Waxing Enthusiastic (and vice versa) in San Francisco and Sonoma

Over the past couple of years I’ve been traveling around the country to give workshops and consultations. Mostly I talk about career issues for artists and do individual consultations, but sometimes I hold Master Classes related to encaustic. I just got back from San Francisco and Sonoma where I offered some of each.

Back in April I was invited by Hylla Evans—painter, paintmaker (Evans Encaustics) and entrepreneur extraordinaire—to fly out to Sonoma to do a Master Class. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said she would line up the participants and handle all the details. She did, and I went. Here’s a recap of the trip. . . . . . Cakes of paint at Evans Encaustics

Wednesday, November 8
I flew into Oakland and caught a commuter bus to San Francisco where I’d stay for the next couple of days. Flying West is a workaholic’s dream because you get to cram extra hours into a day—in this instance, a second afternoon. So my first order of business after checking into the Cartwright Hotel was to hit the galleries on Sutter, Post and Geary, more of which shortly.

In the evening, tired but still kicking, I met my longtime and dear friend Frank Wild for dinner. Frank is a DJ, art collector and world traveler. We were neighbors on 21st Street in Manhattan,
D.J. and friend, Frank Wild

and I love going to his Mission Street high-rise to see him. I also get to see his fabulous collection and a south-facing, almost aerial view of the city. In the living room are a luminous painting by Prudencio Irazabal, deep color achieved through layers and layers of translucent resin; gridded drawings by Sol Lewitt; and a relief sculpture in yellow beeswax by Jack Pospisil, whose surface is covered with hundreds of circle-and-cross impressions (made by casting or pressing philips-head screws), and much, much more, including a marvelous collection of black and white photographs of the male figure in action. Did I mention that Frank has my work in his collection? And not just in SF, but in his Miami apartment, where I’ll be hanging with Lewitt.

Detail of a beeswax sculpture by Jack Pospisil showing his signature texture
Thursday, November 9
Continuing with the all-art-all-the-time theme, I started the day at 9:00 am sharp at the Andrea Schwartz Gallery where I viewed Howard Hersh’s solo show. Howard met me there. Who needs the exhibition list when you’ve got the artist himself to give you the painting-by-painting tour?

At Andrea Schwartz: Howard Hersh, Double Take (2), encaustic on panel, 42 by 68 inches, 2006
Howard is a visual alchemist who combines geometric abstraction with a cursive gesture—he calls it a "tendril"—plying transparent, translucent and opaque elements into lyrical, deeply spatial compositions of poetry and order. His paintings are often comprised of multiple panels misaligned in a way that makes you think about their planar placement at the same time that you are acutely aware of the space within them. Howard works primarily in encaustic, the medium that brought me out West and will serve as the unifying element of this blog entry.

Howard Hersh in the studio

From the gallery we drove to his studio, Howard at the wheel of his little sports car. Like many artists at midcareer, Howard owns his loft. If there’s one thing artists can to make their tenuous place in the world a little more secure, it’s to own the spaces they live and/or work in. Howard's work-only loft was filled with big paintings, some in progress, others being readied to be shipped out. Howard’s working method includes a lot of pouring, and poured wax can be messy. There’s something of a topographical environment near his worktable—mounds and hillocks of wax that have accrued from successive pours. Ah, the things you see in the studio.

I met Cynde Adler for lunch. Cynde and her husband Jim are the principals of Adler and Co, the Post Street gallery that represents me in San Francisco. If you visit the gallery you’ll see my work on the walls. The Adlers’ vision is eclectic—modern (such as Hilla Rebay, painter and a founder of the Guggenheim) and contemporary (my buddy Jeff Schaller, whose pop-inflected images show his remarkable skill in encaustic).

At Adler and Co: Jeff Schaller, B, encaustic on panel, 12 by 12 inches, 2005, above; and Play, encaustic on panel, 24 by 24 inches, 2006
Later that day I met my blog buddy Chris Ashley at SF Moma where we spent the afternoon at the Anselm Kiefer exhibition, "Heaven and Earth." This is a beautiful show—intimate ideas (we are tethered to the earth and yet our spirits soar) on a monumental scale. Most of the paintings and sculptures are worked in common, even ugly, materials like mud, straw, seeds and lead, but there is a sublime sense of poetry in each work.

