Appreciation: Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn in front of Ocean Park #59
Ashland and Main studio, Santa Monica, 1972
Photo: Gilbert Lloyd Courtesy: Orange County Museum of Art

Originally published in Art Ltd. Magazine, March 2012

When Richard Diebenkorn, who had been painting representationally for more than a decade, decided to switch back to abstraction in 1967, the changeover represented a dramatic reversal in his artistic direction. The difference between figuration and abstraction, the way he saw it, was enormous; "'s from one end of the stick, way over here," Diebenkorn told Susan Larsen, "to way over there, as far as I can go." The series of works that would result from this about-face, the Ocean Park series would occupy Diebenkorn for more than two decades, and cement his place in art history. Writing in TIME magazine in 1977, critic Robert Hughes declared the Ocean Parks to be "... among the most beautiful declamations in the language of the brush to have been uttered anywhere in the last twenty years."

When Hughes wrote that tribute, Diebenkorn was only halfway finished with the series, which would ultimately consist of some 145 paintings--from 100 inch high canvases to 6 inch square cigar box lids--as well as 500 works on paper, and numerous monotypes and limited edition prints. The current OCMA exhibition, co-organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fort Worth, and curated by OCMA curator Sarah Bancroft, is the first exhibition to focus solely on the Ocean Park series in all its variety and richness.

Choosing abstraction--the far end of the stick--meant abandoning the human figure, which Diebenkorn had employed, in aesthetic terms, as a "concentration of psychology" and also a "source of opposition." A man of restless, persistent intelligence, Diebenkorn liked William Butler Yeats' notion that poetry comes out of "the quarrel with ourselves." The human figure, most often female, set in and against painted environments, had been an element he had tussled with beautifully. "The more obstacles, obstructions, problems--if they don't overwhelm--the better," is how he once explained it.

Diebenkorn's career was marked by a series of willful shifts. He had made non-objective paintings while a staff member at the California School of Fine Arts after World War II, but in 1955 he followed the lead of his friend and colleague David Park by moving back towards then-unfashionable representation. "His development from non-objective to figurative painting has seemed sufficiently contrary to the supposed main direction of Modern art to cause surprise," wrote art historian Lorenz Eitner in 1965.

Yet despite his seemingly independent cast of mind, Diebenkorn was always sensitive to what was said about his work. He found it irritating when a show of his representational paintings in New York was criticized as demonstrating that he was actually an "abstract painter" whose figures were "pawns" in an intellectual chess game. According to his friend Nathan Oliveira, Diebenkorn also chafed at the public reaction to a show of his figure drawings held at Stanford University in 1964, that he had created during a year of residency. In the artist's own mind, the numerous drawings of female nudes were informal studies, so he was annoyed when the poses of his figures were subjected to Freudian analysis.

After his appointment to an art professorship at UCLA, Diebenkorn moved into a studio at the corner of Ashland and Main Street in what is now downtown Santa Monica, and made four last representational canvases. "Then," he later recalled, "I abandoned the figure altogether." Still, because of the artist's previous engagement with figures, landscapes and still lives, the Ocean Parkpaintings often seem anchored by hints of recognizable forms and infused with the atmosphere of specific places. As late as 1969, Diebenkorn made a gouache, charcoal and ink painting on paper -- Untitled (View from Studio, Ocean Park) -- that showed the palm tree and rooftops outside his studio, framed semi-abstractly by sensuous scumbled planes.

It is a tempting game to look at a painting like Ocean Park #43, from 1971, and actually locate bits and pieces of Santa Monica's Ocean Park district, where Diebenkorn had established his studio. Taken literally, the upper left side of the canvas might be seen to include a trapezoid of moist morning air set behind a roofline, which in turn hovers over an ochre window. As pleasing as it may be to try and "see" things or locate specific environments in the Ocean Park paintings, doing so goes against Diebenkorn's wishes: "I never tried to work in terms of this coastal light, ambiance, and yet people assume I do. There have been reviews that refer to rather specific things on the beach--hotdog stand or something like that--and I'm just making paintings, and this environment has produced such and such a look and feel."

