Archive for September 2009
For those following this blog, it must be clear that one main theme has been the cultural maturity of Los Angeles. When I take a look at my own writing, that theme seems to be consistent. I recently came across this article (published February 4, 1983) from my days as a reporter for the Orange County Register. It’s interesting to note that the Santa Monica Museum, our neighbor here at Bergamot Station, has recently received funding from the Getty Research Institute for a 2012 exhibition about Beatrice Wood. The Getty announcement stated: “While Wood’s later ceramic works have been the subject of local exhibitions, the Santa Monica Museum of Art will now focus on her transition from Dadaism to Californian/Indian spiritualism and its impact on her artistic persona.”
CSF exhibits Beatrice Wood collection
Art Review: Beatrice Wood exhibition, Main Art Gallery, Cal State Fullerton.
By Frank Lloyd
Contemporary art watchers will recognize the name of Beatrice Wood in association with the New York Dada movement. Followers of West Coast ceramics will know her as a seminal practitioner of the art of lusterware. And gallery spectators will sense in her work a woman with an intuitive use of color and form that is at once seductive and humorous, vivid and subtle.
The current exhibition of Beatrice Wood at Cal State Fullerton was organized in celebration of the artist’s 90th birthday. Throughout her long career, she has absorbed influences from diverse sources. The ideas of Marcel Duchamp, which radically challenged our perception of the art object, figured prominently in her early drawings and paintings. The teachings of theosophy, followed by many artists and writers in the early part of this century, have had a strong effect on her life. The West Coast crafts revival movement, with its recognition of carefully crafted ceramics as fine art, will be in evidence in this exhibition.
Wood began her artistic career by studying art in Paris in 1910. She was enrolled at the Academie Julien, which was, at that time, a famed liberal institution. Her interest in painting, however, soon gave way to her pursuit of an acting career. She attended the Academie Francaise, but her theatrical studies were cut short by the ravages of World War I. By 1916, she had moved to New York, where she began to build her career as an actress.
It was in New York that Wood met the two Frenchmen who were to change the course of her life: Henri-Pierre Roche and Marcel Duchamp. Wood had been visiting the French composer Edgar Varese in the hospital when she encountered them. She was immediately impressed by the intelligence and charm of Duchamp, and later became an intimate member of the Dada group. Under Duchamp’s direction, she resumed painting.
Wood’s entry to the Independent’s Exhibition of 1917 at the Grand Central Palace was received with scandalous attention. She had painted the nude torso of a young woman taking a bath. A piece of soap had been glued onto the canvas at a strategic location.
It was not until 1938 in Los Angeles that Wood became interested in ceramics. She had purchased a set of luster cups, but still needed a teapot. Since she was unable to find what she wanted, she decided to make it. She later studied with Glen Lukens at the University of Southern California. She also studied with Gertrud and Otto Natzler. She was an enthusiastic student, and had her first ceramics studio in North Hollywood.
In 1948, she moved to Ojai, where she built a studio and continued to develop her ceramics. She later moved to the Happy Valley Foundation, where she has been involved with the school of theosophy since 1946. The Foundation was established by Aldous Huxley, Krishnamurti and Annie Besant.
The development and refinement of Beatrice Wood’s mature work came in Ojai. The uncommon in-glaze luster technique is her contribution to contemporary ceramics. The rich, vivid and saturated colors are characterized by great depth and complexity. Her open and expressive handling of the medium marks her as a modern ceramist—but one that ties into an ancient tradition.
How does an artist take a dense, opaque material and make it light and airy? And what happens when our vision shifts across overlays of pattern? Tony Marsh’s current show answers both questions eloquently. This isn’t the first time he has worked on this series of Perforated Vessels, but it is a summation of his skill and his message.
Although many visitors, from veteran artists to casual passers-by, are fascinated by the technique, I find myself more interested in the content. As vessels, these pieces are containers of a kind of personal archaeology. The elements have some primal relationship to growth, and seem to come from both the microscopic and macroscopic worlds. On the purely visual and subjective level, one has a sense of shifting radiance of light, a bone-white bare essence.
Yesterday, Tony’s show was reviewed by Joyce Lovelace for American Craft. It’s a superb and satisfying review, with a thorough and understanding of Tony’s work. Joyce has composed an excellent description of the show, and in the process has captured its spirit.
Fragile: handle with care. That’s what the red sticker on the outside of the box reads. We’re always taking care of rare art here at the gallery. There are strict gallery rules about the way we move art, and the way we hold and lift sculpture. Sure, ceramics are considered to be the most delicate of the arts, but in truth…fired clay is very durable. That’s one of the reasons the medium has a 10,000 year history. It’s strong.
