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 Sturat 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 drippaintings 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


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wines I'm Drinking: Three Rosés from Grocery Outlet

Two of three rosés I picked up recently at Grocery Outlet were worth going back for more. I tasted the 2015 Head High North Coast California Rosé, the 2015 La Domitienne Sur le Sud Vin de Pays d'Oc, and the 2016 Comtesse Florence Côtes de Provence Rosé, all picked up at the Santa Rosa Grocery Outlet store. Brief tasting notes follow.

2015 Head High North Coast California Rosé: A very pretty, medium-deep amber-rose—by far the deepest in color of the three wines. Although it seemed a little distant at first on the nose, it offered hints of strawberries and caramel—or, more precisely, something that put me in mind of creme brulée. Rich and fruity on the palate, with toasty notes. Bold, highly extracted berry flavors, again with a toasty component. The fruity sweetness was nicely complemented by brisk acidity on the mid-palate, and there was a tart brightness that extended onto a longish finish. Ripe, rich, fruity, but dry and well balanced with acidity. A very bold, California-style rosé. Not subtle, but, in the right setting, the sort of wine that's far too easy to drink too much of. Still available as of May 23, 2917 at $4.99 a bottle.

2015 La Domitienne Sur le Sud Vin de Pays d'Oc: This is a 50/50 Grenache/Cinsault blend from the Vin de Pays d'Oc appellation—one of those exceedingly pale, light, southern French rosés that can be either quite bland or surprisingly flavorful. The La Domitienne was on the bland side, although even this one wasn't entirely uninteresting. Very pale pink. Not much on the nose. Slightly fishy at first, as these wines often are, but that dissipated. Light and not unpleasant on the palate and with a somewhat interesting savory flavor on the finish—a finish marked by light, grainy tannins and a delicate tartness. Acceptable, but not interesting enough that I felt compelled to go back for more. Probably better with food. Apparently sold out as of May 23, 2017

2016 Comtesse Florence Côtes de Provence Rosé: A rather amateurish-looking label, but I liked the wine enough to return to the store for a few bottles more. Another 50/50 Grenache/Cinsault blend. Again, a very pale, watery pink, but this wine had much more on the nose than the La Domitienne. There were floral scents and a citrus component. If pressed, I would have said gardenias and lime, but the floral scent was not quite as sweet and strong as a gardenia. Brighter on the palate than the La Domitienne. With decent acidity, but still a little soft. Quite dry. There's a very attractive delicate strawberry hint on the finish. In general, the palate is reminiscent of the nose—suggestive of perfume, limes, and flowers, and then strawberries. A much lighter, more delicate wine than the California-style Head High wine, but a solid rosé from the south of France suitable for everyday drinking. Apparently sold out as of May 23, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 174 (Santa Rosa)

A while back fellow collage artist and friend Sherry Parker gave me a stack of handwritten music (mostly done in fountain pen, some in pencil) that had been heavily revised in red pencil, sometimes in blue pencil. I love the stuff. It's seductive. I keep using it despite my usual reluctance to incorporate found paper into my collages. This is my latest (and perhaps last) composition using a fragment of one of these sheets. I've since given the remainder of the paper to other collage artists. Much as I like the music for its gestural qualities and the subtle color accents it offers, I don't want to use too much of it.

Pictured is Untitled Collage No. 174 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. April 16, 2017. Image size: 33.1 x 23.9cm (13.0 x 9.4in). Matted to 20 x 16in. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the "Art I'm Making" tab to the right, or visit my collage website at:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Libation, A Bitter Alchemy

I don't remember how I acquired Dierdre Heekin's memoir Libation, A Bitter Alchemy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009), but it's been on my bookshelf for some time. I wasn't entirely sure what it was about when I picked it up a few days ago. Having read it, I'm still not sure I can say. It doesn't really go anywhere. The only linear narrative is supplied by a series of vignettes that deal with the author's decision to plant a vineyard in Vermont and her progress toward making her first wine from her grapes. These vignettes are interspersed between chapters of a wide-ranging text that is held together loosely by its focus on the making of things alcoholic, including wines, but also absinthe, vodka, and Irish whisky, as well as distillation of perfumes and other subjects. Reading it felt like an aimless but pleasant walk through an interesting town. Despite it's rambling structure, it's nicely written (with one or two exceptions—a glaringly questionable fact; she repeatedly refers to the cochineal insect as a "ladybug*" and there are a few unconventionally used words) and enjoyable if taken at its own pace and without expectations.

