Chris Finch didn’t expect to become an expert jeweler when she first entered the Richmond Art Center. Finch, a local painter, just had a simple repair to make to a single bracelet, and so she signed up for a metal working jewelry class. Without knowing it, Finch was following the intended path for everyone who enters the RAC. Several jewelry and enameling classes later, Finch has joined the canon of hundreds of local artists who have passed through the RAC since its doors first opened 78 years ago. In the hopes of inspiring artistry among the everyday, the RAC has worked to give everyone — no matter their background or artistic ability — a chance at creative self-expression.
Back in 1936, before the Richmond Art Center had a building to call home, Hazel Salmi, the Center’s founder, lugged her briefcase of art supplies around the city. Salmi was often seen painting with kids on the side of the road, or giving impromptu drawing lessons around the city. For the first 15 years of the Center’s life, her arts initiative operated as such.
Dewitt Cheng from The Monthly stopped by our galleries to review our fall exhibitions. You can see the original review here and we’ve posted it below:
by Dewitt Cheng
With SFMOMA closed for construction and the Berkeley Art Museum about to close and move to new digs, what’s an art-lover to do for visual sustenance? The Richmond Art Center has been on a programming roll recently, notably with sculpture, and four shows that started on September 14 promise to keep up the momentum.
Three of the shows examine Bay Area Figuration, one of our region’s main claims to art-world fame. Closely Considered — Diebenkorn in Berkeley follows up on the recent major show by the California painter at the deYoung Museum, with smaller shows at the College of Marin and San Jose State University. This show, curated by Berkeley painter Jan Wurm, focuses on works on paper from Diebenkorn’s Berkeley years, 1953-1966, some never exhibited before, along with works by contemporary Bay Area Figurationists Elmer Bischoff, Joan Brown, Frank Lobdell, Nathan Oliveira, David Park, and James Weeks. Several related events are scheduled.
“Pinch and pull, pinch and pull” was the constant mantra of 12 kids molding their clay on a sunny afternoon. Each student was given a block of clay, water, molding tools and freedom to make their own clay birds.
At the Richmond City Library, Marie Kamali, a multimedia artist, teaches kids ages 6-9 years old how to make clay sculptures as part of an art in community program.
Art in Community provides career readiness to future artists by aiming to “bring the art-making experience to the community [and] encourage people to see art as a lifelong pursuit,” Community Programs Director Rebeca García-González said.
An outgrowth of the Richmond Art Center, the program provides after-school art training to schools and community centers within the city of Richmond. Art programs usually last 4-8 weeks per semester and admission is free for children and teens. Students are limited to 10-14 per class to make sure that the artist-teachers have time for everyone.
Starting with 5 programs in 2012, Richmond Art Center currently has grown to 16 art in community programs running today. Local program sites decide on the kind of art program they want. Funding comes from the City of Richmond, local businesses and Parent-Teacher Associations.
According to Rebeca, out of the 450 enrolled students, 80% are Latinos and 20% are African-Americans.
During class, each student pinched a part of clay and pulled it to form a wing, then repeated it to make a pair. Their clay birds cannot fly, of course, but it did not matter to these children. They had the choice to create, and so their imaginations soared.
“The risk of being creative, which we lose as we get older,” Marie said, “the kids just have it.” Marie said that it was faith that brought her to meeting Rebeca and the introduction to the art in community program. “Faith in the sense that I believed there was a place for my passion, working with and teaching children, art,” she said.
Marie used to create environmental installations before getting involved with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) program in Richmond, where she wrote a curriculum linking sciences and art. After years of living a “lucrative life” of art culture, Marie “realized doing something like this [teaching] held a deep sense of well being within.”
The STEAM program, tied to the Common Core, has been essential to the community program. It acknowledges art and design in learning different subjects. Art is the “glue to learning,” Richmond Art Center Executive Director Ric Ambrose said.
Each student carefully places their molded clay birds on plates and Marie collects them in a box ready for glazing. Students are also taught how to be responsible with their materials and the room. Several students cleaned-up after their class.
