Sunday, December 14, 2008

Open Studios 08

I've been so busy with Open Studios (and with Jury Duty - interesting if not very creative) so I've neglected my blog - I apologize. I've been doing Open Studios in Berkeley California for the past couple of years, but this year I'm part of the Sawtooth community, a group of artists of all types and disciplines who work in an interesting old industrial building. Here's a look at a few of these very creative individuals in their 'natural habitats.' I've included a shot of my own space, part of a studio which I share with Barbi Jo, a jeweler who makes colorful, charming treasures, and is fun to hang out with when things get slow! Alison is a jeweler who does beautiful, elegant things with metal and stones. My favorites are the ones she does with beach glass set like precious stones. Cordelia is a visiting artist in a friend's studio. She's one of those amazing individuals who can take bits and scraps and turn them into eye-popping marvels, like her enchanting, sexy, irreverent Gizzy dolls (note 'Frida' shown here.) Susan Brooks and her husband Rick are the force behind the Berkeley Artisans Open Studios. Susan, who works in various media and techniques, including drawings and jewelry, was recently honored by the mayor of Berkeley for her contribution to the local art scene with the designation of 'Susan Brooks Day'. Curtis is a master craftsman in metals; he makes jewelry as well as extraordinary one of a kind furniture pieces that 'grow' out from existing furniture. Wherever you are, in Berkeley, CA and elsewhere, there are artists working, doing incredible things with paint, paper, fabric, wood, metal, clay, etc., etc., and especially with their imaginations. Visit any time you get a chance. Support artists with your interest and your respect; it takes courage and a lot of strength to be an artist. Buy something if you can - you can't go wrong if you love it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Night Lights - Wendy Goldberg

It isn't easy to do 'night art.' Rembrandt, perhaps, set the standard in the iconic masterpiece The Night Watch, when he evoked a dark complicated scene splashed here and there by torchlight. These days you don't find many artists who choose to set their work in the night hours. No doubt it's harder now than it was in Rembrandt's day, as we live in a time when artificial light is so pervasive that few of us know what dark really means. So consider the art of Wendy Goldberg, an artist from Fairfax in Marin County whose velvety medium is pastel on paper. Her landscapes, many as local as she is, come with a fresh, sometimes startling difference of vision, especially when she tackles the night. Shapes of trees or buildings form themselves out of shadows, dark against dark, speaking the truth of how our eyes work at night. Bright lights against the dark spark the same warm, bittersweet feeling as a lit window in a strange town. There is a rich evening color, a purple-blue just before the sky fades to black, that has always given me a sharp pang of pleasure, and there it is, one of her signature colors. The long rectangular work shown here is a new piece, done on a cold windy hill in San Rafael just before dawn. Like good poetry it suggests and cajoles rather than states a solid fact; as you watch the sky seems to shift from dark into the explosive colors of dawn. Watch for Wendy's work in local shows and open studios. Her website is

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Witnessing a Miracle

There are a number of great art shows right now in San Francisco, including Martin Puryear at SFMOMA, but it's hard to beat "Afghanistan; Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul" at the Asian Art Museum. Not only is the work on display breathtakingly beautiful and deeply fascinating as an intimate glimpse of the long ago and far away, but the show itself is a true miracle out of a battered world. The pieces on display are from four sites in Afghanistan and date for the most part from the early centuries of the common era, soon after Alexander made his mark there, when the Silk Road was at the height of vigorous trade among widespread nations, including China, Egypt, India, Rome, and the West. For countless centuries Afghanistan was a rich and important land (evidence of trade with Mesopotamia dates to about 4000 bce) - elaborately worked gold testifies to a wealthy, sophisticated culture whose Nomadic strains helped insure a splendid display of jewelry and burial goods. The heroes behind this exhibition are ordinary Afghans who risked their lives during the Soviet and Taliban years, keeping goods hidden where they could not be stolen or destroyed. In 2003, with the removal of the Taliban, priceless examples of a heritage that belongs to all humankind were discovered intact in a bank vault in Kabul. This amazing show is at the Asian Art Museum until January 25.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A local favorite

