Friday, July 5, 2024

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 289 (Santa Rosa)

This is the last piece I did before the end of Art Trails 2023 (Sonoma County's annual juried open studios event). This is Untitled Collage No. 289 (Santa Rosa). October 1, 2023. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 32.4cm x 41.1cm (12.7in x 16.2in). 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 of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at or you can purchase my recently published book commemorating ten years of working in the collage medium – Colin Talcroft: Abstract Monotype Collage: 2103–2023 (ISBN 979-8-218-37717-5). Available on the website. In person, my work can be seen at Calabi Gallery in Santa Rosa, Hammerfriar Gallery in Healdsburg, and at the Ren Brown Collection in Bodega Bay. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Books I'm Reading: Lee Krasner: Living Colour

I've just finished reading Lee Krasner: Living Colour, edited by Elaine Niarne (US paperback edition, Thames & Hudson, 2024), a monograph accompanying a 2019 exhibition of Krasner's work that showed first at the Barbican Art Gallery in London (later traveling to Germany, Switzerland, and Spain) – a continuation of my recent deep dive into the history of the women painters among the Abstract Expressionists. This is a richly illustrated show catalog but it also includes a number of essays about Krasner's work, a 1970 interview with her, and a chronology. An excellent overview. 

Monday, July 1, 2024

Music I'm Listening To: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Mahler's 3rd Symphony

I attended the Friday, June 28 performance at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The San Francisco Symphony played Mahler's Symphony No. 3. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted. The soloist was mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor. The San Francisco Symphony Chorus was led by Jenny Wong. The Pacific Boychoir Academy was led by Kevin Fox or Andrew Brown – I'm not quite sure which from the program. The symphony was the only thing on the program and it was played straight through with no intermission. 

This is my favorite of all the Mahler symphonies. If I were to play the game of ranking them in order of preference my top three would probably be No. 3, No. 1, and No. 6, followed by No. 4 and No.5, and then by No. 9, and then No. 7 and No. 8 (which I don't know well). No. 2 has never appealed to me. I do, however, like what we have of No. 10. It was a treat to hear Symphony No. 3 live. I think this is the first time, unless I'm forgetting a performance.

Salonen was his usual reliable self and I really liked O'Connor's voice, although she had a habit of slightly over-emphasizing the final syllables of the German she was singing. A weak soloist can ruin the whole thing, but, overall, this was a very enjoyable performance. The audience was very appreciative giving the ensemble an extended standing ovation. Salonen looked exhausted at the end but touched by the outpouring of support, including calls for him to re-think his decision to leave at the end of next season. After the last notes had died away, the conductor walked back to the brass section and gave the principal trombone a big hug before returning to the podium to acknowledge other brass players, the woodwinds, the percussion, the harps, and others. Afterwards, dinner at Monsieur Benjamin, which, sadly is closing down. The following night was the last service. I guess it's back to Absinthe for after-concert dining. 

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 288 (Santa Rosa)

Here's a collage from last autumn: Untitled Collage No. 288 (Santa Rosa). September 30, 2023. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 32.1cm x 41.3cm (12.6in x 16.3in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. This was in my recent show at Hammerfriar Gallery. 

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at or you can purchase my recently published book commemorating ten years of working in the collage medium Colin Talcroft: Abstract Monotype Collage: 2103–2023 (ISBN 979-8-218-37717-5). Available on the website. In person, my work can be seen at Calabi Gallery in Santa Rosa, Hammerfriar Gallery in Healdsburg, and at the Ren Brown Collection in Bodega Bay. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Miscellaneous: Fountain restored

The fountain in our garden was designed by me and made from a basalt column into which I had a bowl carved and a bore hole drilled to allow a hose to pass through to a pump that sits in a depressed reservoir below the pump. We set it up in 2001 or so with the help of my wife's father, who has years of experience handling stone in Japan. The drilled column was delivered to our driveway. We had to transport it about 70 yards to the back of the house, a move we accomplished with a skid and rollers, likening ourselves to ancient pyramid builders. Using levers, we then raised it into its upright position and secured it to its base. It functioned without problems until last autumn when the pump finally failed. I have no complaints, the pump lasted a good 22 years, but I missed the fountain immediately. 

The problem of reviving it has been on my mind many months. The thought of exposing the reservoir (hidden by a wire mesh covered with rocks), cleaning out the reservoir (which had an eight-inch layer of muck in the bottom from 20+ years of decaying plant debris falling into it), replacing the pump (which required disconnecting the old pump and hard-wiring in its replacement), and then putting the whole thing back together again was enough to keep me procrastinating.

I'm happy to say that, with a great deal of help from my friend David (always willing to lend a hand), it's up and running again. Sitting on the back deck is much more pleasant with the burbling fountain there. Also, in very hot weather the bees from our beehive like to collect water from the side of the stone pillar to cool the hive with. As a heat wave is supposed to descend on us from tomorrow for a week or ten days, the repair was completed just in time.

Comparative tasting: Wines from Clos d'Argentine

Yesterday I compared three inexpensive wines from Clos d'Argentine purchased at Grocery Outlet. I had had all three before and liked them but thought one better than the other two. I was going to stock up but, by the time I thought about it again, I'd forgotten which of the three I had preferred. So, I bought one of each and determined to compare them. I tasted them not quite blind. I knew what the wines were, but I covered the labels and tasted them in random order. Tasting notes and some conclusions follow.