"Diebenkorn was certainly affected by his environment, the light and colors and atmosphere," writes curator Sarah Bancroft in the catalogue for the OCMA show, "but the Ocean Park works were never abstract landscapes of his surroundings; they were a far more personal synthesis of his own decisions, attitudes and process within a particular microcosm to which he was sensitive."

Over its long span, the Ocean Park series required Diebenkorn to sustain his sense of invention and discovery within a somewhat uniform framework. When the imagery became too consistent, Diebenkorn would get testy with himself. In 1975 he made a series of monotypes during a two-day visit to Stanford University. One of them, dated 4/12/1975, carries the artist's note to himself, brushed in firm capital letters at its lower edge: "TAKE A GOOD LOOK DICK--THIS IS THE BLOODY FORMULA."

The best Ocean Park works have a paradoxical, fleeting sense of beauty; Diebenkorn worked hard to make sure that nothing was too carefully limned or solidified. "I'm not a hard-edge painter," he insisted. Then again, he chided Nathan Oliveira, known for his flowing sense of line; "Have you discovered the straight edge yet Nate?" Using straight lines, added with a slim brush or vine charcoal, Diebenkorn cantilevered, braced and trussed atmospheric fields of paint and pentimento. As a kind of counterpoint, he would let the occasional rough edge or drip spill over his firm geometry; a nod to the irregularity of nature. In Ocean Park #60 from 1973, for instance, a smartly brushed blue diagonal line in the upper right of the canvas is decorated by rivulets of wash that cling to it like tiny stalactites.

At his best, Diebenkorn was a kind of carpenter who built painted structures that somehow enclose and sustain something evanescent. "In their initial impact," wrote Susan Larsen, "the Ocean Park paintings give one a feeling of breathlessness, as if the painter had, with risk, bridged a chasm to take hold of some radiant vision." Like Cezanne, Diebenkorn worked to generate the small sensations of feeling that occur when sight and memory filter through the mind, then the brush, onto the canvas. He was smart enough to recognize and seize the moments of beauty as they appeared, and disciplined enough to make sure he kept himself off balance during the search. He also had a fantastic feeling for local color and knew how to tune and modulate its opacity.

Characteristically, Diebenkorn was ambivalent towards the praise that his work received from others. "I'm not comfortable being, altogether comfortable, being accepted," he once confessed. The Ocean Park works--paintings, works on paper and monotypes--still resonate with his principled discomfort. Before Richard Diebenkorn painted the Ocean Park series, who knew that an artist's willful reversals and private hesitations could add up so magnificently, or so elegantly.

Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series June 30, 2012–September 23, 2012 from Corcoran Gallery of Art on Vimeo.

June 30, 2012–September 23, 2012, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

A Conversation with Julia Schwartz

"My unconscious unfurls into a painting in the same way described by chaos theory,' explains painter Julia Schwartz, "with one small seemingly unrelated movement having an impact on the piece as a whole." Schwartz, an articulate artist who came to painting late in life, always starts with something -- a news event, a memory, a place -- and then lets her brush unfold it in unanticipated directions.

When painting abstractly, Schwartz is an earnest, searching artist who plays fields of painting of distinctive, unfurling forms. When images crop up, as they have been doing more and more in the past year, a more lyric sensibility comes to the forefront. Schwartz is a "searcher," committed to painting as a process of finding, and also to the idea that being too sure of what she finds is something to avoid.

"I'm wanting to push farther without over thinking or overworking," is how she explained this in an interview in the blog Studio Critical. Flexible, observant, and pleasingly eccentric in her brushwork, Julia Schwartz creates images that are just a little bit off balance; just as she intends them to be.

Julia Schwartz: Photo by Gene Ogami
John Seed Interviews Julia Schwartz
John: How did you get started as a painter?

Julia: I guess I would say I began life in art and took a very long hiatus before pursuing it as a second profession. I drew most of my life, especially in childhood. Then I spent many years in another profession, one in which I am still active: I work as a psychoanalyst and therapist. When my daughter was young, I began taking her to an art class and after a while I began taking classes myself- life drawing for a few years and then a painting workshop for a couple years. It was a good foundation and I appreciated the mentoring from my teachers but after a while, I decided to work on my own, and so we transformed our garage into a studio space, and I began working steadily there.


