Posts Tagged ‘Artists’
One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from my research is the number of times Craig Kauffman showed in San Francisco. In the first decade of his career, from 1951 to 1961, he participated in a dozen shows in S.F., far more than in Los Angeles. For a painter so closely identified by critics with L.A., that’s very surprising.
Three of these were early group shows, in a regional annual exhibit: The Annual Watercolor Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, held at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Many artists participated in such annuals in the early 1950s, because there were few places to exhibit, and the shows offered jurors, awards, and visibility. Kauffman also showed in the 1961 version of the watercolor show at the San Francisco Museum of Art.
Important partnerships formed during the 1950s, notably through Syndell Studios and the collaborative organization of Action I, also known as the “Merry Go Round Show,” on the Santa Monica pier. Two of Kauffman’s good friends, James Newman and Walter Hopps, went on to establish galleries. Hopps, of course, partnered with Ed Kienholz to found the legendary Ferus gallery in 1957. Less noted but equally important in this period for Kauffman was Dilexi gallery, which was founded by James Newman.
It was there in San Francisco at Dilexi that Kauffman had eight early exhibitions, both group and solo. Interesting documentation from this time exists in the Archives of American Art, as well as in reviews published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Art News, and Art International. James Newman later donated a Kauffman painting, collected from Dilexi, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
I’ve written before about the ways that Northern and Southern California are often compared and contrasted: divisions, disagreements, climates, and permeable lines. But here’s another example of an artist who traveled back and forth, living in both cities, and exhibiting in related galleries.
When Peter Voulkos began to exhibit his large-scale works in the mid-1950s, he had already been recognized as a leading potter in the U.S. Voulkos won prizes at the National Ceramic Exhibition, as well as a Gold Medal at the International Exposition of Ceramics in Cannes, France. Yet, during this time he also absorbed many influences, from Flamenco to Jazz, and from Picasso to Abstract Expressionism.
An early article in Craft Horizons, published in October 1956, has many quotes from Peter. This is the period of time when Voulkos was breaking away from craft traditions, so he had a lot to say about his working method. One quote that has stayed with me is this:
“The minute you begin to understand what you’re doing it loses that searching quality. You have to forget about the little technical problems that don’t matter—you’ve overcome them long ago anyway. You finally reach a point where you’re no longer concerned with keeping this blob of clay centered on the wheel and up in the air. Your emotions take over and what happens just happens. Usually you don’t know it’s happened until after it’s done.”
Voulkos kept to this way of working throughout his life, freely improvising like a musician. His straightforward, powerful and direct way of working was later characterized by Ken Price as “direct frontal onslaught”. I recently found this 1984 photo, from Peter’s show at the Faith and Charity in Hope Gallery—a gallery owned and operated by Edward Kienholz and his wife Nancy. Kienholz not only admired Voulkos’ work, he owned a work from 1958.
Craig Kauffman remained a painter throughout his career, over 50 years. Still, Craig experimented with various painting media, as well as doing some installations. In 1971, for instance, Kauffman was included in a significant exhibit at the UCLA Art Galleries, titled Transparency, Reflection, Light and Space. His conceptual drawing in the catalogue shows the installation piece: a mirrored trough of water, activated by fans, and illuminated by overhead lights. The result? It was the “moving reflection on wall of circulating water.”
This 1971 reflection piece for the show at UCLA followed Kauffman’s involvement with colored reflections on the wall—the Loops—and his work during the 1970 show at the Jewish Museum, Using Walls. In an interview during 1971 with Frederick S. Wight for the UCLA catalog, the artist speculated about his work at that time, saying “…now I’m thinking of doing things on a wall that run from corner to corner which really make the whole wall the piece…the emphasis isn’t on a unified form where it is more spread out if you want to call it that. The piece is less important than what it is doing to the wall.”
Kauffman had also written a statement, printed in the Pasadena Art Museum’s catalog for his 1970 survey exhibit. It’s a much stronger, poetic and political stance. Here it is, complete with the original omission of capitalization:
what is a wall? it is always something for bumping one’s head against. the real wall, of whatever material, be it brick, studs sixteen inches on center, cement, adobe, flat or curved, is something to reckoned with. it is also an idea which separates us from each other. walls divide worlds. whether of bamboo or iron, walls are our creations. even the invisible walls that surround each of us denote our space, our identity. “c’est une chose mystérieuse la mur.” thing of mind or reality? crazy jane said, “what a terrible thing for a young girl to be a wall.” it is terrible to be any inanimate object but to become a wall is perhaps the worst. to walk into a wall and never come out is very possible. it is as if the wall calls to us to come in and stay in its cold interior. destroy the wall with color a la leger? cover the wall with paintings? make protrusions from it, poke holes in it? perhaps we should play with walls, with illusions, shadows, in order to render them passable to our substance. to walk through a wall is not just for houdini. perhaps we can all enter and come out safely.