Wine 1: 

Color: Medium ruby, tending toward magenta. Looks young. Color quite thin at the edges. Nose: Hints of raspberries but also something darker. Not smoky. A suggestion of cocoa perhaps. Later leather. Palate: Fruity. Light tannins. Distinct vanilla flavor, but not oaky. Moderate length. Seems fairly high in alcohol, but not excessive. Easy, appealing, everyday wine. Not especially complex, but seems well made and, although I would rank this third among these three wines, this is nevertheless tasty.  

Wine 2:

Color: Medium ruby, but deeper in color than Wine 1 and without the magenta tint. Nose: Immediately fruitier than Wine 1. Appealing red fruit scents, but also something suggestive of peaches, which is a bit of a surprise in a red wine. Vaguely floral as well. Nose most open and appealing of the three wines, at least at first. With a little time, began to suggest dark cherries.  Palate: Less overtly fruity than Wine 1. Seems light at first, but has more tannin than Wine 1. Seems younger. Has good body, and the finish is considerably longer than that of Wine 1. Surprisingly closed on the palate at first considering how expressive it is on the nose. Suggests it will develop nicely with time, and, during the tasting the wine opened up to reveal riper, slightly jammy fruit flavors, again with hints of vanilla and leather. It reminded me (in a good way) of those old-fashioned cookies with a disc of jam in the middle. Later began to vaguely suggest cassis and cocoa. My favorite of the three wines. 

Wine 3:

Color: Deep ruby. Almost opaque. Nose: Seems fairly closed at first. Less fruity on the nose than the first two wines. Attractive but hard to pin down. As it opens up, hints of dark cherries. Later vanilla, but not oaky. Palate: Rich and round. More concentrated fruit than either of the other two wines. Seems more mature, but also has good (soft, milky) acidity, suggesting it will continue to improve with time. Nicely fruity, ripe, round, and immediately appealing with delicate tannins coming to the forefront on the mid-palate before fading on a long finish. My second-favorite of the three wines.

Wine 1: 2020 Clos D’Argentine "Winemaker's Selection" Malbec Gran Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina, 13.5% alcohol, $9.99)

Wine 2: 2021 Clos D’Argentine “Winemaker’s Selection” Malbec Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina, 13% alcohol, $6.99)

Wine 3: 2017 Clos D’Argentine “Winemaker’s Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (Mendoza, Argentina, 13% alcohol, $6.99)

Some thoughts after the reveal: I thought it interesting that Wine 3, a Cabernet Sauvignon, didn’t seem typical of that variety. The three wines gave the impression of all being made from the same grape. In this case, the producer and the land seem to have had a greater impact on the result than the grape variety, which is unusual; grape variety usually is the single most important factor determining the general taste of a wine. The Cabernet is seven years old. That's not especially old, but, as wines age, their flavor profiles tend to converge to some extent – perhaps a minor factor here as well? 

The terms “reserva” and “gran reserva” are most familiar from Spanish wines. In Spain, a wine designated “reserva” has spent at least three years aging with a minimum of one year in barrel. A “gran reserva” has been aged at least five years with at least two years in oak. The rules are less restrictive in Argentina where a red “reserva” need spend only 12 months or more in barrel and a red “gran reserva” need spend only 24 months or more in barrel (six months and 12 months for white wines). In theory, a gran reserva should be superior to a reserva, but, in this case, the reverse was true (at least in my opinion). That said, all three wines are tasty and a good value at my local (Santa Rosa, California) Grocery Outlet, ranging in price from $6.99 to $9.99. I can recommend all three.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Music I'm Listening to: Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays Shostakovich

I attended the Friday, June 14, concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the San Francisco Symphony doing Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107. Sheku Kanneh-Mason was the soloist. After intermission, the program continued with a short piece by Sofia Gubaidulina called Fairytale Poem for Orchestra and then Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini

Kanneh-Mason was interesting to watch. He seemed almost to be in a trance as he played, but he projected confidence and played with great precision that did not sacrifice expressiveness. He finished seemingly exhausted, but played a short encore that I didn't recognize and he didn't say anything about it from the stage. 

On the other hand, Salonen spoke quite extensively after intermission, telling the story behind the Gubaidulina piece, which was written as the score for a children's TV show broadcast in 1971 in the Soviet Union. The protagonist of the story is a piece of chalk bored with the grammar and mathematics it's used for and longing to be used to draw gardens and flowers and castles and the like. Eventually, the chalk is worn down to a stub and thrown away. The chalk stub is picked up and plunged into darkness and the chalk thinks its fate is sealed, but it turns out that it is in the pocket of a young boy, and soon the boy takes the chalk out into the light and starts using it to draw the fanciful scenes the chalk has dreamed of. The chalk is so happy, that it doesn't mind being used up entirely and disappearing. The music was interesting, using a great deal of percussion and of varied textures. I rather enjoyed it. 