Julia Schwartz, "Driving Into Big Sky," 2011, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches
John: You have said that you go to the studio without preconceived ideas. Once you are at your easel, how do you get the ideas to begin to flow?  

Julia: On painting days, I head to the studio and queue up the music, and literally I start painting. I may start on a canvas that was in process or start with something new, but the point is to be painting not thinking: here it is like analytic work, you have to work without censoring or editing. If I feel unsure, I might take a break to work on paper or even clean brushes, but it is really important to stay out of my own way, stay "out of my head." I have said that my intention is to paint without intention, or at least without conscious intention. There are all these things stored up in my mind. I've referred to it as a rolodex- of images, memories, feelings, maybe it's a color, a sound, a song, a dream. All of that is with me all the time as possible sources for the work, and I try to be open to whatever is most at the surface at any given moment. I also have described it like a dialogue between me and the canvas, a conversation, an associative process, so the work is usually free-flowing, at least until the end when I might start to have more of a conscious 'voice.'


Julia Schwartz, "Ice XXV, After the Visit," 2011, oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches
John: Your work is generally abstract: but is it true that bits and pieces of recognizable images are appearing with greater frequency?  

Julia: I think prior to 2011, my work was primarily figurative although it was becoming more and more abstract. The shift came in 2011, at the time of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. I began painting islands and icebergs, shapes that took the place of figures. The emotional feelings in the paintings were very much the same, however. The first paintings were little studies about what it was to be an island geographically and metaphorically- I think my feelings for Japan, and even before that, Haiti, and the tsunamis before that-- all of that maybe factored into those paintings and that shift. And then I took some pieces of writing, grief poems into the studio. One line in particular -- 'Ice immobile in a hollow sea melts no more' -- became a starting point for a series and also the title of my last one person show The Hollow Sea. Subsequently, the line between abstract and figurative, that distinction doesn't seem relevant. I paint, and sometimes the painting has bits of recognizable imagery -- I like how you put it! -- and sometimes it doesn't.


Julia Schwartz, "Ice XIV, Atmospheric," 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
John: How has your painting changed in the past year?

Julia: I think the work just continues to evolve. I read a great Milton Resnick line: "You have to give in to what the paint says -- you have to do what it's telling you to do." Lately, I am working on small linen canvases which has had an interesting effect on my work. The linen actually made for some very delicate, sensuous paintings: it is so luxurious. Raw linen made for rougher works. Materials really have an impact. After my last solo show, when I was also having a lot of studio visits, I did several paintings that were really odd self-portraits- you might not even know it was a portrait at all except that there are these sort of googly eyes -a reaction to all that attention. I paint what is going on around me, and what is going on in me and with me, so I guess it is as close to a journal as I get. This past year there were fewer specific external sources, like poems that I used, although music and literature continue to be strong influences

Julia Schwartz, "Girl with Red Hair and Blue Dress," 2011, oil on linen, 14 x 11 inches
John: What kinds of reactions do your paintings elicit from viewers? Are you surprised by the reactions, or do you find that people "read" the paintings the way you would expect.

Julia: I am always interested, sometimes surprised, and often quite moved by people's reaction to my work.

Julia Schwartz, "Mustangs Run Wild," 2012, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
Julia Schwartz is currently showing in "Turbulence" at George Lawson Gallery through 8/4/12
Her solo show, "Trading Maps for Stars" opens at Bleicher Gallery on September 15, 2012

Brenda Goodman: Paint Into Emotion

Brenda Goodman: Photo by Martin Bromirski

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding."
-- Khalil Gibran
Artist Brenda Goodman paints to open up difficult emotions and see what can be done with them. The vulnerability of her approach is her strength as an artist, and what makes her different. " So much contemporary painting is not open," Goodman told David Brody in an interview. "You know, it's like a wall -- you can't penetrate it."