*Unless, I'm mistaken, the ladybugs (or ladybirds) are true beetles, while the cochineal insect is a scale insect and ladybug larvae, in fact, prey on scale insects.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 173 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 173 (Santa Rosa), a small piece (7.5 x 7.0cm or 3.0 x 2.8 inches). April 14, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper. It uses various scraps of monoprints I've made, a fragment of a doodling robot drawing (the orange and black linear element at the center of the composition), and bits of hand-written music. Matted to 11x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Wines I'm Making: 2017 First Sulfur Spraying

Today I finally got around to spraying the grapes with sulfur for the first time this season (2017). I'd delayed in part because we had had so much rain that it seemed pointless to spray. Last week I thinned the shoots on the vines and a few days ago I persuaded my neighbor to remove part of the row of cedar trees right behind our little vineyard that has shaded the grapes more and more each year—to the extent that our yields were getting very low and it was hard to keep mildew away even with careful sulfur spraying. The rows are now getting a lot more sun again. I'm hoping that we'll have a substantial harvest this year for the first time in several years. In a related note, I opened a bottle of the 2014 wine. It's very good. The best we've ever made. The 2015 Cabernet will be bottled very soon. We got so few grapes in 2016 that there will be no 2016 Cabernet. I mixed the Cabernet and Sangiovese grapes we did harvest and made rosé from the lot of it.

Books I'm Reading: John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Writer, artist, critic John Berger died in January this year. I had been only dimly aware of him. His death was much in the news, however, and given the attention it received, I thought I ought to educate myself a little by reading the book he is perhaps best known for—Ways of Seeing (Viking, 1973, although I read the 1977 Pelican paperback edition), apparently a companion book to a BBC series about art and imagery Berger hosted in the early seventies in Britain. The book was created in collaboration with Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox, Michael Dibb, and Richard Hollis, although Berger is the author given on the cover.

The text is divided into seven independent essays, three of which are image essays (without words). In a note to the reader, the five authors say the image essays are meant to raise as many questions as they answer. The authors say their aim mainly is to "start a process of questioning."

The first essay considers how knowledge affects seeing. The second, an image essay, looks at how images of women nearly always objectify—at how women in imagery (both artistic and commercial) are usually acted upon rather than actors. The third essay uses words to articulate these ideas about images of women. The fourth essay is another image essay that includes many images of women as objects but also of material abundance—images of possession. The following essay articulates in words what appears to have been intended by the preceding image essay—to suggest that the subject of art, particularly European oil painting tradition, has been closely linked with status as conveyed by pictured ownership. The sixth essay, is another image essay. Most of the images in it are of people, or pets and livestock. The questions it intends to pose are less clear to me here than elsewhere, but again, the pictures seem to suggest we should ask ourselves how imagery reflects sexual power politics and class structure. The final essay focuses on modern advertising imagery, suggesting that the uses of imagery in the European oil painting tradition have not been so different from the uses of imagery in advertising—although the authors see a shift: whereas painting has been about conveying the possession of wealth and status, modern advertising is more about suggesting to potential consumers a lack of possession while offering a way to do something about that lack.

The book is now almost 45 years old. Views change in that amount of time. A lot of what Berger writes seems self-evident now, but I imagine the book was somewhat controversial when new because it so strongly emphasizes the role of capital and sexism in the way we create and consume images. Ways of Seeing therefore seemed mostly of historical interest. The text notes in passing that landscape painting is perhaps the least susceptible genre of painting to the offered class and sex-based interpretations, and the book fails to mention abstract art at all. It's hard to imagine how abstract art could be construed as class-conscious or sexist, but, by omission of the subject, the book does raise related questions. Berger is said to have been straggly influenced by Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a text I should get around to reading.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Miscellaneous: Warning!

From a distance, I saw a small lift-like vehicle parked in a supermarket parking lot. I didn't think much about it until I approached and saw the sign attached to it. So many warnings! Some of them seem a bit obvious. For example, I assume the picture of a figure falling from the extended platform (bottom left) means it's best not to fall off?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Art I'm Looking at: Lusha Nelson at the Philbrook Museum

I wish I could go to see this show of photographs by a photographer I'd never heard of before—Lusha Nelson. The Philbrook Museum, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is doing a retrospective of Nelson's work. Apparently, he died quite young—which is a shame, as his career appears to have been off to a very good start, judging from the photographs included. The exhibition catalog is online and worth a look. (Photograph of actress Jean Arther (c. 1935) by Lusha Nelson.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Suzanne Jacquot on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (May 2 through July 2, 2017)

This week is the last week to see the Contemporary Bay Area Photography show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (through April 30). Next up is a solo show of recent paintings by Suzanne Jacquot. Opening May 2. Opening Reception May 8, 2017 5:00-7:00PM. The show will run through July 2, 2017.