In contrast, Francesca da Rimini was an unfamiliar piece that didn't leave much of an impression on me. The Shostakovich, although played at the beginning, was the centerpiece of this concert. In the upper balcony, behind the orchestra, a couple of people in the audience brought signs. One said "We love Salonen." Another simply said "STAY!" Many are hoping Salonen with reconsider his apparent decision to leave as music director at the end of next season. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Art I'm Looking At: Arthur Monroe at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, circa 1980
I recently visited the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (551 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476 (707.939.7862)). Currently showing is "Arthur Monroe: A Tow to Carry," a retrospective look at the work of the late Oakland-based artist Arthur Monroe – an artist I had never heard of. Apparently he had a long career, first in New York, later in the Bay Area. He worked mainly in an Abstract Expressionist style strongly influenced by jazz. According to the wall text, among his friends in New York were saxophonist Charlie Parker, drummer Max Roach, and Thelonius Monk. He studied with Hans Hoffman – as so many advanced abstract painters In New York did (and it's hard to overemphasize the influence of Hofmann on an entire generation of painters in New York). Monroe was among those who frequented the famous Cedar Bar and he is known to have visited the studios of some of the most prominent Abstract Expressionists, including Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. The exhibition raises the question of why there weren't more black artists associated with the movement, particularly considering the affinities between jazz and action painting, both improvisational forms of art.

Arthur Monroe, Cluster, 1980
After a stint in the service during the Korean War, he moved to San Francisco, eventually settling in Oakland, working at what became the Oakland Cannery, a live-in studio building that he converted from an industrial warehouse. He also worked for 30 years as the registrar at The Oakland Museum of California. He thus became a kind of bridge between the New York School and the West Coast Abstract Expressionists. The show, which  runs through September 8, 2024, includes 23 works, mostly large canvases characterized by the use of patches of bright colors that seem to hover over underlying layers. There's some very strong work here. Well worth a visit.   

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1990-1995
Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1990-1995

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Books I'm Reading: Ninth St. Women and Women of Abstract Expressionism

A show I saw in September 2022 at Modern Art West, in the town of Sonoma, that focused on female Abstract Expressionist painters working on the West Coast in the 1950s and 1960s was my introduction to quite a few artists I'd never heard of at the time. Among women associated with Abstract Expressionism, I was aware of a few names like Jay DeFeo, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell, but didn't know a great deal about the work of the first three of these and it was only by seeing an extensive Joan Mitchell retrospective at SF MOMA in October of 2021 that I gained any familiarity with her work. The show in Sonoma piqued my curiosity about other women abstract painters and prompted me to do some reading. A small show of work by Bernice Bing at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco shortly after the Sonoma show further stimulated my interest in these artists. 

Recently, I've read New Art City (Jed Perl, Vintage 2007) and Fierce Poise (By Alexander Nemerov, Penguin, 2021), the latter about Helen Frankenthaler, and have just finished Ninth St. Women (Mary Gabriel, Back Bay Books, 2018) with the very long subtitle Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art. I've also just finished Women of Abstract Expressionism (Edited by Joan Marter, Denver Art Museum and Yale University, 2016,  the catalog for a show of the same name at the Denver Art Museum from June to September, 2016, traveling then to the Mint Museum, in Charlotte, North Carolina (October 2016–January 2017) and the Palm Springs Art Museum (February–May 2017)).

This latter, being an exhibition catalog, is mostly reproductions of work by the artists included in the show –  three to five pieces each by 12 artists (Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Deborah Remington, and Ethel Schwabacher) supplemented by a handful of essays, a brief interview with Irving Sandler, a chronology, and short biographies of the women in the show and of other women that were active at the time and working in the Abstract Expressionist style. Among these other women are Bernice Bing,  Zoe Longfield, whose work I was particularly impressed by at the Modern West show, Betty Parsons (who I knew from Ninth St. Women more as a gallerist, but I see that she was a painter as well), and Gertrude Greene. 

I was surprised when I read the short Gertrude Greene biography. I had never heard of her, but then it dawned on me as I read that she was the wife of John Wesley Greene (known as Balcomb Greene). Balcolmb Greene is a name I did know because my parents were acquaintances of the Greenes, having visited them at their home in Montauk on Long Island on at least one occasion in the company of Joseph W. and Marjorie Groell and Philip Pearlstein. Marjorie was my mother's best friend from college. They both attended Carnegie Tech (today Carnegie Mellon University) at the same time as Andy Warhol and Pearlstein (although they were a few years younger). Both Joseph W. Groell and Pearlstein later taught art at Brooklyn College. Jospeh W. Groell is the brother of the painter Theophil Groell (who also went by the name Theophil Repke early in his career and who my mother and the Groells I knew always referred to as "Teddy"). My mother told me that I occasionally played with one of Pearlstein's daughters (although I was too young to remember) and that she (the daughter) once gave me the flu. Among things my father, Stuart Talcroft, left behind after his death is a set of photographs he took of Balcomb Greene and others at Greene's home during that visit, with the Groells, Pearlstein, and my mother present. In the photo here, Balcomb Greene is at right and Pearlstein (center left) sits sideways to the table. The woman at left may be Philip Pearlstein's wife, Dorothy (Cantor) Pearlstein. The younger man (center right) I have not been able to identify (photo © Stuart Talcroft). This was September 1957.