“Think of the Richmond Art Center as a person – one arm in exhibitions and one arm in education,” Rebeca said. That person is aiming that the little ones walk out of the room not only with “pinch and pull” thoughts, but also a further sense of freedom ready for their flight to creativity and learning.
Link online: https://richmondconfidential.org/2014/10/02/richmond-art-center-provides-a-blank-canvas-for-community-creativity-and-learning/
Painter Richard Diebenkorn, whose style has been described as a bridge between Henri Matisse and Abstract Expressionism, became a household name while living in Berkeley from 1955 to 1966, where he and a group of artists started a renaissance of figurative painting, which later became known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
Many of his paintings made it into private Bay Area art collections, where a majority of them remained, out of public view. Until now. Beginning Sunday and running through Nov. 16, the Richmond Art Center will display more than 40 of Diebenkorn’s intimate figurative drawings and prints from his Berkeley years, several of which have never been displayed in public.
“Closely Considered: Diebenkorn in Berkeley” will also include drawings by Diebenkorn’s Bay Area figurative contemporaries and friends, including David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Frank Lobdell, Nathan Oliveira, James Weeks and Joan Brown.
“The works on display come from a drawing circle they had together. They would meet in each others’ studios each week and be models for each other,” said guest curator and Berkeley painter Jan Wurm, who studied under Diebenkorn at UCLA. “It was a social interaction for them as well, because as artists they’d spend so much time alone painting, this was an opportunity to eat and drink together and talk about art and life.”
Born in Oregon, Diebenkorn moved to San Francisco at age 2, and began drawing at 5. He entered Stanford University in 1940, and studied classical oil painting technique under professor and muralist Victor Arnautoff, and Professor Daniel Mendelowitz, with whom he shared a passion for the work of Edward Hopper that influenced his own paintings.
“His printmaking was complex for the time,” Wurm said. “He’d use different media, overlapping etchings by scraping into the plates directly or altering them with acid baths, or he’d color his prints by hand or tear them into a collage, just to see what would happen.”
Wurm culled the show from former students, artists and friends she knew who had beloved Diebenkorn works in their private homes. The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation opened their database to her and let her scan their archives.
“I specifically chose pieces that had another life in people’s life,” Wurm said, “One person had a Diebenkorn in the dining room, or their bedroom, or right by their front door so they could consider it every time they were about to walk into the world. I noticed people really were devoted to their Diebenkorns, for the way his work shifted how they saw color and space.”
Also included in the show is a set of six etchings of a coat on a hanger that Diebenkorn created for a book of W.B. Yeats poetry published by Arion Press in San Francisco, which creates limited-edition artworks and classics using a 100-year-old printing press.
“He transforms a line from a Yeats poem about a coat on a hanger into a sense of loss, meditation and mortality,” Wurm said. “There’s a great deal of tenderness and emotion invested in these drawings, which I’m hoping people will find revelatory.”https://f30d58a49e35b97e381bb2f1567ef493.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The show includes a schedule of retrospective events and art classes in Diebenkorn’s honor, including a free Sept. 21 talk given by Diebenkorn’s daughter Gretchen Grant about watching her father at work and living in a home driven by art, and a documentary about Diebenkorn created by Kathan Brown, founder of Crown Point Press in San Francisco, which published Diebenkorn’s work.
Meredith May is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MeredithMaySFTop Picks In Shopping
Even before Ruth Braunstein opened her first art gallery in Tiburon in 1961, she was collecting pieces that made her happy and was drawn to works in clay.
A new exhibit of Braunstein’s private collection of ceramics that opens Saturday at the Richmond Art Center pays tribute to her advocacy of clay as a fine-art medium. Many of the pieces – by well-known artists including Peter Voulkos, Richard Shaw and Robert Arneson – have never been shown before.
“I love the exhibit on several different levels,” said Richmond Art Center curator and exhibitions director Anthony Torres. “It’s paying homage to Ruth’s life and work, but the collection is also a form of portraiture. It tells a great deal about who she is, and shows how she worked hard to democratize art.”
He added, “It’s diverse and beautiful, and there’s a whole myriad of objects.”