For more information, visit the Art Wall website.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 172 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. This one combines a bit of calligraphic gesture with a geometric array—a self-contained diptych of sorts. Untitled Collage No. 172 (Santa Rosa). April 4, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 32.2 x 22.0cm (12.7 x 8.7inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Books I'm Reading: The Wright Brothers

David McCullough's The Wright Brothers (Simon and Schuster, 2015) tells the familiar tale of two bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio solving the fundamental problems of sustained, controlled, powered flight by dint of persistent hard work. McCullough doesn't dwell on the very early lives of the brothers nor does he detail the protracted legal issues Orville Wright dealt with to the end of his life, long after the principles of powered flight were well established. These and other loose ends tied up in a short epilogue. The book mainly covers the period starting from around 1900-1901, when the brothers finally realized that much of the available information about flying was simply wrong and that to fly would require starting from scratch—methodically accumulating data about airfoils and control strategies.

It is remarkable that it took them less than three years to do that; they first flew at the end of 1903. McCullough ends the main part of his narrative around 1910, by which time there was no doubt about who had first made nearly all the discoveries that led to manned flight. I had read before that Glenn Curtis invented the aileron, but McCullough points out that the idea of the aileron had already been suggested by the Wrights themselves in a 1906 patent as an alternative to the wing-warping method of control they initially used. None of the Wright patents was ever successfully challenged.

Having myself lived in Dayton from 1970 through 1977, through middle and high school, it was fun to read about places I know in the city and nearby. Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights first really learned to fly after returning from Kitty Hawk, is now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (technically, in Fairborn, I believe). I'm distantly related to the Huffmans after which the prairie (and nearby Huffman Dam) was named. My grandmother is buried in Dayton's Woodland Cemetery, a stone's throw from the Wright brothers, their sister Katharine (who gets a lot of deserved attention in the book), and both their parents.

I knew the Wrights had demonstrated their planes in Europe after the US government initially showed little interest in the airplane, mostly in Paris, Berlin, and later Rome, but I hadn't known that the brothers also flew demonstrations at Pau, in the Pyrenees. The book is full of other interesting detail, but it never seems cluttered. McCullough's style is crisp and to the point. It's a quick read both because of the clarity of the prose and the inherent interest of the subject. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rain: OK, Now I'm Sick of the Rain (April 17-19, 2017)

It's been raining again. And more rain is in the forecast—through the end of this week. Already we've had another 0.8 inches since I last reported. That brings the total at my location for the 2016-2017 rain year to 54.65 inches. This has been the wettest year on record since people began keeping records for Santa Rosa. It's nice that I don't have to water the garden, but a little sun would be a nice thing too now.

[Update: On the evening of the 19th it started raining again. We got an additional 0.35 inches after I wrote the above. So, we are now at 55.00 inches at my location.]

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 171 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. A small one (4.4 x 4.1 inches) using some smoky-looking bluish black papers I recently made. This is Untitled Collage No. 171 (Santa Rosa). March 31, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Susie's at Night

Susie's, in Calistoga, was the first neon cocktail glass sign I added to what has become a growing collection. I'd never seen the sign at night before. My original photo is a daytime shot. Here's Susie's sign at night. The original post is here.

For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right of this page.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 170 (Santa Rosa)

A recent piece. Untitled Collage No. 170 (Santa Rosa). February 15, 2017. A comparatively large collage for me, this one measures 25.5 x 35.2cm (or 10.0 x 13.9in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, fragment of a doodling robot drawing. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Rain: More Rain (April 12-13, 2017)

On the morning of April 13 there was yet another 0.90 inches of rain in the rain gauge. That brings the 2016-2017 rain year total at my location in northeast Santa Rosa to a fairly amazing 53.85 inches.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Newly Framed

Art: A Lot to Think About, Sherry Parker (2012) and London 17 (Old Bond Street), Yoshida Katsuro (1975). Iron Kettle, Japan, 1960, atop a Taisho-era shoe chest, Japan (c. 1920). I just framed the Yoshida, which is the first piece of art I ever bought with my own money (in 1978, when I was 18).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Places I'm Visiting: The House at Webster and Filbert, San Francisco

On my way to see the Matisse/Diebenkorn show again at SF MoMA, I passed what is probably my favorite house in San Francisco—the confection on the corner of Webster and Filbert. The house has just been given a complete make-over and it looks wonderful. It's been repainted a subtle green and all the trim has been redone in white with embellishments in gold and violet. It looks like all the metal domes have been restored as well. This building was being used as a temple of some kind last time I saw it, painted an odd pale lavender and looking a bit run down. It's been transformed. Well worth a visit. Below is a photo of the house before the restoration.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Rain: Record-breaker

Last night and yesterday (April 6-7, 2017) we had another 1.9 inches of rain. That raises our total for the 2016-2017 rain year to 52.25 inches at my location in northeastern Santa Rosa and makes this the third-wettest year on record since records have been kept in the county, since 1888, apparently. The official record for Santa Rosa (monitored at the Sonoma County Airport) is already at  55.51 inches, likewise the third-wettest year relative to the official total, and only about two-tenths of an inch behind second place; we're likely to move up a slot by the end of today. Another 1.5 inches in the coming weeks will be enough to put us into first place, topping 56.06 inches, set in 1889-1890.