The essays include an "Introduction to the Exhibition," by Gwen F. Chanzit, "Missing in Action," by Joan Marter, that addresses the question of why the women painters have been neglected in histories of Abstract Expressionism, "Biographies and Bodies: Self and Other in Portraits by Elaine and Bill de Kooning," by Ellen G. Landau, "The Advantages of Obscurity: Women Abstract Expressionists in San Francisco," by Susan Landauer, which points out that attention focused on the New York painters and the comparative neglect of the West Coast painters (and women in particular) allowed the latter a great deal of freedom to explore, and "Krasner, Mitchell, and Frankenthaler: Nature as Metonym," which suggested that the male painters tended to use metaphor, while the women used metonym, but the writing was rather hard to follow in this last essay. Despite that, Women of Abstract Expressionism is a useful and attractive reference work. 

Ninth St. Women focuses on the five artists in its subtitle (Krasner, de Kooning, Hartigan, Mitchell, and Frankenthaler), but, perhaps inevitably, the book takes in the whole scene; it runs to over 700 pages, nearly 900 with notes and bibliography. There is much about the men who were painting at the same time, about the critics, the teachers, the poets, and the gallerists associated with what came to be known as the New York School. The conditions advanced painters in New York worked under at the time, often in barely furnished, unheated spaces with no hot water, were as rough as the lives they lived which, until some of them began to find commercial success, were characterized by artistic struggle, dealing with misogyny in the case of the women (who felt compelled to adopt an approach to life perceived as masculine in order to be taken seriously), poverty, hard drinking, raucous partying, and unconventional romantic relationships (although it should be noted that both Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler came from well-to-do families and had resources most painters didn't). 

The book traces the early influence of Hans Hoffman as a teacher and the appearance on the scene of European surrealists and others as they fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s (mostly older, conservative men that appear to have been particularly misogynistic), the sudden fame of Jackson Pollock and the destructive alcoholism that eventually led to his artistic impotence and  death (and how that affected Krasner and others), the shift in the mood of conversation at places like the Cedar Bar and the Five Spot as recognition and wealth accrued to painters like Pollock and De Kooning, with the talk in the bars going from "art over beers to galleries over bourbon". The book makes it clear that it was a spectacular but surprisingly short-lived rise to fame for Abstract Expressionism (at least for the men), lasting from about 1950 to about 1965; by the mid-sixties, attention had shifted toward painters like Rauschenberg and Johns and later Warhol as Pop Art emerged. 

I had never understood that Frankenthaler is arguably the mother of color field painting. While that's entirely logical once it's pointed it out, I had never made the connection between her work and the work of painters like Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, who apparently were emboldened to pour thinned paint onto unprimed canvas after seeing the work of Frankenthaler, just as Frankenthaler felt freed to experiment by seeing the work of Pollock, which vastly altered her conception of what painting could be (Frankenthaler was not alone). I hadn't understood how small and tight the core group of painters was. Everyone seems to have known everyone, they visited each other's studios, they met nightly in the bars, they talked, they painted, they wrote and read about each others work, they drank, they arranged shows, they went to openings, they had parties, they had sex, and they painted. The cross-fertilization appears to have been broad and intense. I hadn't known that Elaine de Kooning became an influential writer about art, mostly in the pages of Art News or that she did a great deal of portraiture and had a period during which she focused on canvases inspired by watching sporting events. I wasn't aware of Krasner's central role in trying to keep Pollock from his violent, alcohol-fueled excesses and to keep him productive (to the detriment of her own work) – or really anything about their relationship, or her career. I hadn't known that she later turned very successfully to collage. The book was an introduction to dozens of lesser-known peripheral characters and even a small lesson in the geography of Long Island. The detail is vivid. The pages are overflowing with insights not only about how the woman made their way as painters in a style that has long been seen as quintessentially masculine, but about what it is to be an artist at all. There's an entire course in advanced abstract American painting at mid-century in these pages. Ninth St. Women, is a remarkable bit of scholarship, deeply researched, meticulously notated, rich in detail, and engagingly written. Highly recommended. 


Sunday, June 16, 2024

Serendipitous Art: Crown Point Press

I visited Crown Point Press in San Francisco for the first time on Friday, June 14. As I stepped into the second-floor space, the famous printer and founder of the place, Kathan Brown, strolled by. She smiled, said hello, and suggested to one of the staff that I be given a tour, as a week-long workshop was just winding down. I noticed a beautiful print by Anne Appleby behind the desk in her office – a sort of diptych in two shades of green. There was a a small show of prints in the lobby, and a group of prints published at Crown Point Press for sale in a more formal gallery space. In the lobby area, one wall was lined with books published by the press. I learned that the summer workshops for this year are all full, but I'm thinking about trying to get into one next summer. Walking around the spaces I noted some scribbling on the walls that looked like art to me. Serendipitous art. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Miscellaneous: I am Mr. Peabody?

Recently I was approached on the street in San Francisco by a youngish woman, maybe in her late twenties, who asked me "Have you ever seen Mr. Peabody and Sherman?" I was a bit surprised at this unexpected question from a stranger, but, mentally whisked back to my childhood and episodes of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," I said "yes" (although I think she was referring to the 2014 film "Mr. Peabody and Sherman"). She seemed a little embarrassed as she said "I wanted to tell you that you look like Mr. Peabody" and then hastened to add "And I mean that in the best possible way." She said she thought I looked smart and sophisticated. 