Some athletes are legendary because of their innate ability—just think of Ken Griffey Jr. with his gorgeous swing, and the perfection of his follow-through. Sure, lots of players have hit home runs, but that kind effortless movement was truly a thing of beauty.
According to all reports, Craig Kauffman was just as naturally gifted as a young artist. He participated in his first professional group show at age 19, in the best gallery in Los Angeles, Felix Landau. By 1953, still approaching his 21st birthday, Kauffman had his first one-man show at Landau. He also was given a praising review in the national magazine Art News by a leading critic, Jules Langsner, who wrote:
“The exhibition splits into two distinct groups: soft, serene, cerebrally-organized abstractions (like the Ode to Crafts series) and the more recent, highly charged linear evolutions on the other. Either way, Kauffman is precociously gifted.”1
Just five years later, when the seminal Ferus gallery had opened, Kauffman was included in another group exhibition, this time a painting survey of Northern and Southern California abstract artists. While noting the similarities and differences of the two camps, Langsner again singled out Kauffman for praise:
“Craig Kauffman is very much in evidence with an effervescent painting, also untitled. Here vertical rectangles of vivid reds, yellow, blues shimmer on a field of white. Full of bounce, the picture has the added interest of subtlety of line. Exhibiting infrequently, this artist has not received his due”.2
So, it’s not surprising that, after Kauffman’s passing, in another group exhibition currently on view at Samuel Freeman gallery, the Los Angeles Times Critic Christopher Knight should single out Kauffman’s work at the conclusion of his review:
“He navigates the void using a delicate, dappled line that constructs a sturdy visual architecture from the most fragile subject matter — orchids, a tropical flower with thousands of taxonomies. His still lifes catalog exotic blooms that are tall, willowy and weird. Kauffman has been called the most naturally gifted painter produced in the first generation of major postwar Los Angeles artists, and here it’s easy to see why.”3
1 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 51, no. 9 (January 1953), p. 53.
2 Langsner, Jules. “Art News from Los Angeles.” Art News 56, no. 10 (February 1958), pp. 47–50.
3 Knight, Christopher. “Uncharted seas in ‘How to Build a Foghorn’ at Samuel Freeman.” Los Angeles Times (August 9, 2016)
I feel very lucky to have known Harrison McIntosh. Even when I was a teenager during the 1960s in Pasadena, I recall seeing his work. I remember being attracted to the simple yet classic forms, the blend of Scandinavian and Asian that was described so well by Christy Johnson and Hal Nelson yesterday at the memorial.
Little did I know that, much later in life, I’d have the chance to get to know Harrison, much less get to represent his work, and know his marvelous wife Marguerite. When I first called and talked to Harrison, I was thrilled to make an appointment for a studio visit. As I stepped into their house above Padua Hills for the first time, it felt like a dream, to be welcomed into the home of a studio craft legend. I recall feeling like I was walking into the pages of a magazine. We agreed to a show.
When we first presented his work in a one-man show in 1998, there was a remarkable welcome from the other artists in the gallery. The most meticulous of craftspeople—including Adrian Saxe, Ralph Bacerra, and Roseline Delisle—all came to pay their respects to Harrison. Each artist took time to examine and praise the details of Harrison’s work; they lifted lids to show the precision of the fit, they turned the pots over carefully, to show me how perfect the foot was, and pointed out how every proportion was exactly right. Later, visiting artist Gustavo Pérez from Mexico wanted to get an autograph, and pose for a picture with his hero—whose work he had only seen in books.
But I represented Harrison late in his long and productive career. When I wanted another show in 2002, there were fewer new pots in the studio, and Harrison’s eyesight had, sadly, declined. I suggested that we augment the works from the studio with some classic works from private collections. Harrison agreed, but with one condition: that he would be able to examine them and approve of their quality and condition. Of course, I agreed. So, before the show, Marguerite drove Harrison to the gallery in Santa Monica, and I presented the additional work.