Let’s take a look at just how resilient this material is. Consider the artists. You’d think they’d be really uptight about moving their own work. But to the contrary, the artists are often the most carefree. They are, when it comes down to it…kind of casual with their art. I’ve seen pieces arrive in the back seat of a car, unwrapped and unguarded. More often, I’ve seen works of art arrive in the back of a pick up truck—lying in the bed like a bunch of lumber.
Artist Tony Marsh makes some of the most delicate, shimmering and…seemingly fragile work. But he brought his current show to the gallery—in an open truck. Here’s a peek behind the scenes at his means of art transport.
I needed to get away from the Art World. I thought I would take a drive out to the Northern California coast, and clear my head. For me, a road trip is some kind of active meditation on the landscape. The open road along Highway 1 is spectacular. That’s well known. The appeal is the rugged cliffs, the way that the meadows meet the forest, and the expanse of wind-swept rocks and sea. Turning inland, I crossed over the Russian River, and through some quaint and picturesque towns. Most were established in the late 19th century, and seemed to have been built by lumber mills, agriculture, and fishing. I felt like I was very far away from the Big City Art World. I slowed down to let traffic by, and enjoyed the bucolic landscape. When I looked up, there was a sign on an old school house: Site of Running Fence, dedicated by Christo and Jean Claude. We’re never very far from Art. Are we?
While I stayed with Bob Hudson and Mavis Jukes, I shared with them some old catalogues from exhibits in the 1960s. I also described some of my research into the early professional careers of seminal ceramic sculptors Mason, Price and Voulkos. Bob Hudson listened carefully, and then the next day brought out (from his vast archives) some things to inspire me. He included a small booklet titled “Portraits of Artists”, from the La Jolla Museum of Art, published in 1967. Sure enough, there were photos of Hudson, Richard Diebenkorn, Ron Davis, Manuel Neri, John McLaughlin and Robert Irwin (and lots of others). Included, of course, as part of the mainstream West Coast artists, were Mason, Price and Voulkos. Here’s a couple of the photos, great work by John Waggaman:
My late summer vacation was a road trip to Northern California. I was invited to stay in an old bunkhouse in a semi-rural area, on property owned by artist Bob Hudson and his wife, writer Mavis Jukes. I often think about the biggest privilege of my job: being so close to the artists. I am lucky to see the work first, at the studio, and to intimately understand the artists’ process.
I am sitting at a desk that Hudson lovingly set up for me in the pitch-roofed pump house. To my left are bookshelves. On the top shelf, one of his assembled ceramic sculptures sits with a book of landscape photography. The next shelf is stacked with 7 new art publications from Yale University Press. But just below lies a collection of hawk feathers.
The lifestyle and art of Robert Hudson are essentially rustic, but marvelously eclectic. Though Bob is notoriously quiet, his work speaks eloquently of the artist’s mind—a kind of melding of collage, surrealism, and poetic juxtapositions. He works in a large metal building, one of several structures on an old farm near Cotati, north of San Francisco. His materials are found objects—the detritus of our mechanized and industrial world. His sculpture, rooted in the Assemblage movement on the West Coast, is most often a combination of welded steel and joined, cast-off objects. He usually adds color by painting in bright primaries. I walked into Bob’s spacious studio, and entered the world of the brilliant poet-welder.
Hudson’s earliest works were exhibited in legendary Bay Area galleries during the late 1950s. There were shows at the Batman Gallery in S.F.—where Hudson showed his early drawings in 1961 alongside some of the Assemblage movement’s main practitioners Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, and George Herms. According to Hudson, the Batman Gallery’s walls were black, and the floor was covered with squares of green grass-like material. He also showed in 1961 and ‘62 at the Bolles Gallery. Later, in the early 1960s, Hudson showed at the Lanyon Gallery in Palo Alto. Nicholas Wilder did some of the exhibition programming. It was Nick Wilder who spotted rising talents in the Bay Area (Bruce Nauman had been a graduate student at U.C. Davis, and Hudson was teaching at S.F. Art Institute), and brought their work to Los Angeles. Hudson’s show with Wilder in L.A. opened in 1966.
The then-fledgling magazine Artforum featured an article by Phil Leider on three Bay Area artists, and placed Hudson’s work on the cover of the September 1964 issue. Leider’s text noted, “Elements of neo-Dada, suggestions from Pop Art, assemblage, junk sculpture have all found their way into the work, which is dominated by the employment of humor as a major value. It is a humor which is raucous, dirty, mimicking and subtle, and which is the life-line of the best sculpture being produced in San Francisco.” Hudson’s work has continued to employ many of these elements, as he combines found objects with a poet’s sensibility. The welded masses of metal bulge with allusions to art and spring out like an exploded painting.