Braunstein, the founder of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association who closed her eponymous South of Market gallery in 2011, after 50 years, recently told Torres: “When I came to San Francisco and saw what people were doing with clay, I flipped out. This was before I knew there was a thing called craft and craftspeople. So when I opened my gallery in Tiburon, I showed clay.”
The exhibit at the Richmond Art Center includes a range of clay objects, from freestanding sculptures to utilitarian-style works, such as teapots, bottles and cups. There is a 3-foot-high vase by Voulkos and an assemblage of objects by Shaw. There are tiny sculptural forms that allude to modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (Braunstein was a professional dancer early in life), and a self-portrait by Arneson.
Braunstein, now 91, told Torres: “It has taken many years for people to accept clay as an art form. It has happened in Europe, Korea, Japan and places like that. It has been very hard for Americans to cotton to clay, for some reason or another, (but) Richard Shaw and Peter Voulkos have been recognized all over the world.”
Braunstein is expected to attend the opening-night reception on Saturday.
“Focus on Clay” is one of three new shows offered by the nonprofit Richmond Art Center, founded in 1936. The other exhibits include “Sculpture,” featuring mixed-media works by established and emerging sculptors, and “Slusky and Sullivan: Sculptures, Drawings, and Related Antics,” with works by noted University of California artists and professors Joseph Slusky and Chip Sullivan.
If you go:
Ruth Braunstein: Focus on Clay: Reception 5-7 p.m. Saturday. Through Aug. 22. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. (510) 620-6772. www.therac.org.
The Breakfast Group: Jive and Java at Richmond Art Center
March 22 to May 30, 2014 2540 Barrett Avenue Richmond, California, 510-620-6772
Jan Wurm, Nocturne: Camping, 2012. Triptych, oil on canvas, 48 x 108 inches. Courtesy of the Artist
We value connections to the past, and the Breakfast Group, a loose affiliation of Berkeley-based artists, sustains a conversation that extends back more than fifty years – a living connection to ancestral figures of the Bay Area movement. There’s a certain look to that art, exemplified most prominently by David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn, but its specific program is hard to define; perhaps that’s why the conversations have continued so long. This show brings together thirty-one artists currently affiliated with the group, and the works themselves, diverse as they are, engage in dialogue, suggesting that enough common ground persists to merit examination.
The Breakfast Group officially traces its origin to regular Friday lunches that painter Elmer Bischoff arranged with his Berkeley colleague Sid Gordin in the 1960s. These, however, merely extended the weekly drawing sessions and conversations that Bischoff held with Diebenkorn and others, before Diebenkorn left the area, when Fridays were a day off from teaching, and life centered around the campus and their nearby studios. When lunch took too much time out of the workday, meetings shifted to breakfast, at 7 am, and the group expanded to include William Theophilus Brown, Erle Loran, Hassel Smith and other artists teaching at Berkeley.
The group developed spontaneously, with no particular artistic agenda beyond a mutual interest in what people had to say. As it enlarged, eventually to include women, the group moved from one restaurant to another, as establishments closed or their proprietors grew impatient with people sitting so long over coffee.
Bischoff and Loran were cosmopolitan, commenting on art in New York and Europe, but also discussing teaching, new art materials or local politics. Boundaries were fluid – artists like Sid Gordin made both painting and sculpture; gestural forms coexisted with Cubist geometry, along with an undercurrent of Surrealist improvisation. Distinctions between abstraction and representation, while vigorously debated, were not enforced with the same theoretical rigor that Clement Greenberg established back East, and Bischoff’s own work moved from the figure into abstraction during the 1970s.
For Bischoff, breakfast discussions didn’t extend to studio visits; he encouraged debate but kept a more general focus. When group exhibitions inevitably took place – most notably at the Weigand Gallery in Belmont (1987) and at Holy Names College in Oakland (1991) – they offered a chance to celebrate the group’s diversity, and to examine the networks of artistic affiliations that emerged, like the submerged root system of a tree. So it is with the current show: more diverse than ever, the group can consider how it’s grown and how its present configuration reflects the passage of time. Members seem mildly surprised at how big it’s become and how long it’s been going, fueled simply by interest in one another’s conversation; aware of the history of artists’ groups in Paris cafes and New York automats, they wonder if something significant may have transpired.