To my astonishment, he promptly sat down on the carpet of the back room, and felt—with both hands—the pots, carefully holding and rolling the forms, touching the incised lines—caressing the shoulder, the foot, and the lip.
If ever there were proof of the tactility of ceramics, this was the moment for me. I’ll never forget it. And to make it even more surprising, Harrison told me the year of each piece with perfect accuracy. Tactility is primal, and though artists often talk about the touch and feel of clay, that day Harrison showed me the touch and feel of memory.
As I said, I was lucky to know him late in his career. Still wanting to have all of his work recognized, I presented the late sculptural works in 2005. These were rounded discs, sculptural spheres, and oval forms mounted on chromed steel bases. The sculpture fulfilled a vision of the late twentieth century, no longer tied to pottery traditions, but developed from content and themes of unity—which had always been present in his work.
Titles gave these forms greater understanding: “Yin and Yang”, “Nature’s Union”, and “Mass in Space”, the works had a calm, balanced view of man’s place in Nature. Consider the form of “Raindrop”, a meditation on a single drop of water, a source of life.
It was the gentle spirit of the man that I will remember. His calm and balanced way of being was reflected in the work. He was a dignified, kind, and peaceful man, and may he rest in peace.
Among the advantages of our new location in Pasadena, the nearness of the Huntington Library, Gardens, and Art Collections is surely at the top of the list. Last month, I met some friends for a walk through the world-renowned Desert Garden at the Huntington, and I also attended an evening lecture on the Japanese tea ceremony.
The Huntington is a marvelous resource for visitors, of course. I’ve been going there since I was 8 years old. Now, I share a dual membership with my 91 year old mother. I’m also proud to know some of the curatorial staff. But this last week I found out that there are more intimate scholarly presentations, often by resident scholars, during lunch time.
Yesterday’s noon-time conversation was in the Munger Research Center, with journalist and well-known art critic Tyler Green. His subject was Carleton Watkins. I learned that Tyler Green has been a resident scholar at the Huntington, and is preparing a biography. Green grew up in the Bay Area, and, prior to his career as a journalist, saw a Carleton Watkins show at SFMoMA. Once he learned that the Getty’s Weston Neaf had completed a major catalogue raisonne of Watkins’ work, he set about working on the biography. His research is aided by the Huntington.
For me, it was fascinating (though yes, it’s a short conversation, exactly one hour). Original photographic materials augmented the presentation, and the conversation was fact-filled, thesis-driven and revelatory. In addition, most of the approximately 25 people in the room were either curators, researchers, or photographers, making the usual question and answer period at the end more like a seminar.
Among the common questions I’ve heard, since I closed our public exhibition program, is this one: “Who will show ceramics in Los Angeles?” To answer that, it’s time to count the number of current or upcoming shows:
I’m very proud to see that our friends at Latin American Masters have already selected a survey titled Cerámica Contemporánea, an exhibition of twenty-six ceramic works of art by Mexican artist Gustavo Pérez. Their press release states, “Despite a modesty of means and scale, Gustavo Pérez’s ceramics have achieved worldwide recognition, including a 2012 retrospective at Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.”
Just reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, an exhibit at Acme is titled “Hard and Soft”, and includes the work of four women artists, all demonstrating the flexibility and form of clay, that most plastic of materials. Selected by Vicki Phung Smith, it was characterized by Leah Ollman as a show where “Fluidity and fixity serve as the primary poles between which all of these works dance and tease and strike their own marvelously precarious balances.”
In fact, ceramics shows are all over the galleries. Keep in mind that Shoshanna Wayne Gallery still represents the work of Kathy Butterly and Arlene Schechet. Over at Edward Cella, who is moving to a new location on South La Cienega soon, there is the work of Adam Silverman and Brad Miller. L. A. Louver has, for a long time, presented various artists working in clay. Their sculptor Richard Deacon makes major works in fired clay, and the younger Matt Wedel is prominently featured.
An upcoming show at AMOCA will present approximately 300 works from the permanent collection of the museum. Curated by Jo Lauria, it marks the 10th anniversary of the AMOCA, and presents the wide array of possibilities of the medium.
There are many more, and there will be dozens—if not hundreds—to follow! It’s a great time to see ceramics, from the finely crafted to the freely formed, in Los Angeles. Don’t mourn the loss of our program, just get out and see the art!