[Update: More rain on the 8th. An additional 0.70 inches puts us at 52.95 inches moving us into second-place for wettest year on record, at my location: as noted above, the official tally for Santa Rosa already has us in first place this year.]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Books I'm Reading: On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder

Midnight, Ninotchka, Ball of Fire, The Major and the Minor, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, A Foreign Affair, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, One, Two, Three, Irma La Douce—Wilder either wrote or co-wrote the screenplay or wrote the screenplay and directed each of these films (and more than a dozen more Hollywood films that are less well known today, not to mention the many screenplays he wrote before emigrating to the United States). It's an impressive list; each is a classic.

Before picking up Ed Sikov's On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder (Hyperion, 1998) I had seen all of these films but I realized quickly as I began reading the book that I knew very little about Wilder's early life—in particular, that he had written so many screenplays. I knew him mostly as the director of the films from the sweet spot of his career—say, from Double Indemnity to The Apartment.

He got his start, however, as a screenwriter, working first in German, following a period as a journalist in Vienna and then Berlin. He had been born near Krakow, in 1906. Twenty years later, he was leaving Vienna for England in the company of bandleader Paul Whiteman, on tour (he had become friendly with Whiteman by showing him around Vienna; as a reporter, Wilder knew the city well). A few months later he left with the Whiteman entourage for Berlin, never looking back. When it became clear in 1934 that Jews were no longer welcome in the German capital, he left for Hollywood, without his mother, who later vanished in the Holocaust. When he arrived in the United States, he had virtually no money and spoke almost no English, but he quickly found work as a screenwriter anyway, often working as a team with Charles Brackett. Leveraging his quick wit, chutzpah, and good luck he found increasingly lucrative work and eventually landed an opportunity to direct. The Major and the Minor (1942), starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland, was his first directing credit.

On Sunset Boulevard looks at Billy Wilder as an artist, a businessman, and, eventually, as an exceedingly wealthy art collector gradually left behind by a changing Hollywood. Author Sikov looks at each of Wilder's films in detail, from conception to critical and popular reception, while serving up a great deal of anecdote to create a vivid portrait of one of Hollywood's most important directors. Along the way, Sikov gives us much about the people Wilder worked with and for and the people who worked for him, particularly writing partner Brackett, and performers such as Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, and Jack Lemmon. Wilder was notoriously foul-mouthed and casually abusive and tightly controlling on the set—character traits that not everyone tolerated well. It was his desire for control that drove his ambition to move from writing to directing and that kept him writing much of the material he directed, material that was often on the edge of the limits allowed by the Hollywood production code, a code that Wilder was instrumental in eroding (Wilder's writing was often darker and more sexually suggestive than the censors would allow, particularly early in his career). Long but a worthwhile appreciation of the man and each of his major films and worth reading for the wealth of information it includes about how films are conceived, written, financed, and produced.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Matisse/Diebenkorn at SF MoMA

Yesterday (March 24) I went to see SF MoMA’s Matisse/Diebenkorn show (March 11 through May 29, 2017). The show has been open here for a couple of weeks. I was hoping crowds would be thin with an initial rush of interest already past, but the galleries were crowded, even on a weekday. Perhaps rain was to blame, as a ticket-taker suggested when I enquired. I sometimes had trouble getting an unobstructed view of the mostly large canvases, and I see that elsewhere in the museum they’ve made no effort to improve the signage since my last visit—wall lettering so small as to be mostly useless (and signs are much needed given the illogical, disconnected layout of the stairways). These complaints aside, I very much enjoyed seeing this close look at the influence of Matisse on the work of Richard Diebenkorn.

The exhibition begins with a timeline showing where and when the American artist had significant contact with Matisse’s work, both through visits to collections with important Matisse holdings and through reproductions (several display cases hold books about Matisse that Diebenkorn owned). The exhibition follows Diebenkorn’s career in broadly chronological fashion and thematically, starting with large abstractions from his Urbana period. A side room focuses on black and white drawings by the two artists. Many works by Diebenkorn are mounted beside works by Matisse that organizers and catalog editors Janet Bishop (SF MoMA Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture) and Katherine Rothkopf (Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, The Baltimore Museum of Art) believe were particularly important to Diebenkorn or that they believe show obvious influence. Matisse/Diebenkorn presents more than 100 works by the two painters from private collections, the estate of Richard Diebenkorn, museum collections all over the US, from museums in Paris and London, and other sources, including SF MoMA’s own holdings—about 40 by Matisse, 60 by Diebenkorn. San Francisco is the second of only two locations that will host the show. Matisse/Diebenkorn was at The Baltimore Museum of Art from October 23, 2016 to January 29, 2017.