Shows have also become reminders of artists no longer with the group – the 1990s were marked by Bischoff’s death in 1991 and Loran’s in 1999, and Jerry Carlin, the member with longest standing in the current group, passed away shortly before this exhibition was installed. Appropriately enough, his two works from the 1980s featured here are transcriptions in oils of old family photographs, which he endows with touches of color and personal inflections that bring their subjects back to life. They exemplify the mixing of media and interest in painterly depiction that inspired both the Bay Area Figurative Movement and other Bay Area artists such as Jess.
For many members, affiliation with the Breakfast Group involves allegiance to the Bay Area tradition that mixes figuration and abstraction. Terry St. John, now perhaps the senior member of the group, continues to create densely worked landscapes and figures, extending the legacy of Bischoff and Diebenkorn. His somber landscapes here suggest the depth of experience that informs his immediate response to a site. Lin Fischer goes further in her response to underlying impulses in her landscape-based abstractions, while Donna Fenstermaker creates more succinct plein-air studies that focus on shadows and reflections.
Interchanges with Europe and New York are integral to Bay Area art, dating back to Erle Loran’s inviting Hans Hofmann to teach at Berkeley in the 1930s. The German artist subsequently settled in New York, where his fusion of color with Cubism informed the rise of Abstract Expressionism. His visits to Berkeley, followed by a donation of money and paintings in the 1960s, enhanced ongoing interactions with New York. Here, Tom Schultz’s restlessly shifting rectangles evoke Hofmann’s grid-like compositions, while Arthur Monroe, another New York transplant, brings the gestural energy of Kline and de Kooning to his overall abstractions. A similar tension animates the drawing of Katie Hawkinson’s tightly compressed ellipses.
Abstract Expressionist impulses also emerge in sculpture, in the bronzes and stacked stones of Patricia Bengston-Jones. Her hand-worked slabs with their markings and suggestions of archaic structures hark back to an era before Minimalism and the “death of the object” upstaged such traditional forms. Joe Slusky’s animated armatures of painted steel and the assemblages of Stan Huncilman also exude a playful, improvisatory energy. Kati Casida abstracts gestural forces into origami-like shapes of aluminum, and that expressionist energy carries over into Marvin Lipovsky’s free-flowing sculptures in seductively colored glass.
Dialogues with New York can be complicated; Sandy Walker’s hybrids of figure and landscape, spare and edgy, speak directly to Bay Area art but originate in his exposure to Hans Hofmann’s legacy at the Studio School in New York. And Foad Satterfield owes the inspiration for his dense, overall landscapes, which amplify the scale and ambition of his Bay Area predecessors’, to his study in Louisiana with New York painter Paul Georges; Georges rejected Abstract Expressionism in favor of work from nature, but instilled in students the energy and ambition of the New York School.
Some women in the group have developed more individualized approaches. Nancy Genn and Edythe Bresnahan, who absorbed Berkeley’s varied influences as students, take them in more contemplative directions, composing with architectural structures on richly layered material surfaces. They share a concern for planar luminosity with Carol Ladewig’s color calendars, whose gridded panels chart the phases of the moon, and with Carl Worth’s hard-edge abstractions.
New technology has filtered into some works, but they remain grounded in individual sensibility. Jeanette Bokhour’s digital prints transform and enhance photos of Marvin Lipovsky’s colored glass sculptures, while those of P.G. Meier dissect and reconfigure everyday objects like pens or forks. Kim Thoman goes a step further by digitally “applying” her abstract paintings onto virtual vessels; she presents them here as large prints, although she is prepared to build them with a 3d printer. In more traditional engagements with high-resolution images, John Friedman photographs Nevada’s arid wastes in the manner of New Topographics, while British artist Anthony Holdsworth paints landscapes on site with a detailed realism reminiscent of his countryman, Rackstraw Downes.
