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Posed at Midcentury: Master Drawings by Bay Area Figuratives

June 10 ­ September 3, 2006

 

On view from June 10 through September 3, 2006 at the Crocker Art Museum, the exhibition Posed at Midcentury: Master Drawings by Bay Area Figuratives explores the Bay Area's contribution to the modern art of drawing. These works show the gesture of Abstract Expressionist painting incorporated in the drawing of tangible forms, thus spawning one of California's most important art movements.

In 1950, the young painters David Park, Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn began to meet weekly to draw from a live model. At this time the practice of figure drawing was considered the domain of Old Masters -- regressive during a decade that celebrated pure abstraction. Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn's actions, brought painting back to recognizable subject matter. The outcome of their study resulted in paintings with identifiable subjects, created using the color and gesture associated with Abstract Expressionism. Through 15 works on paper, this exhibition provides an intimate look at the characteristic approach to the body that Bay Area Figuration defined.

The life-drawing sessions continued throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. Over the years, artists such as William Brown, Paul Wonner, James Weeks, and later Nathan Oliveira were invited to join the circle. For some, drawing allowed for the honing of subject matter explored more freely in paint, while for others, such as Wonner, drawings often provided the "blueprint" for their painted compositions. The primacy each placed on the study of the human figure is evident in this selection of drawings from the Sacramento collection of Robert Aichele.


Crocker Art Museum members magazine article written by Diana Daniels, Assistant Curator:

In 1950, the young painters David Park, Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn began to meet weekly. Although until that time each artist painted according to the tenets of Abstract Expressionism, creating work charged by emotion, now Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn came together to draw from the live model. In these sessions, they exercised the mind and hand by rapidly capturing the model's various poses. Such practice, then considered the domain of Old Masters and leftover artistic training of previous centuries, was considered regressive during a decade that celebrated pure abstraction. Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn's enjoyment of drawing from the model was anything but a denial of contemporary concerns, however. It instead fueled an invigoration of contemporary painting unique to the West Coast known as Bay Area Figuration.

The life-drawing sessions continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, artists such as William Brown, Paul Wonner, James Weeks, and later Nathan Oliveira, would be invited to join the circle. For some, drawing allowed for the honing of subject matter explored more freely in paint, while for others, such as Wonner, drawings often provided the "blueprint" for their painted compositions. The primacy each placed on the study of the human figure is evident in this selection of drawings from the Sacramento collection of Robert Aichele. Through 15 works on paper, this exhibition provides an intimate look at the characteristic approach to the body that Bay Area Figuration defined.

Lyrical line and expressive, broad strokes of wash describe form, while swift strokes delineating facial features serve to emote ambiguous inner states. Interior and exterior spaces are likewise vague; the presence of props serves only to add weight to volume, to make the figure a tangible thing in its environment. Each study, from that of Bischoff to Diebenkorn, pulses with energy derived from expressionist gesture. Yet, the emotional states so strongly conveyed linger in the imagination and, in the example of Nathan Oliveira, haunt us. It is perhaps this mastery of mark making-an evocation of intellect in combination with a palpable sense of mood-that is the Bay Area's distinctive contribution to the modern art of drawing.


(above: Elmer Bischoff, Woman Looking Through Window, circa 1960. Ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Collection of Robert Aichele.)

 

 

(above: Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, RD 170, not dated. Charcoal and ink on paper, 17 x 14 inches. Collection of Robert Aichele.)

 

 

(above: David Park, Nude in Chair, circa 1960. Ink on canvas, 17 x 14 inches. Collection of Robert Aichele.)

 

 

(above: Paul Wonner, Male Nude, 1962. Charcoal on paper, 15 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches. Collection of Robert Aichele.)

 

Editor's note: For more information on the Bay Area Figuratives readers may enjoy reading Chapter 1 "Making Arrangements" in pdf format from The Not-So-Still Life: A Century of California Painting and Sculpture by Susan Landauer, William H. Gerdts, and Patricia Trenton, offered by University of California Press

 

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