Richard Diebenkorn was one of those artists, all too rare, who simply was not capable of making a mistake. His paintings and drawings are full of smudges, paint-overs, and changes; his process of trial and error is always on full display but inevitably, the more he did the better it always got. Diebenkorn died in Berkeley in 1993. He was well known in California but less so with the rest of the country until a major retrospective in the late 90's raised his profile, including a very well-received showing at the Whitney Museum in New York. I saw a small show of his works this weekend at his alma mater Stanford University and, as always, was knocked out by everything I saw, even the tossed-off birthday card sketches he made for his son. The works on display belong to his lifelong friend Cary Stanton (they met as fellow Stanford freshmen), and reflect a lot of lovely, personal moments on Santa Cruz Island off the coast near Santa Barbara, a place which is or was largely owned by the Stanton family. Diebenkorn was as at home with abstraction as figuration, with black and white value as with rich color, and with watercolor, pencil, charcoal, ink, and oils.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nature wins the art prize again

San Francisco's Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, designed by Renzo Piano and built as about as green as is currently possible, (for example, the insulation is old denim and it has a living roof) merits all the rave reviews it's gotten since the opening on September 27, and then some! I was fortunate to be there last night with a smaller crowd than during normal hours, so had a wonderful chance to see everything from the tiniest frog to the albino alligator. We spiraled up the levels of the rain forest, dodged the butterflies, puzzled out shy lizards and reptiles in their habitats, walked under and among fish in the Amazon, peered at the living roof in the dark and the fog - and every minute I was marveling at the incredible art skills of Nature. Nature never, ever misses - not with color, or form, or proportion, or texture - and she has an inexhaustible sense of humor and whimsy. There are always surprises and so many ways to learn, just by paying attention. Among my favorites - tiny tree frogs with bright red bodies and deep blue toes, set like jewels in the folds of green leaves - a zippy little turtle who was having a wonderful time zooming around his tank - a soulful chameleon in the Madagascar exhibit who let us know that the human species was the one to be stared at.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Giorgio Morandi - For the Love of Ordinary

If you've seen drawings from my series "Things" you won't be surprised to know that I treasure the work of Giorgio Morandi, the subject of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (through December 14.) Morandi (1890-1964) was a very modest Italian artist who lived quietly in the Bologna apartment he shared with his sisters and almost never went anywhere. He painted bottles - that's it, bottles. Occasionally he added a pitcher or a jar, but mostly it was bottles. Not only that, his palette scarcely made it out of the neutral beige - brown-grey range; the work is the essence of subtle. His paint on the canvas is soft and juicy; it is his one concession to sensuality, but it is a good one and works beautifully. There is something about a Morandi painting that gets under your skin, something you can't explain in long words and high-sounding art talk. His work is the best argument I know for valuing the everyday, and for coming to the understanding that it isn't the subject that makes a great work of art, but the ability of the artist to connect to something deeply human. Don't try to make those bottles into anything they aren't - they're just bottles, but that's enough. Find more information about the Met Exhibit at

Friday, September 26, 2008


My big news is the announcement of my ArtSmartTalks, small-group salon type classes which begin the second week of October at my studio in Berkeley. My passionate love for and extensive knowledge of Art and Art History has been honed in teaching AP students for the past 12 years, and now I'm very excited about sharing that love and knowledge with adults, families, and anyone else interested in getting more out of the wonderful world of art. No homework, no papers, no required reading - just the pleasure of better understanding and enjoying art and art history. ArtSmartTalks will also be available as custom classes for travel, special occasions, and office events, and I'm planning to organize at least one travel opportunity each year. Visit my website for information and details.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Art and More Art