Other works take a post-modern stance, but with personal inflections. Byron Spicer links older Bay Area art to the contemporary media era with his appropriated photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger, rendered in dense mosaics of one-inch square paintings. Genn Toffey’s portraits of historic women overlaid with transparent candy wrappers share in the subtle luminosity of Loren Rehbock’s delicate watercolor renderings of models on patterned backgrounds, which reflect his experience in poster design. The cut metal sculptures of Bruce Chaban recall Frank Stella’s compositions, albeit on a more intimate and playful scale, while Guillermo Pulido’s mixed-media constructions with chairs combine playful formal composition with graphic images of political conflict, reminding us of this important component of Berkeley’s culture.
Organization of this show was spearheaded by Jan Wurm, whose paintings blend Bay Area figuration with simplified renderings of men and women against flat backgrounds, which highlight social interactions, with details of clothing and mannerisms that lend them an ethnographic dimension. Difficult to categorize, they exemplify the combination of high sophistication and improvisatory play that characterizes the Bay Area scene, as do Robert Simons’ hand-painted prints, evocative of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, or Barbara Hazard’s idiosyncratic self-portraits from a mirror cube, which feature animals and multiple self-images in a contemporary version of folk art.
Such is a snapshot of the Breakfast Group today – or Groups, since it is currently split in a dispute between members who prefer Cafe Leila and those faithful to the Vault, a longstanding hang-out, where they maintain an earlier meeting time. The value of conversation and shared information still sustains the expanded group, even as other forces conspire against it. Cuts in education and higher rents have fostered dispersion (Terry St. John offered me comments via Skype from Thailand, where he now maintains a studio for much of the year); artists now commute to teach all over the Bay Area, and few can afford studios close to Berkeley. This has made it more difficult to recruit younger members. A sense of changing demographics and new trends in art lends this event a particularly retrospective and reflective character.
Given the richness of the show, there’s a sense that the gallery system should offer more opportunities for these artists to exhibit; there too, however, rising rents and the invasion of high-tech corporations have created an unfavorable climate. At least for now, weekly breakfasts continue, enacting a cultural form that can be transported and recreated in new locations. Celebration of the Breakfast Group at the Richmond Art Center continues through May, featuring weekly spotlights on selected members accompanied by potluck breakfasts, artist’s talks and workshops.
Top image: Terry St. John, China Camp, 2002. Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the Artist/ Dolby Chadwick Gallery
Victor Cartagena likens the act of remembering to that of crossing a bridge. In his artist’s talk at the Richmond Art Center, he described how he was forced to leave his home country of El Salvador in 1985 due to civil war, and sought refuge in California. Since being displaced, he has relied on this imagined bridge as recourse to a sense of identity and belonging. But it has been decades since he left his home, and much of what he wishes to return to no longer exists. Such tensions around identity and politics are the subject of the Bay Area artist’s installation Sites/Sights of Intervention, which is now on view at the Richmond Art Center.
The installation consists of various pieces that are meant to be experienced as a visual and spatial dialogue within which the viewer is centered. The gallery is dimly lit, and entering it is like wandering into Cartagena’s memory — a negative space of placelessness. “I heard the other day that memory is such a place that those who have memory leave the present …. and that makes me feel that I am not alone because being part of this group of immigrants, who live all over the world, we don’t belong anywhere,” said Cartagena. “We have our own territory, our own country — the immigrant country.”
One of the most affecting pieces in the show is the series “Tattoos of Memory,” for which Cartagena superimposed faces onto diagrams from American-made manuals describing how to torture El Salvadorian prisoners. Although he was never tortured, Cartagena speaks of this historical episode as a tattoo upon his cultural memory. In his artist’s talk, he related these tattoos of memory to the actual tattoos on El Salvadorians who were born to refugee parents in the US and then deported back to El Salvador after the war. These people often became homeless and, as a result, got involved in violent gangs, whose members covered their bodies in tattoos. “We all have las maras [gang tattoos], because we’re immigrants,” said Cartagena. “I have my own tattoos on me and I call them tattoos of memory, and they’re all over my face, and I can’t erase those tattoos.”
Cartagena’s immersive and almost surrealist installation also incorporates passport photos from the Eighties that he collected from the photographer who took his own passport photo when he emigrated from El Salvador. Although he doesn’t know for sure whether the subjects emigrated, he knows at least that they hoped to.
