Turning Points




I recently had the opportunity to visit “Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California” an exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California. It was an informative collection of art from names I’ve known over the years, presented in a manner that emphasized how their interrelationships created defining moments. Of particular interest to me was the influence the California School of Fine Art played in shaping the aesthetic values of  local post-war painting and photography. Values very much in the forefront during the nineteen sixties and seventies, my artistic formative years. The two most significant ideas that came out of this period involved the reinterpretation of reality and how that translated to the creative medium.

In photography, it was about how the camera could be an instrument for expression, not just a machine for recording our surroundings, objects and people.

And in painting, it was about moving away from the ease and symbol of the subjective, embracing the challenges of a less than ideal material reality, and transforming that challenge into an affirming human message.


In college, studying photography and painting, all the talk in photo courses was Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Minor White was presented but not emphasized.



Taylor-Street-&-Huntington-Hotel,-S.F. – Minor White -1949


Upon seeing “Taylor Street & Huntington Hotel, S.F.” my vision was opened. The blurred figure was both striking and mysterious. The combination of forms simple, but varied, almost symphonic. Here was a photographer as interested in what shapes made up the subject, as the subject itself. Who was this? I turned to the tag on the wall. Minor White! Wow!

Since that moment Minor White has become a subject of study and I have produced a few pieces in homage.


Now about painting. Most of the work coming out of the California School of Fine Art in the immediate post war era was under the influence of abstract expressionism. Painters like Clifford Still, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack, held sway. But around 1950 something shifted. And David Park figured heavily into it.




So, what DID happen to David?


David Park went from painting like this…



Still Life Non Objective – David Park – 1949



… to painting like this.



Portrait of Richard Diebenkorn – David Park – 1953



And over the next decade others followed his lead.



Untitled – Richard Diebenkorn – 1949

Richard Diebenkorn went from painting like this…



Figure On A Porch – Richard Diebenkorn – 1959

… to painting like this.


Elmer Bischoff went from painting like this…



Portrait In Red – Elmer Bischoff – 1948



… to painting like this.



Figure In Landscape – Elmer Bischoff – 1957



The Bay Area Figure Movement was born.

A few decades later, I was struggling to find my way in the studio when my painting professor intentionally placed a book of Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park Series” on the chair next to my palette table.

Things were never the same after that.

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