I'm down to my last two days for this long stay in Paris, so over the weekend I went exploring. Paris has exploded out of its summer cocoon and is in full glorious swing already, although it's only the start of what is going to be a really great Fall season, featuring a three part major exhibition on Picasso and a big show of Mantegna at the Louvre. Saturday called for a little formal wear - heels and a black jacket - to attempt to fit in with the crowd at the big Antiquities Bienniale. As expected it was quite elegant, as all things should be under the wonderful Art Nouveau ceiling of the Grand Palais (a remnant of the World Expo of 1900.) The jewelry section was very popular, but my interest was in the array of different periods and artists, and in the 'shopping mall' aspect of art viewing. Big fairs like this are always interesting, whether contemporary or traditional arts, because you're in a different relationship with what you're seeing than you are in a museum. "How much is that little Matisse drawing?" is a legitimate question, even if you have no realistic ambitions to actually own it. I spent a few lovely moments with one dealer and her extraordinary collection of works on paper, including a beautiful red chalk Tiepolo head, and an extraordinary sketch by Corot. The next moment I was in a stall of a dealer in antiquities, looking closely at a tiny, exquisite Egyptian face from 2500 bce. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday so I took advantage of free bikes and a more casual dress code, and rode all over the city finding outdoor events. I started at the "Marche de la Creation" near Montparnasse, a fairly predictable arts fair that's held every Sunday (these take place in several locations on a published schedule) showing the work of local artists. The quality was fair to excellent, as anywhere, but I found several really interesting artists, including two photographers, an etcher, and a painter whose work reminded me of Basquiat - very powerful and bright with a great spontaneous hand. I actually bought one of his small works for the grand sum of 30 euros. (He's the one in the sun hat - which is from the San Diego zoo!) Later I came across a small collection of potters along the Viaduc des Arts, with a table set up to teach children to build french castles out of clay!

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Art in an Old City

Some people think art in Paris begins and ends with the Mona Lisa and the Louvre. You don't, or you wouldn't be reading this, so here's a plug for contemporary art in Paris. There seems to be more and more of it, and some very interesting stuff. I was at a 'vernissage' Friday night at Dorothy's Gallery, a very nice space in the 11th arrondisement owned by an American with adventurous good taste in contemporary art. In this group show featuring a wide range of styles and subject matter, I was especially taken with the work of Valentine Fournier, who makes chatty little dioramas with playfully arranged photos and miscellaneous objects, and with the narrative photos of Maia Rogers, which hint at strange stories through oddly juxtaposed figures and objects, obliquely reminiscent of Cindy Sherman's work. A 'vernissage' by the way, is an opening, but the word means 'varnishing' and originates from the grand official salons of the 19th century. The vernissage was the day when artists raced in to put the final touches - the varnish - on their accepted paintings, just before the doors were opened to the public. An artist friend in Paris has the same complains as artists everywhere, including expensive, hard to find studios, difficulty finding places to show, etc., but France does offer support for its living artists in a number of ways. There are city-owned spaces that artists can apply for to show their work, and there are also public displays of work on a regular basis. Each summer the Luxembourg Gardens hosts a scattering of sculptural works grouped by a rather lofty theme, usually to do with spirituality or human potential. This year featured a gigantic Buddha-like head in bright gold, but there was also a wonderful ring of Giacometti-like figures in bronze, whose attenuated bodies topped with graceful, spooky heads spelled out the word 'Tolerance.'

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sneaking up on the Renaissance in Strasbourg

