Small Treasures at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery, San Francisco
February 3 – 27, 2010
John McCormick, Bolinas Lagoon, 2007
The exhibition of “small treasures” at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery gathers together some thirty-five works in smaller format by ten gallery artists. All of the artists in this show are well-known in the Bay Area and include Jennifer Bain, Jan Gauthier, John Goodman, Wade Hoefer, Frances McCormack, John McCormick, Timothy McDowell, Tom Monaghan, Jeanne Mullen, Kenjilo Nanao, Bob Nugent, and Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Hoefer, McCormack, Nanao and Rivera have only one piece on view, but these are noteworthy, particularly McCormack’s Stems III (2010) and Rivera’s Heartbreak (2009), a small bold abstract painting of simple red, blue, yellow and black shapes balanced against one another on a red background framed in black. The shapes themselves are reminiscent of the heart and its chambers, but more evocative than these is the energetic conversation that takes place between these balanced figures, a rhythm of pure color and abstract shapes. This looks like a throwback to Abstract Expressionism, but the freshness of the images and the direct application of the paint are refreshing and particularly appealing on a smaller scale.
My favorite pieces in this exhibition, however, are two small and intimate landscapes by John McCormick, Bolinas Lagoon (2007) and Near Stinson Beach (2007), and four pastel drawings of the same high-walled, rural building in different light and bright colors by Jeanne Mullen, from her series Montalpruno (2004). For those of us who are local Bay Area residents, who know well and love the intricacies and small beauties of the landscape along the coast near Stinson Beach and the Bolinas Lagoon, McCormick’s paintings are in fact a delightful return and visit to these locales that make such a lasting impression on our memories and sensibilities. He succeeds unequivocally in capturing the “essence of place” in each of these engaging atmospheric paintings, with sepia light aglow on the waters and in the sky, the familiar trees in stately importance, the grasses and waters lighted by the high blue sky showing in the distance. These are, of course, squarely in the tradition of American, and in particular, California landscape painting, with intimate and familiar views of local landscapes, not necessarily famous and monumental, but regional and domestic, like Albert Bierstadt’s California Spring (1875) and his elegant and serene views of Yosemite, which do not glorify and idealize these natural beauties, but keep them accessible on an intimate human scale. McCormick’s technique and palette are also similar to some of Constable’s more atmospheric works, like his famous A Hayfield Near East Bergholt at Sunset (1812). Mullen’s brightly colored pastel drawings of neat, clean-lined rural farm buildings—barns, sheds, and silos—are alsovariations on a theme, but the changes in color and the different effects created by brilliant color combinations on the unusual architectural shapes actually produce an endless variety of interest in the patterns and pleasures of seeing. The four pastel drawings of the same rural structure from her Montalpruno series are beautifully rendered color experimentations, whereby the same building in each drawing experiences a mood change and altered state by the different colors applied to the planes, surfaces and lines of the structure. The possibilities are nearly endless, but Mullen does not wear out her theme or viewer interest by overstatement. She aptly controls the process by the simplicity of her objects and balance of pure color shapes. In this regard, another work in this show deserves attention: Jan Gauthier’s beautifully composed portrait of another rural barn, Barn 1 (2010), a gelatin print with oil based pigment that is a rich chocolate color.