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Richmond Confidential: Art Center provides a blank canvas for community creativity and learning

Loi Almeron on October 2, 2014

“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:

Annual Holiday Arts Festival Takes Sabbatical for 2014

The Richmond Art Center has announced that its annual Holiday Arts Festival is taking a sabbatical for 2014.

“Organizing this annual community event is a labor of love and one that we all look forward to each year, but as a nonprofit and the largest visual arts center in the East Bay, we are often managing multiple priorities with limited resources. We determined that taking a sabbatical from the Festival this year would ensure that we are able to maintain the high quality of our on-the-ground programs,” says Richard Ambrose, executive director for the Richmond Art Center. The Festival will return in December 2015.

The Richmond Art Center has been celebrating many milestones this fall.

The Center’s Art in the Community programs, which bring free art-making classes to Richmond children, have experienced unprecedented growth and demand and have doubled in number in just one year. Over the Sept. 13-14 weekend, the Art Center hosted hundreds of people at the opening reception for new exhibitions, including a showcase of works by world-renowned artist Richard Diebenkorn and numerous artists from the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

These exhibitions, which underscore the Art Center’s historic role in supporting emerging and established artists, are complemented with a series of free programs and an expansion of the Center’s gallery hours to include Sundays.

Fall Programs Include Works by Richard Diebenkorn & Improvements

Our fall programs, which includes an exhibition of works by world-renowned artist Richard Diebenkorn, will kick off with a gallery reception for the public on Sat., Sept. 13, 2014, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

“Our exhibition lineup this season is exceptionally strong, and underscores the Art Center’s historic role in supporting emerging and established artists,” says Richard Ambrose, executive director for the Richmond Art Center. The Art Center has also launched a series of improvements that highlight its historic legacy as the largest art center in the East Bay.

“As we look to the future, we’re elevating the quality of all we do — from the level of exhibitions the Center presents to our accessibility to diverse communities,” says Ambrose. “We’re thrilled to bring back the work of Richard Diebenkorn, one of the most influential painters of the last 50 years. He exhibited his work at the Art Center in the 1950s and held his first major exhibition of drawings here in 1968.”

The main exhibition, Closely Considered – Diebenkorn in Berkeley, will showcase works by artists from the Bay Area Figurative Movement, which includes artist Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Nathan Oliveira, James Weeks and Joan Brown.

The Art Center’s galleries will also feature works by other Bay Area artists, including prints by Frank Lobdell, large-scale paintings by Tom Holland and the printmaking practices and collections of Juan Fuentes, Art Hazelwood, Jos Sances and Jim Nikas.

Reinforcing Richmond Art Center’s Historic Legacy
The Art Center is making numerous improvements as it looks forward to its 80-year anniversary, which will be celebrated in 2016.

Enjoy the Art Center’s New Website!

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of the new website — just in time for our Fall session which includes the return of Richard Diebenkorn with an exhibition of his works on paper and a series of public programs which will provide a background on the historic role that the Art Center played in the rise of the Bay Area Figurative movement.

Our new site has been completely redesigned in an effort to make it easier for you to learn about our exhibitions and free events and more easily search our classes and programs.

Here are a few features that we think you’ll enjoy:

Take a look around and let us know what you think.

Art Center Wins “Best Community Art Center”

We are honored to have won Best Community Arts Center in the East Bay Express’ Best of the East Bay 2014. And we are amongst great company — congrats to our friends at Point Richmond Music Festival for winning Best Outdoor Music Series.

We’re thrilled that our exhibitions, on-site programs and traveling programs are being recognized with such a great award. As more people learn about and experience our work, we count ourselves lucky to have such passionate and creative instructors, dedicated volunteers and such engaged students and generous donors. Not to mention the talented artists whose work we have had the opportunity to showcase in our galleries. It takes a community of people to make the Richmond Art Center such a creative hub. THANK YOU community!

Art Critical: Exhibition at Richmond Art Center Toasts Bay Area Institution

The Breakfast Group: Exhibition at Richmond Art Center Toasts Bay Area Institution

by Hearne Pardee

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

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