Matisse: Studio, Quai St. Michel, 1916
The Phillips Collection
Richard Diebenkorn moved to Urbana, Illinois, in 1952 to take up a year-long teaching position there. He doesn’t appear to have liked the landscape much, but during his stay he produced some important large abstractions (these and the Berkeley-period pieces are among my personal favorites). The show includes Urbana No. 2, Urbana No. 4, Urbana No. 5, and Urbana No. 6 (all from 1953), pairing Urbana No. 4 with Matisse’s 1916 Studio, Quai St. Michel (shown above) and Urbana No. 6 with the French painter’s Goldfish and Palette (below). The show would be of interest just for the opportunity to see this group of Urbana paintings, but the pairings highlight similar color choices, a willingness to leave behind traces of process, and an approach to composition marked by an ever-present tension between opposing forces—tension between the abstract and the representational; between complex gestural areas suggesting motion on the one hand and static expanses of subtly modulated color on the other; between the linear and the un-delineated; between the patterned and the plain; between three-dimensionally rendered form and flatness. This dialectical approach to composition (along with a distinctive use of color) is perhaps what most clearly makes Matisse recognizable, particularly in his highly experimental work of 1914–1916, and walking through the galleries I began to feel it may also have been the most fundamental lesson Diebenkorn learned from Matisse. Both painters were adept at creating a slightly disturbing ambiguity that generates the same feeling you get when looking at an optical illusion presenting two contradictory perspectives the brain struggles to reconcile. The real magic Matisse and Diebenkorn achieve, however, is in at the same time providing just enough solid ground to stand on that we aren’t compelled to turn away.

Matisse: Goldfish and Palette, 1916
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Goldfish and Palette is a good example of the ambiguity. It’s not at all clear what kind of space we're looking into here. The junction of the base of the blue trapezoid in the top half of the painting and the white in the bottom half suggests the meeting of a floor and a wall at the back of a room, two planes presumably meeting at a 90-degree angle, but the more-or-less centrally placed vertical black strip flattens the space—although not completely: the fine white lines on top of the black (both the two vertical lines above and apparently beyond the fishbowl and the less-assertive horizontal lines under the table-like surface that appears to support the fishbowl) argue again for a three-dimensional space (is that a door beyond the fishbowl?). The flat, supporting surface of the "table" grounds the fishbowl, but an interpretation of that surface as a table top is undermined by the incursion of blue at the left and by the black edge of the table-like plane doubling as part of what looks like a pattern on the blue wall beyond (which again flattens the space—if it is a wall; perhaps it is blue sky seen through a decorative balcony railing?). Thus, the “table top” apparently supports the fishbowl yet it threatens to fold down against the blue space at the same time, while, logically, it can’t do that because there appears to be a pair of legs under the table (or is it three?). The cross-like black lines in the upper right corner of the painting perhaps represent bars on a window, but, if there is a window there, the blue area must be a wall…and on and on.

Diebenkorn: Urbana No. 6, 1953
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 
Diebenkorn’s Urbana No. 6 may not be as directly indebted to Goldfish and Palette as the curators suggest, but Diebenkorn has used similar techniques to create ambiguity, even if the image is much more abstract than Matisse’s. In Urbana No. 6, we see a similar central black band, although here horizontal rather than vertical. In Diebenkorn’s painting it's this band of darkness that seems to create a flat, supporting surface; Diebenkorn’s black band functions like Matisse’s table top, supporting pale forms and red accents that suggest Matisse’s fish. The pale blue area in the upper right suggests a window, reinforcing the notion that the black area is in an interior space. The blue could also give the impression of looking through an open door at the far side of a room. In that case, the black band would seem more like a large carpet. But this is abstraction. I don’t mean to suggest one should struggle to interpret a work like Urbana No. 6 as representational. Yet the human brain inevitably interprets and Diebenkorn gives our brains just enough to keep us groping—following the example of Matisse.

Left: Matisse: Yellow Pottery from Provence, 1905, Baltimore Museum of Art
Right: Diebenkorn: Berkeley No. 47, 1955, SF MoMA
In pairing Diebenkorn's Berkeley No. 47 (1955) with Matisse's Yellow Pottery from Provence (1905), the curators look at how Diebenkorn experimented with unusual color combinations apparently inspired by Matisse. If Diebenkorn had Matisse's Yellow Pottery in mind when he painted Berkeley No. 47, he turned things on their side again, translating Matisse's representational color into horizontal bands of abstract color.

Throughout the exhibition, the color echoes are striking. Diebenkorn's Untitled, 1964, for example, showing a spray of flowers in a small blue bottle on a chestnut-colored table with a window beyond rendered in contrasting light and dark blues (not shown here) echoes the brown table and grey wallpaper (patterned in similar light and dark blues) in Matisse's Pansies (c. 1903, not shown). More generally, there's a range of blues in Diebenkorn that strongly echoes the blues Matisse favored. Following his autumn 1964 visit to the Soviet Union (now Russia) as part of a cultural exchange (where he toured the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in Moscow, both with large Matisse holdings), Diebenkorn made the paintings in his oeuvre most obviously indebted to Matisse. Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad from 1965 and Large Still Life from 1966 (below) use the characteristic Matisse blues, overtly decorative flourishes filling spaces that read as walls, and, again, spatial ambiguity. It's appropriate that Recollections adorns the catalog cover (top of this page).