Goodman, who has painted for over 50 years, surrenders to the act of painting itself, and lets the emotions -- however difficult they may be -- bloom directly from her unconscious. Her work is never precious, since she observes that it is often the "precious area that's keeping the painting from being finished." Over the years she has learned to trust that balance and resolution will indeed appear if you let them. "Through the years I've gone from taking days or weeks to let something go... to minutes," Goodman notes. "To me, this is one of the most spiritual acts of painting."

The works on view in Goodman's solo show at John Davis Gallery demonstrate her mastery of a personal language of emotion. In dark-walled settings, themes of entrapment, fear, challenge, and mortality are balanced by hints of joy, passion, and peace. Goodman's work has a degree of emotional intelligence that is rare and moving. In the interview below I ask her about her background, her work, and specific works in her new show.  

John Seed Interviews Brenda Goodman

JS: What can you tell me about your background and how it shaped you as an artist?

 BG: I was born in Detroit, Michigan 69 years ago and and moved to New York in 1976. Detroit was a tough city and I was tough as well. But I had access to a really good art school -- The Society of Arts and Crafts, now the Center for Creative Studies -- and the Detroit Institute of Arts has a great collection. Between the two I had a very solid foundation.

 I think I was born with a strong core. I'm persevering and determined and don't give up in the face of the many difficult and painful parts of my life. I have very deep feelings on a conscious and unconscious level that come through in my painting. My work has always been personal, from my heart, honest and authentic. As a person I say what I feel honestly and directly. It's not the easiest way to go through life because I don't hide my feelings well but I believe I come from the same authentic place as my paintings do.  

JS: I find your paintings emotionally acute. How are you able to make your paintings transmit powerful emotions so directly?

 BG: There are two aspects of my practice as a painter that have worked positively for me. The first is my passion for oil paint that started 50 years ago. I have spent all these years experimenting with every possible way I could use oil paint. Through the years I have had many, many techniques at my disposal. The second is the way I'm able to take something very personal in my life, something quite specific, and use it as a starting place to arrive at something much more universal that the viewer can tap into. And why it works in such a strong way for me is because all those years of honing my techniques allows the paint to become the emotion I want to express.

 JS: Can you tell me about some of the specific emotions suggested by your recent paintings?

 BG: The newest paintings speak to the emotions I am concerned with now. As I wrote in my artist statement for the show: "The new work is about duality: the delicate balance between joy and suffering, hope and disappointment, life and death, struggle and release, perseverance and futility."

Brenda Goodman, "Untitled A1," 2012, oil on wood, 72 x 72 inches
Untitled A1: This painting I feel communicates hope and despair: the tension of the shapes on the high wire. The bright colored shape in all 4 paintings is life with all that it encompasses. Joy, passion, painting, sadness, aloneness, mortality (which at 69 means no endless possibilities anymore) and whatever else this shape represents to the viewer.

Brenda Goodman, "Untitled B2," 2012, oil on wood, 72 x 72 inches
Untitled B2: This painting started specifically in wanting to communicate the struggle that life is: the obstacles and demons I encounter as I struggle to find peace within me.

Brenda Goodman, "Untitled C3," 2012, oil on wood, 72 x 72 inches
Untitled C3: This painting evokes tension, and anxiety. The heightened anxiety is from trying to keep the dark forces from breaking through the barriers and hurting the life shape.

Brenda Goodman, "Untitled D4," 2012, oil on wood, 72 x 68 inches
Untitled D4: This painting feels vulnerable, threatened and tense. It started off as a very different painting but my deeper knowing moved the paint many times until that black vertical emerged and the painting became realized.

If my paintings didn't tap that mysterious place of a deep knowing I would feel less successful as an artist because then they would just speak to me and not those who view them.

For me the most satisfying way of working is the combination of the abstract and the figure. The freedom of abstraction and the emotions that the figure (or an abstract shape representing a figure) can carry are very satisfying to me.

