paintings by at least a couple of years in his use of space if not in technique. Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, through August 6, 2017 at the De Young, offers much to see and much to think about.

Stuart Davis, The Mellow Pad (1945-1951)
The Brooklyn Museum




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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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