This summer, the George Adams Gallery will present “The Formative Years” a group exhibition featuring paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Arneson, Bischoff, Brown, DeForest, Saul, and Wiley. The exhibition offers a rich and often surprising selection of works from the shared early years of these artists’ careers.
As a prologue, the show begins with two important 1948 abstractions by Bischoff, signaling the peak of the abstract movement in CA, which owed its development in part to the profound impact of the pedagogy of Hofmann, Still, Rothko, among others. Though by 1952 Bischoff would begin painting figuratively and go on to influence the next generation of painters himself, these earlier paintings illustrate many of the techniques and preoccupations that characterize his later work. Bischoff’s influence can be seen in the heavy, painterly style of Brown, a Picasso-inflected 'Vase' by Arneson, expressionistic prints by De Forest from the early 1950s, and generally, a maximalist approach to composition. Other highlights include a self-portrait by Arneson from 1973; a string and fabric sculpture and ink drawing of models in the studio by Brown; a late-sixties figurative painting by Bischoff; two pastel portraits from the late-fifties by Saul; and two paintings, one with a construction, from 1964 by Wiley.
The exhibition will be on view through August 12, when the gallery will close for the remainder of the month. Summer hours in June are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 – 5, and Tuesday – Friday, 10 – 5 in July and August, Monday and Saturday by appointment only. For images and further information, please visit the gallery website at www.georgeadamsgallery.com.
The Formative Years, 1957 – 1977
The group of artists who emerged from the San Francisco area in the 50s and 60s were united by more than regional proximity. The interconnectedness between education and later teaching positions within the local university programs, besides personal relationships, kept open lines of dialogue throughout their respective careers. Though not all of the same generation, it can be said that the six artists represented here came to maturity in response to - or rather in opposition to - the prevailing New York-centric art of the period. As encapsulated by first 'Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting' at Oakland Museum in 1957 and later the 'Funk' exhibition mounted by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum in 1967, the art being made in California became progressively more unique and transgressive, establishing an identity, perhaps, of individualism that would continue to define the region. This is not seen more clearly than by comparing the works of artists such as Brown, Wiley, De Forest, Arneson, etc, who, despite working closely with each other throughout their careers, would nevertheless develop radically different visual styles.
A prime example is the origin of their respective art as an evolution from the shared influences of their student days. Coming out of the tail end of a legacy of abstraction at the region's art schools and in the midst of the ascendency of new figurative painting and changing approaches to sculpture via clay, etc, (eg, Voulkos) in the Bay Area, the work they made in that period of transition shows the freedom with which they approached art-making. Here we see the assertions of personal preferences and most vividly, the parallels in style and approach: a laissez-faire attitude towards medium, a propensity for using found materials, an equal interest in the common-place as source material and an injection of personal experience and narrative - which remained a common thread for most the group throughout their careers - are clear. By the mid-70s, when all six would reach a level of maturity that defined their later work, the persistence of those early styles and influences remains visible.