At SFMoma: Anselm Keifer, Buch mit Flügeln (Book with Wings), 1992-94; lead, steel and tin

At the museum Chris introduced me to several of his artist friends and later sent me links to their sites. Nancy White works in geometric abstraction. She summed up her focus in one word: "triangles," though her exploration of the shapes and the space they define (or are contained within) is subtle and richly varied. John Zurier paints monochromatically, reductively. He's represented by Paule Anglim, and in Philadelphia by Larry Becker. I'll be in Philly in a few weeks and will stop in to see more.
Nancy White: #19, gouache on pigmented paper, 10 by 12.875 inches, 2006. You can see more at www.nancywhite.net

After the museum, Chris said, "Let’s go to the Gay Outlaw opening at Paule Anglim." I went expecting to see work by a queer collective. But no. Sometimes you just have to leave your New York point of view in New York. Gay Outlaw is a sculptor, and a good one. The upper-case Gay is a woman; I have no idea about the lower case. Outlaw creates reductive sculptures with repetitive elements and a material bent—wood, plastic, felt, knitted fabric.
At Gallery Paule Anglim: Gay Outlaw, Three-Legged Intersection, 2006, plywood, milk paint, 48 by 64 by 64 inches

Chris and I have been blogging together since July. We should have marked our visit with a photograph so that I could have included it here—it’s only the second time we’ve met in person—but we didn’t. But I can show you a picture of his recent work. Next trip I'll take pictures of us, and I hope to visit his Oakland studio as well. In the meantime, you can read our blog at www.twoartiststalking.blogspot.com . You can also read's Chris's own weblog on his website, www.chrisashley.net

Chris Ashley: Three paintings titled Bojagi, oil on canvas, 2006. From left: 18 x 24", 20 x 16", 16 x 14"

Friday, November 10
Today was "Gallery Day." Painters Daniella Woolf, Eileen Goldenberg, Hylla Evans, Lissa Rankin (Californians all: Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sonoma and San Diego, respectively) and I visited galleries around town.
Our first stop was at Himmelberger Gallery on Sutter, where David Himmelberger graciously ushered us into the back to show us the range and depth of his vision. It’s primarily contemporary European with forays into contemporary Californian, with a sensitivity to sculptural forms and tactile surfaces. Typically there's a reference to the figure, whether realistically or abstractly rendered.

David Himmelberger in his Sutter Street gallery

What was on display in that back room was not just the wide-ranging work (painting, sculpture, drawing and prints) of a midcareer Romanian artist named Drobitko, but the passion David brings to his job as gallerist. Any artist who’s ever complained about the gallery commission needs to see a good dealer at work representing his artists. It’s a partnership, and something of an art in itself.

We stopped into the Jenkins Johnson Gallery across the street where Sonya Sklaroff’s New York street scenes were on view. Sonya is a friend, a paint-everyday artist who supports herself from the sale of her work. Her rooftop views of Chelsea, looking west to the Hudson in late afternoon, are luminous and her street scenes are often reduced to their most graphic elements. I promise: you’ll never look at a water tower or a fire escape in the same way again.

At Jenkins Johnson: Sonya Sklaroff, Shoes Over Broadway, 30 by 20 inches, left; and Ninth Floor Panorama, 16 by 48 inches, both oil on panel, 2006

Continuing on Sutter, we stopped into Caldwell Snyder, a big gallery given to bold color and big visual statements. T.R. Coletta was on the walls. Roger Azevedo was the personable, well-dressed man behind the desk. With humor and an insider's point of view, Roger helped demystify the process by which dealers find artists, and by which artists might find dealers. ....

The entry to Caldwell Snyder Gallery on Sutter Street

We broke for lunch at Bangkok Best, a great little Thai restaurant at the corner of Bush and Kearny. (Good food, great prices.) Jackie Battenfield, New York painter, arts adviser and good friend in town on business of her own, joined us for lunch.