I got new glasses when I was in Japan in March. They have dark, nearly round frames. I suspect it was mostly the glasses. She seemed to mean it sincerely, though, and to mean it as a compliment, but I didn't know whether to feel flattered, as she was comparing me to an anthropomorphized dog – albeit a smart and sophisticated anthropomorphized dog.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Music I'm Listening to: Recent concerts

I attended the Friday, May 10 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. Guest conductor Marta Gardlolinska had to cancel at the last minute. She was replaced by Gemma New (currently music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra). I had heard of neither conductor, but I rather liked New. She was interesting to watch on the podium, her movements short and sharp, and slightly stiff, but she made the music flow. The concert opened with a piece called Overture, written in 1943 by Grazyna Bacewicz. It was not particularly memorable, but it was interesting to hear as I'm a fan of Bacewicz's chamber music. I have several recordings of her string quartets and other pieces for small ensembles. I was under the impression that she was a contemporary composer. I had no idea that the she was born in 1909 and died in 1969. Her music sounds more modern than her birth and death years might suggest. 

That was followed by Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor. The soloist was a Spanish cellist, Pablo Ferrandez. I had never heard of him either, but the San Francisco Symphony always brings in good guest conductors and soloists, and it was an excellent performance, although taken rather more slowly than I'm used to, particularly in the opening of the first movement. The Elgar was followed after intermission by Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3, also nicely done. Just as impressive as the conducting was the way Ms. New acknowledged various members of the orchestra during the applause at the close of the concert. Often orchestra members hesitate to stand up and take a bow when pointed at by the conductor after a performance, but usually it's not out of modesty but because they aren't always sure who the conductor is indicating for recognition. New, with precise hand gestures, had them standing and taking the applause quickly and efficiently in what amounted to an entirely independent conducting performance. I was quite impressed. 

Dinner at Monsieur Benjamin after the concert. I've abandoned Absinthe, which for more than a decade was my go-to after-concert restaurant. Absinthe has raised its wine-by-the-glass prices to absurd levels. It just ruins the whole experience. Monsieur Benjamin is not cheap, but it now seems a better value. New and Ferrandez came into the restaurant shortly after we settled in and they happened to be seated at the table next to us. I resisted the temptation to do anything more than to quickly say that I'd enjoyed the concert – until shortly before we were leaving. I leaned over  to ask the conductor about the tempo of the Elgar and she agreed that they had taken some parts comparatively slowly but pointed out that she had taken other parts quite quickly, which was true. "Rubato," I said. "Exactly" she answered. She's one I'll look out for in the future. 

The following day, I attended the Santa Rosa Symphony concert at the Green Music Center. The jazz-focused program comprised four pieces: George Gershwin's Catfish Row: Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess, Gershwin's well known Rhapsody in Blue for Piano and Orchestra (but in the original jazz band version), Conrad Tao's Flung Out for Piano and Orchestra (a world premiere) and Edward "Duke" Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige – Suite for Orchestra. Conrad Tao was the piano soloist in both the performance of Rhapsody in Blue (played from memory) and Flung Out (during which he used a score on an iPad), conceived as a companion piece to the Gershwin but it was rather more abstract. Rhapsody in Blue was the highlight of the evening. Tao was exciting to listen to – fast, precise, and expressive all at the same time.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 287 (Santa Rosa)

Here's a collage from last autumn.
This is Untitled Collage No. 287 (Santa Rosa). September 25, 2023. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 24.6cm x 11.4cm (9.7in x 4.5in). 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 of my abstract monotype collages, see my website at
My book Colin Talcroft: Abstract Monotype Collage 2013–2023, published in February 2024 (ISBN: 979-8-218-37717-5) is available on the website.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Music I'm Listening to: San Francisco Symphony

While away in Japan, I missed two concerts to which I had tickets, one by the Santa Rosa Symphony and one by the San Francisco Symphony, but I attended the Friday April 26 concert in San Francisco, which featured a short piece by Shostakovich at the top of the bill and ended with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3 after intermission, with the Walton Viola Concerto as the centerpiece before the break. Gustavo Gimeno, music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic and of the Toronto Symphony, was the guest conductor. The San Francisco Symphony's own Jonathan Vinocour was the viola soloist. 

I had never heard the Shostakovich before – Funeral March from The Great Citizen, Op. 55 and I can't say it was especially memorable, but both the Walton and Prokofiev pieces were familiar. Whenever a member of the Symphony appears as a soloist I'm reminded of just how high the overall level of musicianship is on the stage at every concert in San Francisco. Off hand, I can remember concerts over the years featuring soloists from among the Symphony's own ranks including Alexander Barantschick (violin), Peter Wyrick (cello), Mark Inouye (trumpet), and Scott Pingel (bass) – and now Jonathan Vinocour– all top notch. The Prokofiev symphony is not among my favorites. It's rather abstract and, despite some comparatively accessible sections that are quite fun, I'm not surprised that it's not often performed. Still, it's always interesting to hear pieces familiar from recording live for the first time.

Rain: Late Spring Storm

A short but intense storm passed through on May 4. On the following (very sunny) day, my rain gauge showed 1.10 inches of new rain at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. It's unusual to get such concentrated showers this late in the rain year, but late rain is welcome. It pushes back fire danger a little and relieves me from having to water the garden for a few days at least. 

