Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Bay Area Light Influence

Studio Model at Berkeley. 18x23. Acrylic on Paper by Ken Januski.

I've been rearranging my studio the last few days trying to make it more organized and give me a bit more space. Of course in doing so I've run across some old, and very old, sketches, sketchbooks and paintings.

I'm a bit reluctant to show much of this, mainly because I think items of historical interest are primarily interesting to the person involved and much, much less so to anyone else. But since I sometimes use this blog to explain, or try to explain, some of my artistic thoughts and motivations I occasionally find something from the past that helps in that effort.

Among this morning's findings were quotes from the great American artist, and one time artistic idol of mine, Stuart Davis about how his work avoided the singular focus of much European art in favor of a type of painting that had its interest all over the canvas. I copied out pages of his thoughts on art and I won't repeat them here. But it reminds me of how much my art has always had some sort of theoretical interest in it. As far as paintings with more than one foci I think that's still largely true of my work. I get very uneasy when there's just one thing to focus on. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it certainly is consistent.

When I was living in San Francisco and Berkeley and studying art as undergraduate and graduate at UC Berkeley many years ago I was primarily an abstract artist. And I stayed that way until the 1990s when I started fiddling with insect drawings and then until 2006 when I switched completely to wildlife art, primarily bird art.

But there were a few local giants in my San Francisco art universe at that time, Elmer Bischoff, in whose class the above painting was done, and former San Francisco resident Richard Diebenkorn. Their use of values, particularly in the interest of depicting light, were just irresistible. Though it's been many a year since I've lived in California with its extraordinary light I don't think I've ever lost my love of it, or at least my memory of what it was like. And their figure drawings were amazing, thoroughly of the 20th century and not some older academy.

One of the things I loved about this painting in the past and then again when I saw it for the first time in 5-10 years today is its sense of light. At the time I'm sure it looked like nothing more than a Bay Area Figurative adoring copy. It probably was. But some things deserve to be paid that type of respect.

In any case I only show this as an example of a quasi-realistic painting of mine that is more than 30 years old. I don't think I did any more in the next 30 years until I did a few small bird acrylics over the last couple of years.

To me it's interesting that I was doing this type of painting while also fully engaged with the brash abstraction of Stuart Davis. But I think that's how good art is formed, through the influence of many, often quite disparate influences. I do wish though I could look at wildlife art today and see more that is aware of people like Davis and Diebenkorn. One of the most striking finds in my reading of a recent book  on wildlife artist Bob Kuhn was that on his studio wall he had reproductions of the work of both Davis and Diebenkorn. Amazing and inspiring!

P.S. I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention another influence, at least in terms of color from Berkeley: David Simpson. David was a friend and teacher of that time, one who stuck to his guns with simple geometric lushly colorful paintings regardless of where the whims of artistic taste might go. His paintings always proved that a very strong painting could be made almost entirely of color.

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