Archive for April 2012
A rhythmic, wandering line has been present in Craig Kauffman’s paintings since the 1950s. Based in his experiments with skipping, dotted lines made with ink on paper, the line in those paintings displayed a loose, calligraphic hand that seems to define form, yet also describe a suspended space. In the Numbers paintings from 1989, Kauffman employed that line again to make numerals, boldly drawn in paint and hovering over a colored ground of imagery.
In the third exhibition to be drawn from the Estate of Craig Kauffman (1932-2010), the Frank Lloyd Gallery presents a series of paintings by Kauffman made in 1989. Kauffman’s interest in unorthodox application of paint and his love of the physicality of painting are accompanied by a brilliant color sense. Kauffman considered these works, which became known as the Numbers, to be a continuation of his use of calligraphic line, and an integration of sensuous color with architectural form. The paintings demonstrate a masterful range of painting’s language: dark versus light, the organic and architectural, and luminosity with density.
The large-scale paintings—some as tall as ten feet—were made following Kauffman’s first move to the Philippines. A rich landscape and powerful native forms from his new-found home are interwoven with the layers of numbers. Images of volcanos, ethnic figurative sculpture (Santos) and architecture (Four Kubos) are included in the backgrounds of the works. With these allusions to elements from his new environment, as well as his use of the bifurcated canvas, Kauffman again made use of his broken, skipping line. As biographer Hunter Drohojowska-Philp has written, “Most are divided vertically, like Asian scrolls, and painted in two contrasting colors such as white and red. The outlines of orchids, volcanos or houses with pitched roofs are repeated like a fabric pattern while the thin, curling numbers are overlaid. The iconography is drawn from his exposure to Philippine culture.”
Kauffman retained the unusual line from his early drawings. In an essay for Craig Kauffman drawing retrospective in 2008, curator Jay Belloli wrote:
In these linear works on paper, Kauffman began an approach to drawing that he has employed more and more frequently over the years. At the time, the top of a bottle of Pelikan ink had a rubber squeeze attachment similar to an eye dropper, so an artist could draw up small quantities of ink and put them in a bowl or shallow tray for easier use. Kauffman used the squeeze attachment directly as a drawing tool. The line that resulted was uneven, sometimes broken, and it revealed the direct and somewhat uncontrolled way in which it was made. This approach to ink drawing was like a Western means of creating some of the spontaneity associated with Asian calligraphy. 
The vertical composition of the Numbers paintings can also be strongly associated with Asian calligraphy. This clear structure of marking from top to bottom, and the reference to the format of a scroll, belies the artist’s life-long fascination with the arts of Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Indeed, his move to the Philippines provided him with easy access to Taiwan and Hong Kong, and his viewing of landscape paintings made with ink was made possible. “Japanese calligraphy is organized in columns and rows,” Belloli wrote, “and Japanese painting as one or several simple recognizable elements.” The format of the Numbers paintings not only recalls the influence of Asian painting, but also provides an expansive view of pictorial space, which Kauffman skillfully divides into a space for a specific purpose: a combination of linear and architectural form.
Architecture was one of the artist’s passions since his teenage years. Kauffman was highly influenced by reading Kindergarten Chats, by Louis Sullivan and A New Vision, from Material to Architecture, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. These books lay out the foundations of modern art. Intended to inform readers about the elements of Bauhaus design, the text by Moholy-Nagy merges theory, art and design. The influence on Kauffman, and on his desire to create a new way of seeing the world through art, was profound.
Kauffman’s architectural elements in the Numbers paintings also reflect his own practical experience of building. In the later decades of his life, Kauffman designed several homes, including four in the Philippines and one in the Central California town of Arroyo Grande. His eye and hand were naturally drawn to architecture, a profession he considered when he first entered college at the University of Southern California. The Numbers paintings contain some of the simple architecture of the Philippines, known as Kubo bamboo houses.
The paintings present a merging of all of these elements: architecture, calligraphy, and painting. They are held together by the network of lines, executed in an architect’s italic block numbers. But the unity is also achieved by Kauffman’s extraordinary ability with brilliant color combinations—from the rich reddish column on the left to the subtle whites and greys on the right, or the overlays of red and green.
These eight paintings were not shown in Los Angeles, although some were included in the large survey of Los Angeles painting, Abstraction, mounted by the Nagoya City Art Museum in 1990. That Nagoya exhibit included the work of Kauffman, Sam Francis, John Altoon, John McLaughlin and Ed Moses. The eight major paintings in the current show are accompanied by five works on paper.
 Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Craig Kauffman: Sensual Mechanical, Frank Lloyd Gallery and the Estate of Craig Kauffman, 2012, p. 73.