I've been a bit lazy about noting rainfall this year. Since last reporting, we have had about three inches of rain I never recorded. That and this new 1.10 inches, a total of 4.10 inches, brings our total for the 2023-2024 rain year to 30.30 inches, which is quite respectable, although below the historical average of about 36 inches. Recently, I've been wondering about that average. I suspect that the average in the past ten years has been lower than that, which suggests this has been a fairly normal rain year relative to what is now normal. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Plants I'm Growing: Aloe polyphylla

Aloe polyphylla is a fairly hard-to-find aloe variety prized for its large spirals of small leaves (its Latin name means 'many-leaved'). I have two, one doing poorly, the other very happy. Watering the garden this morning, I was thrilled to see that the larger of the two appears to be very happy, indeed; it's preparing to flower. It has developed a large cluster of buds.  I've never seen this variety in flower before. Looking forward to it... 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Serendipitous Art: Wall with Spots, San Francisco

I came across this scene on a wall adjacent to a North Beach parking lot recently. It looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art.   

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Art I'm making: Untitled Collage No. 286 (Santa Rosa)

Here's another fairly recent collage – although I remain way behind in posting work I did in 2023. This is Untitled Collage No. 286 (Santa Rosa), completed September 13, 2023. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size 17.2cm x 21.4cm (6.6in x 8.4in). 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 of my abstract monotype collage work, visit my website at In addition, my recent book 'Colin Talcroft: Abstract Monotype Collage – 2013–2024' is available on the website.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Books I'm Reading: Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering

On my recent trip to Japan, I took along Henry Petroski's Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering (Vintage, 1997) to read while traveling. Being a series of independent essays, it seemed well suited to episodic reading. In the end, I had little time to read while overseas, but, back home again, I've finished it. 

This group of essays ranges widely, covering topics as diverse as the Panama Canal and the Ferris Wheel, Christian Schussele's painting "Men of Progress," the Channel Tunnel, and the Petronas Towers. 

Petroski, in my experience, is always entertaining. He writes succinctly, with enthusiasm for a subject that might at first seem less than exciting, and with a knack for making a rather technical subject more than just accessible, always bringing to life the personalities behind the projects. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Silver Peso

It's been quite a while since I've added a new photo to my collection of neon bar signs with cocktail glasses, and this one is from several months ago, but, better late than never....

This sign is in front of The Silver Peso, at 450 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, California. The lettering is custom, but the cocktail glass on top looks fairly generic. 

For more neon cocktail glass signs, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" search tab to the right side of the feed.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Books I'm Reading: Fierce Poise

I recently finished Fierce Poise, by Alexander Nemerov (Penguin, 2021) about artist Helen Frankenthaler. I've always liked her work. I'm not sure when I first became aware of her, but it may have been seeing a large textile designed by Frankenthaler that used to hang in the lobby of the Winters National Bark (still there as far as I know) in Dayton, Ohio. 

I realized quickly that my familiarity with Frankenthaler was rather superficial. It extended mostly to seeing isolated works in various museums around the world over the years. I actually knew nothing at all about her private life, and Fierce Poise is more about her private life than it is about her art. I had had no idea that she came from a wealthy family, no idea that she had had a long relationship with Clement Greenberg, nor that she had been married to Robert Motherwell. Not sure how I missed that, but I don't think much about the private lives of artists when appreciating their work. That said, the history is always interesting.   

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Cherry Blossoms

I've been back in the US for four days now and I have one last post to write about my trip. How could I finish without mentioning the cherry blossoms? The end of my recent trip coincided with the peak of the cherries. While I personally prefer plum blossoms (because of their fragrance), the cherries in full bloom are indeed pretty. Not much else need be said, I imagine. Here I post some cherry blossom photos as well as some photos from the plane ride home. 

I flew out of Haneda Airport this time. I hadn't seen Haneda since 1978. It has changed. It has been expanded and rebuilt. It looks thoroughly modern. It was fun to fly out over the city (when departing for the West Coast of the US from Narita, the flight path takes you almost immediately over the Pacific, which offers little to see from an airplane a couple of miles high in the sky). Approaching San Francisco, the clouds were especially pretty.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Naoshima

On my last couple of days in Japan (I’m back home now), I made a trip to Naoshima, one of Japan’s world-renowned ‘art islands’, I had heard only good things about Naoshima and my expectations were high, although I had had little time to research the place and consequently I didn’t really know what was there beyond a Yayoi Kusama polka-dot pumpkin I had seen pictured by the seaside. There are several museums on the island, so I had imagined rooms full of paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture, but Naoshima turned out to be something rather different.

If you are a devoted fan of architect Tadao Ando, who designed most of the buildings that comprise the complex of museums and galleries on the small island, you are likely to have a good time. Others may find themselves a bit perplexed. Ando is known for creating geometric spaces with blank walls of grey concrete, and there is a great deal of empty space surrounded by grey concrete in Ando's buildings on Naoshima – buildings treated with what seems like an exaggerated reverence. 