Then we headed off to 49 Geary Street, a SoHo-like building that’s home to a number of good galleries.
49 Geary Street, home to galleries such as Elins Eagles-Smith, Brian Gross, Haines, Gregory Lind, Don Soker and Patricia Sweetow

First stop there was Elins Eagles-Smith where we asked to see the work of Tim McDowell. Tim’s botanical images, rendered primarily in encaustic, are a glorious combination of lush and spare, abstract and representational, landscape and still life, and--to me--magic and reality. Here's how Tim describes them: "The metaphysical and the phenomenal in defining a sense of place that hopefully connects to the viewer's memory of place. "

At Elins-Eagles Smith: Timothy McDowell's Hearth, beeswax and pigment on panel, 48 by 40 inches, 2006

We also stopped in at Brian Gross, Gregory Lind, Toomey Tourell and Patricia Sweetow. At Don Soker, we looked at the work of Eleanor Wood, who creates spare and formal drawings of thread and wax. Don brought us into the back room so that we could see more work. He’s committed to artists who employ substantive materials: wax, graphite, concrete, glass, resin. The work is spare, usually, but counterpointed by a rich material presence.

At Don Soker: Eleanor Wood's spare, formal drawings in wax, paint and thread

Hylla wanted to see Howard Hersh’s show, so five of us piled into a taxi (you couldn’t do that in New York; four’s the limit) and drove down Second Street to the Andrea Schwartz Gallery. Having seen the work the morning before, I appreciated the opportunity to see it again at the end of the day. Andrea came out to chat briefly with our group.

If you’ll be in Miami during the fairs, look for Andrea's booth at the Bridge fair. You’ll also see Elins Eagles-Smith at Bridge, and Gregory Lind at Aqua Art. (I expect to be talking more about the Gregory Lind Gallery, one whose program I like a lot, in my Miami report, which will be posted in mid December.)

For our last stop, we walked back up to Mission. I’d arranged for Frank Wild to talk to the group about his collection—what he collects and why--so as we looked at his work, we learned how many of the pieces came into his collection. There were gallery visits, of course—he talked about the dealer-collector relationship—but also open studios and lots of on-line looking.

The group would reconvene the next day at my Master Class in Sonoma, so just after sunset I headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge with my host Hylla at the wheel. Hylla had arranged for me to stay at a loft in her complex. My head was on West Coast time, but my body was lagging three hours behind. After a tasty dinner at Cafe La Haye in downtown Sonoma, I crashed. The clock said 11:00 pm; my body said 2:00 am. And more to the point, it said, "Sleep."

Saturday, November 11
The main reason for my trip was to give a Master Class, a beyond-The-Art-of-Encaustic-Painting workshop. Twenty artists, most of whom work in encaustic, convened at the Sonoma Arts Guild for a day of Q&A, show and tell, and my slide talk, "2000 Years of Encaustic Painting."
Among the participants were Judith Williams, and Mary Farmer. Hylla is a well-oiled machine of organization, and the day came off without a hitch.
A small group followed the class with dinner at a Thai restaurant across the street (everyone was invited, but some folks had other plans). Dessert was at "my" loft, where a smaller group still—Hylla, Eileen Goldenberg, Cari Hernandez, Kathleen McMahon, Christine Towner and Daniella Woolf and I--satisfied our collective ice cream jones with fig and goat cheese gelato (hey, this is Sonoma) and some Ben and Jerry’s classics.

Sunday, November 12
Today was Consultation Day. Hylla scheduled five one-on-ones for me. I never get tired of consultations. Each artist’s work is different, and each artist’s career aspirations are focused differently—who wanting to show locally, who regionally, who looking to make a place in New York. It’s emotionally draining work, but at the end of the day I’m oddly energetic. Each artist has given me as much as I’ve given her or him.

Throughout the weekend I found time to hang out at Hylla’s loft. Hers is a robust live/work space dominated by double-height windows and a large work table. The tools of her trade—pigments and wax—are safely ensconced on one wall of cabinets. There’s a wall of small plein air paintings, and abstractions in encaustic everywhere else.

Monday, November 13
I arrived in the dark on Friday night and left in the dark on Monday morning (to catch the 5:45 bus to the Oakland airport), so I’m taking the locals at their word that Sonoma has a landscape of vineyards and lemon trees. Next time I hope to see it in the daylight.

What I didn't see in Sonoma

P.S. If you missed out on the weekend, Hylla is already planning two Master Classes and a day of consultations for me in November 2007, as well as several days of teaching her own workshops. She expects enrollment to be filled by early April. Contact her through the Evans Encaustics website. See you there?