 Jay Belloli, Craig Kauffman: A Retrospective of Drawings, Armory Center for the Arts, 2008, p. 14
 Noriko Fujinami, Abstraction: John Altoon, Sam Francis, Craig Kauffman, John McLaughlin, Ed Moses, Nagoya City Art Museum, 1990.
A little while ago, the gallery’s January show was reviewed in the Huffington Post by Peter Frank. Like the HuffPo folks say, these short reviews are sometimes in the traditional Haiku form of 5x7x5 syllables. But other writers might produce a sonnet, and some might take to free-form verse. It’s amazing how writers like Peter Frank can pack a lot of content into a small space. For anyone who missed it, here’s the text:
“Peter Voulkos in L.A.: Time Capsule” is the kind of show Pacific Standard Time has been all too short of: an intimate look at the taste and thinking and working methods of an influential figure. Everything in the show, drawn from the artist’s daughter’s collection, was small in scale and dated from the later 1950s, the time at which Voulkos adopted and promulgated a painterly approach to ceramics, liberating the craft from functional restraints and allowing it to present itself as sculpture – or even painting. None of Voulkos’ own canvases were included, but several paintings by friends and students spoke tellingly to and with Voulkos’ pots and plates and planks and those of his colleagues, including John Mason, Ed Kienholz, and the late Kenneth Price. Billy Al Bengston’s work from this time in oil, ink, and clay is of special remark here – the Pop painter considers Voulkos his greatest teacher, and these items bespoke that influence. Henry Takemoto was the one name here emerging from obscurity, with rough-and-tumble plates every bit as funky and muscular as Voulkos’. What became of him?”
We also made a video walk-through of the show, and this gives those who missed it a chance to see it up close:
Back in the Fall of 2011, the gallery presented a series of exhibits that focused on artists participating in Pacific Standard Time. Now that PST shows are coming to an end (some will close this weekend), I’ve been reviewing the program that we presented. During late October and throughout the month of November, we had a survey of Larry Bell— just the early paintings and first sculptures that preceded the well-known Cubes. My intent was to complement the Crosscurrents show at the Getty Museum, and Phenomenal at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Our show was inspired by the first two rooms of the 2011 Nimes survey of Larry Bell’s work. I wanted to show the early paintings, and the clear progression of ideas and the visual logic in Bell’s work. His work is integral to the development of the clean, clear look of Los Angeles art. Several series of paintings preceded the artist’s well-known cubes and environments of the later 1960s. These early works, from the years 1959 to 1963, show a progression from paintings influenced by Abstract Expressionism, to early shaped canvases, to Bell’s incorporation of geometric form within paintings.
Bell’s inquiry was driven by his sense that the image should relate directly to the plane of the canvas. In these early works, Bell focused on visual perception and his questions led him to eliminate distractions such as gesture and tactile layering of paint. That focus on planes and the reduction of gesture meant that the image could suggest volume.
By January, when critics had viewed the Pacific Standard Time shows, some came to the conclusion that Bell’s work was deserving of a closer look. One of those was Tyler Green, the most prominent art world blogger, who posted a lengthy article, and interviewed Larry. For a look at the whole show, we produced a video that was skillfully shot and edited by Larry’s son, Ollie:
One of the first artists that joined the gallery in 1996 was Adrian Saxe. He gave his support to my fledgling organization and encouraged my ideas. That was a welcome push from a friend and mentor. It helped that Adrian lent his credibility, and I have certainly used his intelligence and experience during the past 16 years of exhibits. It’s extraordinary to have the resource of his technology, and the depth of his knowledge about the history of ceramics is amazing. He’s also a fantastic artist. As Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight has written, “With outrageous humor and unspeakable beauty, (Saxe) makes intensely seductive objects that exploit traditional anthropomorphic qualities associated with ceramics.”
In December, the gallery presented a new body of work by Saxe. His sense of humor was, as always, present. It was accompanied by a myriad of references: to scholar’s rocks, to language, to digital technology, and to culture—both ancient and contemporary. Several of the works were interactive; by holding up a cell phone and reading the quick response code, the viewer was transported to images and videos from the internet. The show marked a brilliant new chapter in an inventive career that has been filled with ideas—gifts from Adrian that delight the eye and the mind.
For those who would like a refreshing look at the evolution of Saxe’s work, we made an on-line publication. This book chronicles the way that Saxe has sought to reinvent a role for ceramic art that employs decorative art conventions to comment on social and cultural expectations surrounding a number of topical themes. Take a look at over sixty pages of Saxe’s work here: Adrian Saxe catalogue