The spaces themselves are considered works of art and visitors are fussily told not to touch the walls, told not to touch the art, told not to wear shoes in some rooms (but not in others), told to get in line and wait their turn. It turns out, though, that there is actually very little art on this art island. The entry fees seem steep considering how small the venues are and how little there is to see in them. The sense of being cheated by the fees was frequently palpable. I noticed visitors emerging from buildings with puzzled looks on their faces, their expressions wordlessly asking ‘Is that all?’ 

While the pseudo-sacred architectural spaces are of some interest, the sense of the sacred is ruined by the simultaneous demand that they function as places to display art and the art is not any better served. Signage is poor (see below) and the lighting is often appalling from the perspective of viewing art. In many spaces, there is only dim natural light (particularly an issue on an overcast day). Often outside light is brought in through thin slots that fail to properly illuminate what art there is, or, in some cases, cause the art to be starkly back-lit and difficult to see. 

At the Chichu Art Museum, the Monet Room (which houses five large water lily paintings) has been designed along the lines of the rooms displaying the large water lilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris (designed with Monet’s input), the paintings illuminated by natural light in a room preceded by a vestibule. Monet’s idea behind the vestibule was that the space would act as a buffer zone between the outside world and the art, allowing visitors to relax and put aside everyday worries temporarily before entering the actual gallery space. The vestibule serves also to help the eyes adjust to the lower light levels inside the gallery area. 

In this case, however, the gallery is hardly identified. Visitors are abruptly stopped by staff members in front of an unmarked entryway and instructed with gestures to remove their shoes, store them in bins, and then change into slippers. There is no indication of what’s in the gallery. If you don’t already know, you have no idea why you are being stopped and made to change footwear. I entered not knowing what the line was for. The mild anxiety and annoyance caused by the uncertainty would seem to defeat the purpose of the vestibule. The floor is made of patterned concrete. It doesn’t look fragile. It’s not clear why it’s necessary to protect it from shoes. If it’s too fragile to step on with shoes, then it seems a rather badly designed floor – another example of reverence for the architecture working against the intended function of the space. 

Signage is almost non-existent in spaces at many of the venues, not only around the Monet Room at the Chichu Art Museum. What there is is small and discreet. In one building, labels for the art are mounted at navel height and the lettering is tiny and black on a silver background that blends with the grey concrete walls, making the labels hard to find and hard to read without bending over and getting very close.  The attendants offer vague guidance in hushed tones, which also makes for poor communication. It’s no wonder many visitors seemed confused and annoyed. I used to think San Francisco MOMA's redesigned spaces and additions were confusingly laid out and poorly signposted (I still do), but they are vastly easier to navigate than the art spaces on Naoshima. Given that in most contexts the Japanese go way overboard when it comes to signage and giving instructions, the lack of information offered is a bit startling.

The system of buying advance tickets (available in some locations, not others, and often not at the site you're hoping to see) is confusing. By the time you figure out the system, you’re likely to find it’s too late until the following day, as many tickets are timed. A further complication is that there is a two-tiered system with guests of the Benesse House Hotel getting privileged access to venues, parking, and shuttle buses. The effect is more confusion and you feel like a second-class citizen at every turn if you're not a hotel guest. I would have enjoyed staying at the hotel, but it's booked more than a year in advance. 

In all, we visited seven attractions – The Benesse House Museum (which hardly deserves to be called a museum), The Chichu Art Museum (small and with a tiny collection; ‘museum’ again seems a misnomer), the Valley Gallery (a two-day ticket to the Benesse House Museum gives you entry to this gallery as well), The Lee Ufan Museum, The Hiroshi Sugitomo Gallery, The Ando Museum (once again, a tiny space hardly meriting the name ‘museum’), and the Art House Project (a collection of abandoned old houses in the town center that have been partially restored and repurposed as exhibition spaces for various artists. Each one of these attractions charges an entry fee that seems inflated given the paucity of content a ticket buys you access to. 

Perhaps the most interesting was the Hiroshi Sugimoto Gallery, which contained a small selection of large photographs by Sugimoto and included a spacious, attractive café overlooking the ocean that serves tea and a sweet (included in the ticket price). The tables in the café have glass tops supported by extraordinarily large sections of historic trees. After all the blank concrete, the sight of something organic was a relief. Smaller Sugimoto photographs were on display at other locations on the island in addition to the large photographs in the gallery. Some of these were in odd locations, making them virtually impossible to view. There was a group on an exterior wall in an area fenced off, making them unapproachable. Another was hung high on a cliff face, where no viewer can see it except perhaps with binoculars. All in all, there was much baffling about Naoshima, including Yayoi Kusama’s fiberglass polka-dotted pumpkins in two locations by the seashore. I don’t understand why so many people get excited by these, but there were lines of people waiting to take selfies next to or in the pumpkins. 

I don’t mean to suggest that a visit to Naoshima is entirely pointless. I enjoyed the Monets. I enjoyed the Hiroshi Sugimoto Gallery, there were a couple of other spaces of interest among those I visited, but, overall, Naoshima turned out to be a confusing disappointment. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Mejiro

Finally got a halfway decent photograph of a Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus) on my last day in Japan. I'm back home now, after a little more than three weeks overseas. I still have some final posts from Japan to upload, but too jet lagged to do it today.... Stay tuned. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Konpira-san and Noodles

Last night I returned from a two-day excursion to Naoshima, one of Japan's so-called "art islands" in Kagawa Prefecture, a two-hour drive to the east from my wife's home island of Iyo-Oshima, with a stop at Konpira-san, a famous shrine known for its hilltop position requiring a climb of 764 steps to the top – sort of. Once at the top, a small sign notes that a smaller, associated shrine sits up by another 400 steps or so. Once there, another discreet sign informs the intrepid of yet another shrine at the very top requiring the mounting of another couple hundred stairs – 1,368 in all. I rarely look at the health apps built in to my iPhone, but the activity piqued my curiosity. According to the phone, the climb was the equivalent of walking to the top of a 62-storey building. 