Brenda Goodman: A Solo Exhibition
July 19 - August 12, 2012
Artist Reception: Saturday, July 21, 6 to 8PM
John Davis Gallery
362 1/2 Warren Street
Hudson, New York 12534

Ten Paintings by Jim Doolin

 Cross Roads, 1999
 Bus Stop, 1998
 Shopping Mall, 1973-74
 Erosion, 1982
 4WD, 1983
 Last Painter on Earth
 City of Glass, 1990
 Casino Zombies, 1991
 Psychic, 1998
The Flow, 2002
Images courtesy of the Estate of Jim Doolin and Koplin Del Rio Gallery

Remembering James Doolin (1932-2002)


James Doolin (1932-2002): Photo by Richard Whittaker

Artist James Doolin, who would have been 80 this June, passed away on July 22, 2002 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis. Jim, a great guy, and an amazing painter is very much missed by his family and friends: can it really be almost been ten years since he left us?

After arriving from Australia in 1967, Doolin established his reputation in Los Angeles by devoting four years in the early 1970s to painting a detailed aerial view of the intersection of Arizona Avenue and 3rd Street in Santa Monica, "Shopping Mall," now in the collection of the Oakland Museum.

 In the years that followed, his visionary images of the Mojave desert and stylized views of Los Angeles -- which have an aesthetic somewhere between Canaletto and Toontown -- made it clear that he was one of the most original and ambitious painters of his time. In 1994 Doolin took on a monumental project: four murals for the Metropolitan Transit Authority depicting the astonishing development of Southern California's transportation systems. The project drained Jim's energy -- he worked on it ten hours per day, six days a week for a year -- but also left legacy of great public art.

 In a review published in 1998, Christopher Knight of the LA Times noted Doolin's "gift for endowing the everyday with a sense of estrangement." Knight also wrote that Doolin's urban work could "stop in its tracks the steady freeway flow or ever-changing landscapes of billboards, rendering them mysterious and spectral."

 "His paintings were successful in a way that is rare and precious," commented critic Doug Harvey after Doolin's death. "They enabled us to see the places we overlook every day and to recognize that, in spite of its ominous industrial overtones, the city is shot through with a luminous, electric vitality and a psychological potency verging on the mythic."

 To mark the ten years since Jim's passing here are some comments by critics and curators, tributes from those who were close to him, and a scrapbook of images.

Tributes to Jim Doolin

The hallucinatory quality of Jim Doolin's paintings captures the delirium of the southern California landscape. As such, it has helped set the tone for the new pictorialism now driving the region's "painting renaissance." Los Angeles, which never fetishized painting, has always fetishized pictures; it took a painter like Doolin, sensitive to light and space, sunshine and noir, to demonstrate that LA could play itself in something else besides filmic media.
- Peter Frank, Art Critic

Jim Doolin in downtown LA: Photo by Jim Zver
The photo above was taken in 1988 while Doolin gathering data and taking photos for "Bridges," now in the collection of the Autry National Center

Regretfully, I never met Jim. I've however long been captivated by his work; he was able to see 20th century Los Angeles in ways that somehow capture the bustling city and its massive infrastructure without losing sight of the wilderness it once was. I think this is perhaps because nature and humanity got equal play in his work, he did not favor the presence of one over the other or moralize the clash between the two. By graphing grand landscape concepts -- from the romantic sublime to the aerial view -- onto the postmodern city, Doolin straddled art historical worlds. For this he retains a unique place in California and Western art.
- Amy Scott, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator of Visual Arts, Autry National Center

The "Trinocular Society," in the Mojave desert, 1982 photo: Janice Tidwell Sigal

My longtime great pal Michael McMillen introduced me to Jim and Lauren in 1982, just in time to attend Jim's epic 50th birthday and lunar eclipse party at their cabin in the Mojave Desert. We all became dear friends and Jim, Mike and I acquired identical rubber-clad combat binoculars and christened ourselves The Trinocular Society. The group was made complete by Lauren's great and talented friend Janice Tidwell who I fell crazy in love with. She took the attached photograph which captured the spirit of our innumerable desert adventures that included explorations into beautiful, desolate areas and abandoned mines, pyrotechnic exhibitions, amateur rocketry experiments, moonlight cocktail parties with my accordion accompaniment in half collapsed desert buildings, naked Frisbee in 120° summer temperatures and encounters with the deadly Mojave Green Rattlesnake.
- Jay Teitzell, Friend and Co-Founder of the Trinocular Society