The cathedral at Strasbourg is very unusual. Although it is Gothic by every definition of the style, it is also an architectural radical. In Strasbourg Cathedral you can see the Gothic era on the very edge of tipping over into the Renaissance, when the human body and spirt stepped away from rigid religious conventions and became, well, human. I've used two particular images from Strasbourg in teaching for years, so it was very exciting to see them in person. There were surprises - first of all the cathedral is red - I think I must have known this, but it still came as a surprise. As with all medieval buildings it was built of local stone, and the stone available was what looks to be red sandstone (Strasbourg has many buildings of the same stone, called gres rose.) Being used to the golden/gray cathedrals in central France, including Notre Dame de Paris and Chartres, the effect is startling at first. The stone varies in color from a deep, almost blood-red to a light red gray, so it has a patchwork quality that is both distracting and wonderful. The stone also looks to be relatively soft - many of the most important sculptures on the facades are, in fact, copies because the originals suffered so from degradation of weather and pollution that they are now in a museum across the street. The most remarkable thing about the Strasbourg Cathedral is how it twitches with life, a sure sign that the human mind and spirit are on the move away from stiff conventions. The work on it began in 1277 and continued for about 200 years; it is a masterpiece of very late Gothic, called Flamboyant, bristling with the 'frozen lace' that is the signature of the style. The sculptures are the real revolution, however; Biblical scenes that are the staple of medieval architecture are here true theater, with the actors practically shifting and moving before your eyes. Saints and other full-length human figures live under their clothes, straining to step off the architecture and mingle with the watching crowd. The horsemen high up on the towers are another radical feature in that they are contemporary rather than religious, astride lifelike horses that you believe will step off the building if you blink. The last surprise of Strasbourg was that the gargoyles were not fantasy monsters as they are on Notre Dame and other central cathedrals, but comically drawn animals, gripping their mouths with a little paw to help ease the spout for the rainwater.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free painting lessons

Paris is a very generous city; free bikes, beauty everywhere you look, countless parks and green spaces, many with playgrounds, tennis courts, etc. This summer, Paris is also giving free painting lessons. Everything you need to know about color and composition can be found in the flowerbeds in the gardens. I've always been a huge fan of the gardeners for the Luxembourg Gardens; no matter the season, they manage to create the most extraordinary, inspiring mixtures of plant life. This summer, though, I've seen the same artistry in almost every park, including one behind the Gare de l'Est that I didn't even know existed. That one, the Parc Villemin, is certainly not listed in any upmarket guidebook, but it has the same kind of gorgeous spread for its less tony clientele. It's all here - a wild array of color complements, usually restrained in a bed to focus on a particular combination, sophisticated textural range, with, for example, fine spidery foliage carefully balanced by larger leaves or more expansive flower forms, and clear understanding of line in the heights of flowers, leaves, and grasses. Flowers or not, the lessons of composition and color are universal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've had my eye out for faces this summer, ever since I discovered them all over the beautiful buildings of Bordeaux. Paris is full of them. Many are from the 19th century, a time of human concern and discovery in science, medicine, literature, art, and architecture. They say something about the age in which they were created, when human beings increasingly took possession of the individual worth that had been denied them (excepting the rich and noble) for long centuries. Many of the faces are sited above entry doors and windows, like guardian spirits for their building and its inhabitants. The variety of expression on these lively faces is at times astonishing, and surely cost the builders more than slapping up rows of generic, molded images. It's nice to know that they valued individuality enough to pay for it. We're lucky in their choices.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You have never seen anything like the sculpture of Emily Young, who has been called the greatest living British sculptor and the successor to Barbara Hepworth - not unless you have seen the work itself. I visited her studio in London in mid-July, as she was madly preparing for an exhibition in Edinburgh to begin in two weeks. Emily's studio is in an extraordinary site - under a train overpass in a drab suburb (the overpass must help keep off the rain, as there are few conventional walls and no real roof) - and the walk to it was down a skinny disused track for a motley collection of warehouses. The impact of her work is hard to describe - I had seen her website and knew what to expect, but the atmosphere in the studio is so dusty and in process that the power of her vision emerged somewhat magically, as if the great stones and half-done pieces were rising out of an Avallonian mist to hook my soul. On her website the work hits you between the eyes and you can see at once her incredible vision - a review talked about her classical talent combining with the "bandit power of nature" - you will immediately know what that means when you see the work. She works in many types of stone, including Carrara marble, the same material used by Michelangelo, a beautiful golden English stone called Purbeck marble, and semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli. Note the great face (about 3' tall) with the disparate eyes - the gaping hole of one eye was, of course, the kind of flaw in the natural stone that inspires Emily. Her assistant Louis (also her nephew) told us that when they had cut it from the mountain in Italy, scorpions had poured out of the hole.