The first third of the route is lined with souvenir shops. Higher up, the stairs are flanked by stone lanterns and a seemingly endless row of stone steles carved with the names of companies and individuals that have contributed to the shrine over the years, complete with the amounts donated. Cherry trees were coming in to bloom at the shrine, as they are everywhere. Mountain cherries emerging as clouds of pale pink from a background of leafless trees on the hillsides are particularly pretty. It's only at this time of year that their presence is obvious. The rows of cherry trees planted deliberately at shrines and temples, in parks, and along roads are easier to spot when not in bloom. After a night at an attractive little inn called Gamou-ya in the town of Sakaide, we headed for Naoshima.

Kagawa Prefecture might as well be called Udon Prefecture. Shops offering the fat, slick wheat noodles, are everywhere – for consumption on the premises or to take away for preparation at home. The climate in Kagawa Prefecture is said to be good for growing wheat (and we saw many winter wheat fields). The soft local water is supposed to be good for preparing the noodles. Udon would not have been my first choice for breakfast, but the proprietor of Gamou-ya recommended we try a noodle shop a couple of minutes away on foot before departing for the ferry terminal for the trip to Naoshima. When I questioned the idea of noodles for breakfast, he assured me it was the thing to do. 

There was already a line at the shop when we arrived and it had grown to about 70 people by the time we left, but it moved quickly. ¥180 (today about $1.20) buys you a bowl of noodles which you take to a table laid out with all kinds of tempura to choose from (¥120, or about $0.80, a piece). I added a slice of pumpkin tempura and a slice of eggplant to my bowl and from there stepped to a cauldron of hot broth that I ladled onto the noodles and tempura. I topped it off with a spoonful of chopped green onions. The shop is tiny, with barely enough room to complete the course, but the customers navigated it all with ease, as if they'd done it many times – and no doubt they had. A bowl of noodles turned out to be a tasty and filling way to start the day for a mere $2.80 or so. An unusually strong dollar (a dollar buys ¥150 at the moment) makes a lot of things here seem cheap.

I photographed a Pale Thrush (Turdus pallidus, another addition to my life list) on the way up to the shrines above Konpira-san.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Places I'm Visiting: Japan 2024 – Ehime and Oshima

Still in Japan. Thanks again to Jason and Annabelle who have been living in our house and taking care of Eric the cat while I've been away. 

I'm now on Oshima Island, Ehime Prefecture, the little island my wife is from. 'Oshima' means 'big island', but Oshima is quite small. You could drive the perimeter in a little over an hour. This part of Japan is today known mainly for five things I can think of: First, Oshima is the last island in the chain of islands across which bridges have been built to connect Shikoku (the smallest of Japan's four main islands) with Honshu (the largest of the four). Between Oshima and the city of Imabari (on Shikoku) stretches the 4km-long Kurashima Kaikyo Ohashi, the only three-span suspension bridge in the world. The Inland Sea area, dotted with islands, some now connected by the chain of bridges, has become a popular destination for cyclists from around the globe.

Second, Imabari, across from Oshima is a major shipbuilding hub. Imabari Zosen, in Imabari, is Japan's largest shipbuilder and among the half dozen biggest in the world. 

Third, this part of Japan's Inland Sea was the base of the Murakami Kaizoku, an association of seafaring bands that were both pirates and guides active among the islands of the inland Sea between the 12th and 18th centuries. 

Navigation routes through the Inland Sea are among the most dangerous anywhere. The straits between the islands are known for their rapid currents and the whirlpools that form as the tides shift, alternately pushing water from the Inland Sea into the Pacific and pulling water from the Pacific into the Inland Sea as the direction of the tides changes four times a day, with short periods of equilibrium in between. The sailors of the Murakami Kaizoku acted as guides, demanding in return a percentage of the value of the goods that passed through the channels in return for their knowledge. With completion of the bridge connection, travelers no longer have to stop on Oshima and many of the small shops that once served visitors and the (now dwindling) population of the island have vanished. There are many empty houses and shops. The population was well over 10,000 in the 1970s. Today it is half that. The town I lived in as a high school exchange student is about 45 minutes to the south of Imabari – likewise left behind by development when road traffic that used to pass through its center was diverted by a modern bypass. 

Finally, aside from shipbuilding, Imabari, across from the island, is known for its towel-making industry, and the island itself is the source of Oshima Ishi, a grey granite prized for building and for headstones, but even the island stone works are not what they once were, hurt by competition from similar, less expensive stone imported from Korea and China (although the locals will tell you that Oshima Ishi is superior). 

On the birdwatching front, since last reporting I've seen at least two new birds, Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus) and Small Collared Plover. I was able to get a nice shot of the latter. 

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