The Matisse paintings Diebenkorn saw in the Soviet Union include some of the French painter's largest canvases. I was set to wondering if the monumental quality of Diebenkorn's large Ocean Park paintings was also inspired by Matisse. Diebenkorn started painting the Ocean Park series in 1967, returning to abstraction on a large scale and in earnest following a period of mostly figurative work not long after his return from the Soviet tour.

Diebenkorn: Large Still Life, 1966, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Drawings on display in a side room are instructive. Devoid of color, they make it easy to see Diebenkorn using some of Matisse's compositional tricks—in particular, the use of decorative patterns and the juxtaposition of flat and three-dimensional treatments. Matisse loved interlocking areas filled with patterns, sometimes suggestive of tiling. (It's tempting to think Matisse's 1912 and 1913 visits to Morocco inspired the habit, but he was already using this device before his trips to Africa.) The most striking example of influence among Diebenkorn's drawings is perhaps an untitled 1964 drawing in graphite and ink on paper showing a coffee cup, a plate, and silverware on a richly patterned tablecloth (below).

Diebenkorn: Untitled, 1964, Collection of Leslie A. Freely, New York
To illustrate the juxtaposition of two- and three-dimensional treatments, the curators pair Matisse's Reclining Model with a Flowered Robe (c. 1923-1924, not shown here) with Diebenkorn's Untitled (Woman Seated in a Chair) of 1963 (not shown here), pointing out that Matisse depicted his figure with volume against a flat (again heavily patterned) background, while Diebenkorn used a patterned drape to flatten his figure against background elements handled three dimensionally. I thought Diebenkorn's 1962 Girl with Flowered Background among the paintings an even better example (below).

Diebenkorn: Girl with Flowered Background, 1962
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The figure is simplified, but it is clearly three-dimensional. The knees protrude, the waist recedes. One hand is behind an elbow, the other is in front of the girl's face. There is shadow below her skirt and under her chin, and her forearm throws a shadow across her chest. She casts a blue shadow on the wall behind her. The background is completely flat, and Diebenkorn muddies the relationship between the girl and the background—and here he shows how completely he's absorbed Matisse's example. The red-tipped floral curve at the girl's left shoulder (on the right side of the painting) connects with the line of trim on her collar,  undermining her three-dimensionality. The way the "horizon" line behind her is broken by the blue shadow has a similar effect, as do the connections between the shadow and the blue line of her collar (this time at her right shoulder, on the left side of the painting) and the connection between that blue line and the darker linear element on the wall behind her, just above her shoulder. The effect is to make the red and blue trim of her collar appear part of the decoration on the wall behind her.

Left: Matisse: Seated Nude, Head on Arms, 1936, private collection
Right: Diebenkorn: Untitled (Seated Nude), 1966, SF MoMA
Also of interest were drawings by Diebenkorn that show substantial reworking (pentimenti), with heavy lines overlaid at the end to mark the artist's final decision about what ought to go where—a technique Matisse used in a number of his drawings. Shown above are the French artist's Seated Nude, Head on Arms from 1936 and Diebenkorn's Untitled (Seated Nude) of 1966.

I also thought it notable that one of the Matisse drawings had been augmented (made larger) with an additional strip of paper added at its top edge. A thumbtack hole is visible in each of the four corners of the original sheet. The artist appears to have run out of space and added the paper at the top, adapting his working space to the demands of a composition in progress. I mention this drawing in particular (Model Resting on Her Arm, 1936) because I have seen film of Diebenkorn working in this way, pasting strips of paper onto a piece in progress as the composition seemed to require. Again the influence of Matisse? (I saw the film at The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in 2015 in conjunction with a show of Diebenkorn's works on paper. The film shows Diebenkorn at work at Crown Point Press, in Oakland, collaborating with master printers Marcia Bartholme and Hidekatsu Takada, in 1986, photographed by Kathan Brown, the founding director of Crown Point Press. A review of that show is here.)