While many of the symbols Cartagena works with are pulled from personal experience, they speak to broader issues of violence, alienation, and ignorance. In this way the artist opens up both collective and personal wounds with the understanding that the first step in healing is acknowledgement.
Sites/Sights of Intervention runs through May 30 at Richmond Art Center (2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond). 510-620-6772 or TheRAC.org
The more topical political art gets, the sooner it starts to look dated. Victor Cartagena has averted this risk by not tying his “Sites/Sights of Intervention” at the Richmond Art Center too closely to events in his native El Salvador.
Works in his complex ensemble evoke the tragedy of Latin American elites’ corruption, civil war and American anticommunist imperialism, but not too specifically.
In this context, an ostensibly simple object such as “Ante-Ojos/Anti-Eyes” (2014) – a framed pair of crushed glasses – summons thoughts of violent reprisal, the punishment of conscientious witness and the blindness of media complicity.
The work even suggests itself as a distant, underprivileged relation of Jasper Johns‘ satirical relief sculpture of lensless glasses, “The Critic Sees” (1961), in which mouths stand in for eyes, and as symbolic windows to a disfigured soul.
Cartagena’s “La Silla y Identidad Rota/The Chair and Broken Identity” (2014) consists of an overturned, busted-up wooden chair spotlighted on the floor, surrounded with tiny torn photographs of nameless people.
An American flag binds what remains of the chair seat and its unbroken leg, suggestive of both a bandanna and a tourniquet. Cartagena’s background and the work’s bilingual title link it to the use of torture in Central American conflicts and imperialist interventions. The moral nosedive in American interrogation practice and foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001, gives Cartagena’s piece even wider relevance.
Similarly, revelations about targeted assassinations and “extraordinary rendition” in the so-called war on terror have expanded the reference of Cartagena’s “Materia Prima” and “Transparencias/Transparencies” (2004/2012).
The former consists of a light table crowded with jars of tinted fluid, each holding a small photo portrait. A projection of larger, fainter human images washes over the wall-mounted light box. The box’s form recalls – perhaps derisively – elements of Donald Judd‘s studiedly nonreferential “stack” wall sculptures.
Cartagena’s “Transparencias” and his other uses of anonymous portrait photos may borrow from French artist Christian Boltanski, who has long used such images to evoke the nameless, unnumbered casualties of war and the Holocaust.
Cartagena’s “Sights/Sites” surprises by its emotionally stirring quality. It taps into our sense of guilty fecklessness as citizens of an empire that has reacted with vicious interventions for decades out of panic at losing its grip on world power.
Victor Cartagena: Sites/Sights of Intervention: Mixed media installation works. Through May 30. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave. (510) 620-6772. www.therac.org.
This Saturday’s Upcycle event is featured in the SF Chronicle’s 96 Hours section. We sure hope to see you for an afternoon of making, upcycling and music!
Landfills will be a little emptier this weekend, thanks to a fun, kid-friendly program at the Richmond Art Center.
The program, the second annual Upcycle, is a maker festival where families can create, see and learn about the art of “upcycling,” creatively reusing materials otherwise headed for the garbage.
Over the course of the day, visitors will be able to sew bags and quilts from old pieces of clothing, weave small rugs from old T-shirts, use broken plates and tiles to create a colorful mosaic trash can, turn use bicycle inner tubes into jewelry, and experience the magic of fire and metal to fold-form 3-D objects. In many cases, participating families will be able to engage in these activities with the help of local artists, too, taking direction from creative minds who work with upcycled materials every day.
Why Not Just Photograph it? That’s the question that Jeffrey Carlson, Contributing Editor at Fine Art Connoisseur asked John Wehrle the curator for our exhibition The Language of Realism and a California artist best known for his site-specific public artworks. This exhibition features four West Coast realist painters — Michael Beck, Christine Hanlon, Anthony Holdsworth and John Rampley.
I have often been asked the question, ‘Why not just photograph it?’ I have never had a simple answer, either for myself or for others. So, one of the goals of this exhibition was to provide examples of realist painting that, if not providing a definitive solution, at least presented a variety of reasons.” – John Wehrle.