John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco
Salander O'Reilly Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Property of a Distinguished Bay Area Collection
A GOLDEN STATE OF MIND
HIGHLIGHTS FROM A DISTINGUISHED BAY AREA COLLECTION
This formidable collection offers a rare look at one of the most prolific periods of experimental painting on the West and East coasts in the mid to late 20th century. This collection compellingly illustrates that a distinct discipline of abstract art developed in the San Francisco Bay Area, independent of the renowned New York School who practiced an all-over painting technique.
The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionists embraced a unique style of abstraction and realism during the 1940s through the 60s, turning to their immediate surroundings for their inspiration. While focusing on the San Francisco School, this collection juxtaposes what artists were producing on both coasts in post World War II America.
From Richard Diebenkorn's brilliantly coloured aerial landscapes to Wayne Thiebaud's deliciously impastoed pop infused still-life and cityscape paintings, to Elmer Bischoff's emotionally infused figurative paintings, there is one element that flows throughout their work: the California light. Uniquely West Coast form and colour is clearly evident in Diebenkorn's seminal Landscape with Figure. Produced three years after the artist returned to the Bay Area after living in New Mexico and Illinois, a time when the artist softened his palette and began incorporating recognizable imagery and motifs into his abstractions, Landscape with Figure exemplifies this pairing by incorporating Diebenkorn's iconic 'club' and a sensual pink rose within the pastoral setting. Turning to the city for a subject, Wayne Thiebauds Untitled (Cityscape) exaggerates the steep terrain of the San Francisco topography by using colour and light. Here Thiebaud captures the legendary terrain by painting a patchwork of candy-like colours and playfully illustrating cars motoring up the mountainous hill.
The radiant Californian palette is further illustrated in Thiebaud's Four Jars of Cold Cream. By taking common jars of cold cream, casting them in this West Coast light and using a sumptuous and gracious application of paint the artist transforms and elevates a pedestrian household object into an elegant work of art. The soft palette of Diebenkorn's Still Life with Book, sophisticatedly captures the routine act of reading over a cup of coffee in this quiet setting. Here the artist, like Thiebaud turned to the immediate surroundings of his studio for his subject matter.
Elmer Bischoff's masterful use of colour and light in Woman Pulling on Stockings exemplifies the emotional and psychological intensity that Bischoff emphasized in his canvases. Bischoff uses the West Coast pallet as a means of re-engaging with the figure as a subject. The depiction of the nearly nude female figure putting on stockings creates a tension that makes the viewer question the sensual connotations of the piece.
Unlike the Bay Area artists, Dine's modernist approach has long been associated with the Pop movement, principally for his obsessive repetition of everyday images and domestic objects. The artist employed repetition to reinvent ordinary motifs such as in Double Bathrobe. Working from an advertisement of a bathrobe from the New York Times, Dine first used the image of a bathrobe in 1964 to create a self-portrait. The bathrobe motif became the basis for a recurring self-portrait, making Double Bathrobe and double self-portrait.
Willem de Kooning's Untitled clearly illustrates the artist's painterly abstractions. Here the artist took an ordinary newspaper and slashed it with colour and eloquent brushstrokes of vibrant paint to form a beautiful example of his all over painting technique.
Richard Estes is regarded as one of the founders of the Photo-Realist movement that emerged in the late 1960s. His subject matter was that of his immediate urban surrounding: New York City. J & H Grocery expands the viewer's sensory range, allocating an exaggerated focus on a specific setting of a grocery store, using the reflection of the window to further expand the depth of the metropolitan vista. Estes creates an extrasensory experience through meticulously calculated layers of color and his municipal palette and attention to detail.
Also included in this collection is a significant work by New York based artist John D. Graham (1881-1961, a refugee from czarist Russia). The artist is recognized for his influence on the early years of American Modernism. Linda and the Swan represents Graham's transition towards a more mysterious and imaginative style in which the artist painted portraits of imaginary women, drawing on classical art as subjects. Linda and the Swan draws upon the Greek Myth of Leda and the Swan, in which Zeus takes on the form of a Swan and rapes Leda. Linda and the Swan portrays an imaginary woman, 'Linda', set against a flat background creating a sense of tension and detachment from a specific space and time. Graham often painted his portraits with crossed eyes, furthering the tension within the work: as though the Mona Lisa meets Medusa.