Matisse: French Window at Colliure, 1914
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
The Matisse/Diebenkorn show is a pleasure to walk through because it is a lucid explication by example of the way Diebenkorn learned from Matisse, but it's worth a visit simply because it's a collection of very fine work by both artists and work that we don't often have a chance to see. While I am very familiar with the Ocean Park series, for example, I'd never before seen any of the very early pieces in person, and the SF MoMA show includes Ocean Park No. 6 (1968), Ocean Park No. 12 (1968), Ocean Park No. 27 (1970) and Ocean Park No. 29 (1970). The early numbers look distinctly awkward. You can see Diebenkorn here struggling to find something he hasn't quite figured out yet. By Ocean Park No. 54 (SF MoMA) Diebenkorn has found his stride again. In the mature Ocean Park paintings, Diebenkorn reflects Matisse mostly in his palette and in the use of large, subtly varied planes of pale color broken up by linear elements, mostly lines parallel to the edges of the picture plane or at 45 degrees to those lines (although often ever-so-sligtly askew). Diebenkorn has now completely absorbed Matisse and removed the referential entirely, but, if seen beside Matisse's most experimental work, even these paintings are not so far removed from Matisse as they may at first seem—paintings like French Window at Collioure, from 1914, shown above, or his Seated Pink Nude (below).

There's a lot to see. Matisse/Diebenkorn is a show that will bear more than one visit—perhaps even three.

Matisse: Seated Pink Nude, 1935-36
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Art I'm Making: Wine Label Release, Imagery Estate

The release date for the Imagery Estate wine on which my label will appear has been set. There will be a release party on Sunday, April 9, at the winery (14335 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, CA 95442;; (800) 989-8890).

 I'll be on hand to talk about my work and sign bottles of the wine, the 2016 Muscat de Canelli. The grape is also known as Muscat Canelli, and by a host of other names around the world. According to Jancis Robinson, in her Vines, Grapes, and Wines (Mitchell Beazley, 1986), its proper name is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. She calls it "the real goody of the Muscat family." Like most Muscats, it usually makes a highly aromatic sweet wine. It is known for its small berries (hence the name, which translates to "Muscat with small berries") and for low yields and thus for high quality. Robinson goes on to say that many believe the Muscat family to be the oldest cultivated by man and that it was Muscat grapes that "Phoenicians, Greeks, and then Romans most commonly dispersed around southern Europe."

I have yet to taste the Imagery Estate version whose label will bear my artwork, but I'm looking forward to giving it a try and to meeting some art and wine enthusiasts at the release party. Please come on by if you can.

Rain: A Little More, for Good Measure (March 21-22, 2017)

In the past 24 hours we've had a little more rain. There was 0.80 inches in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total for the 2016-2017 rain year at my location in northern Santa Rosa to 49.05 inches.

[Update: We got yet another inch of rain on March 23-24. So we now stand at 50.05 inches at my location. Sonoma County Airport is reporting 52.71 inches, however, which ranks 2016-2017 as the third-wettest winter on record since the 1880s, when recording began. Another 4-6 inches this year would break the record, which is 56.06 inches, set in 1889-1890. All we need is one or two more storms before the end of October.]

[Update: We got another 0.30 inches overnight on March 26-27, bringing the total to 50.35 inches at my location. The forecast is now clear for about 10 days, but who knows what April will bring?]

Friday, March 17, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 168 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up with posting some recent work, this is Untitled Collage No. 168 (Santa Rosa), from January 25, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 26.7 x 35.4cm (10.5 x 13.9 inches) signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

This one draws on some blue papers I've recently made and on black and white monoprints with some unusual textures caused by the paper ripping and sticking to the painted glass I work from. I left ripped sections on the glass and repainted the surface before making new prints. Because the sections covered with plastered down paper layers absorb ink, I ended up with areas of mottled grey-black unlike the cleaner areas of color created by printing off clean glass.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at

Books I'm reading: Capturing the Light and The Edge of Vision

I've just finished Capturing the Light: The Birth of Photography, a True Story of Genius and Rivalry, by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press, 2013). Refreshingly well written, this was a quick read because reading it was a pleasure. Authors Watson and Rappaport give an overview of the history of the invention of photography by focusing on the main characters in the story, Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre, as well as on a number of other characters less well known. Nicephore Niepce, the inventor of the first non-ephemeral (if largely impractical) photographic process was familiar (I stumbled across his gravesite in a churchyard in France years ago), but others such as Frederick Scott Archer (inventor of the wet collodion process) were less familiar. The book gives a good overview of how Daguerre in France and Talbot in England arrived at two very different processes that allowed images to be captured permanently.

Lyle Rexer's The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography (Aperture, 2013, paperback edition) looks at the history of abstraction in photography, beginning with some of the photograms of Henry Fox Talbot and ending with contemporary works that stretch the definition of photography beyond the breaking point. In between, there is much of interest to see and the book seems more valuable for the many illustrations it includes than for the text, although there is some interesting back material included in an appendix, mostly writing about photography by critics and some of the artists whose works are included in the book. This is a good reference that suggests what photography is capable of when released from its traditional role as an objective recorder of the world around us (although many would argue that photography never has been that at all).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Music I'm Listening to: Two San Francisco Symphony Concerts (February-March 2017)

It's been a busy month. I've had little time to write. It's been more than two weeks now since I attended the February 24th performance at Davies Symphony Hall. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Scheherazade.2 by John Adams and selections from Romeo and Juliet, by Prokofiev. The former, written for Leila Josefowicz (the soloist during the February performances) is not quite a violin concerto. I think Adams described it as a "dramatic symphony." Adams appeared on stage before the music began to discuss the piece, summarizing what was in the program notes. Adams conceived of the violin part as expressing Scheherazade, but Scheherezade as a strong, modern woman, and I can think of no violinist active today better to play it than Josefowicz, who is muscular in her playing but beautifully nuanced at the same time. I've seen her play three times now. I've been impressed each time. Scheherazade.2 is a complex piece, hard to take in on a single hearing, but I enjoyed it and enjoyed seeing Josefowicz wrestle with it. The performance brought the entire hall to its feet. Conductor Thomas and Josefowicz were eager to acknowledge Adams afterward, pointing to him in the balcony seats and insisting that he stand and be recognized.

The Prokofiev was familiar music from the ballet Romeo and Juliet, but it's a piece I'd never heard live before, and its always fun to hear a familiar piece live for the first time. It makes you acutely aware of who in the orchestra is doing what when. I was pleased my favorite part of the ballet, the section knows as "Dance of the Knights" was one of the selections—but, of course, it would be.

On the evening of March 10, I was back at Davies Symphony Hall for a concert featuring another fine violinist, this time Arabella Steinbacher. Marek Janowski was the guest conductor. The program included Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and the Brahms Symphony No. 4. Steinbacher was soloist in a performance of the Hindemith Violin Concerto, an unfamiliar piece that she handled with aplomb.

Steinbacher never lacks the ability to play lyrically when that is called for, but she excels at precise, staccato, modern music like the Hindemith, and her violin, which is rather gritty in the low register, suited the music. Janowski and the Symphony gave us a fine performance of the Brahms as well, receiving an extended standing ovation at its conclusion, with the symphony players at one point refusing to stand so that Janowski could be recognized alone. He looks a trifle frail, but he gets the job done. On the occasions I've seen him work, I've always had the impression that he's particularly good at communicating with the San Francisco performers and that they respond to him deeply, in a way that they don't with some other conductors.

Photographs of John Adams and Arabella Steinbacher courtesy of The San Francisco Symphony. Photo of Steinbacher by Jiri Hronik. Photograph of pointing Josefowicz by the author.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Food I'm Eating: Green Olives (March 2017)

I've been making black olives at home for the past few years now, making batches whenever able to get my hands on good olives. I'd never tried green olives before, but this year I had access to a tree that still had green fruit in January, so I thought I'd give it a go. They are now done. The process was much the same as for black olives, but I started with a plain water soak for about ten days, changing the water every day, before switching to brine with a change every three or four days. I finished them with just a little bay, lemon juice, and white wine vinegar added toward the end, mostly the vinegar. I've always brined the black olives from the start and finished them with garlic, lemon, and rosemary. Both methods have resulted in some pretty tasty olives. Green olives seem to finish more quickly than black olives, suggesting the ripe fruit has more of the bitter compounds that make unprocessed olives inedible.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rain: Another Inch (March 5, 2017)

We had more rain overnight on March 4-5. I found 0.90 inches of rain in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total to 48.10 inches so far in the 2016-2017 rain year at my location in Northeast Santa Rosa and ranks this year as the fifth rainiest year since recording began in the 1880s—and we still have a few months to go....  We are now about 20 inches above normal.

[Update: A little more rain following this has left the total as of the morning of March 8 at 48.25 inches.]

Friday, March 3, 2017

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Two-toned Daffodils, Pluot "Dapple Dandy," Ceanothus "Ray Hartman" 2017

In the past couple of weeks, spring has sprung around here. On February 16, the pluot "Dapple Dandy" started to bloom. With heavy rains it went into a state of suspended animation shortly afterward, but it's in full bloom now. I'm hoping the rain won't have reduced the crop. The fruit is delicious, and rain during bloom can cause poor fruit set. February 19 brought the first blossoms on the two-toned daffodils in the front garden. The ceanothus "Ray Hartman" began blooming the following day, on March 20.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: New Show Opening on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi—Contemporary Bay Area Photography

I'm pleased to announce the next show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi: A show of recent work by nine accomplished Bay Area photographers, ranging from artists with decades-long careers and international reputations to a Santa Rosa Junior College student, and including work made using digital, analog, and alternative processes.

The show will run from February 28, 2017 to April 30, 2017. Opening reception: Monday, March 6, 2017 from 5:30 to 7:30. Come have a glass of wine and meet the artists.

Work by: Holly Anderson, Bill Baldewicz, Bob Cornelis, Barbara Elliott, Janis Crystal Lipzin, Maureen Lomasney, Michael Maggid, Austin Reynolds, and Colin Talcroft.

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