Jim Doolin in his studio in 1996 with two of his four MTA murals
"Los Angeles After 2000," (left) and "Los Angeles, circa 1870," (right): Photo: Lauren Doolin

Jim Doolin is the only artist to paint the vastness of Los Angeles. His paintings look like a kind of realism but he had the grace and poetic sensibility to offer us a personal fantasy that makes it all seem whole as if we are part of something that has a pattern, a wholeness that somehow explains how we can live in such an ugly place. He was such an optimist, and worked long hours to prove it. A dedicated friend whose value cannot be replaced.
- Les Biller, Artist and Friend

Jim Doolin, Lauren Richardson and Janice Tidwell in the desert in the early 80s

Jim was my painting teacher at U.C.L.A.  I was 19.  He was deliberate and committed.  He changed the way I looked at things.  He was very important to me.  A few years after I graduated, I often drove up Highway 14 to the remote Mojave Desert one-room cabin he then shared with my best friend, Lauren Richardson, his girlfriend, who he would later marry at my apartment.

We did a lot of crazy things during Jim’s three years in the desert, though no one would ever call Jim an impulsive person.  His approach was to think everything through, like a scientist.
Once we took an excursion in his covered pick-up truck up the Walker Pass to the Owens River and Lake Isabella.  Five of us camped by a creek and one of us said, “hey let’s take our clothes off, tie a rope around our waists, and one by one, jump in.”  Jim went first into what turned out to be a rapid, freezing, agitating whirlpool of a current – incredibly dangerous.  This lanky, stoical American Gothic Vermont guy, strips down to his skinny ass, ties the rope around his waist – Geronimo! and the men heave ho his butt out -- Jim whooping and screaming.  

He liked it when his friends – anyone – extracted him out of his Vermont, son-of-an-insurance man character.  That he could take that risk, communicated to the rest of us, a confidence – a trust – that we wouldn’t drown.  He had that kind of authority.

I loved Jim Doolin.  He is still a big part of my life.  No one painting ever sums up an artist, but for my money, his Last Painter on Earth, is a masterpiece.

- Janice Tidwell,  Friend
Jim's work always embodied wonder, dedication, and dignity; attributes mastered by the man himself. He was such a good artist that he could have gotten away with being arrogant, but he was remarkably considerate and supportive. We met in the early 80s. Jim was 25 years my senior, well known and very accomplished, yet he treated me as an equal. His sense of wonder and curiosity made him seem much younger. I was struck by something he told me he was aiming for in his paintings: he said he wanted to capture the initial radiant impression that you get when you first open your eyes. He put a lot of value on the sense of heightened reality born of unencumbered perception. It made you want to see the world through Jim's eyes. Urban blight, transportation corridors, the parched desert, or excessive Las Vegas were all transformed into magnificent visual feasts. We were lucky to know him, for his art, and for his humanity.
- Peter Zokosky, Artist and Friend
I have fond memories of Jim Doolin sitting on our deck overlooking the Anderson Valley and talking about the vulnerable place that you put yourself in to make art. Jim had the unique ability to surrender himself to the moment. He could always find something insightful to say about any work of art. He knew how hard it was to be an artist in our society and felt deeply for anyone pursuing that route. Even with his immense abilities, he shared the same insecurities. I still miss Jim and think about him often.
- Steve Rubin, Artist and Friend
In the arc of time I knew Jim, home and studio visits were many, each one of them vivid, filled with insights and the sharing of the struggles unique to the creative life. Jim was both a gifted artist and an honest human being. I treasure equally his creative devotion and his enduring friendship. His ability to direct his intensity, compassion and vision into the shining brilliance of his work has left an indelible mark. Without a doubt, he is an artist well deserving wider recognition.
- Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin, Artist and Friend

Above: An aerial view of Lippincott Road, where Michael McMillen and Jim Doolin shared an adventure.

One of the many things that I remember about Jim in the desert was that he was fearless. We had been visiting his old desert neighbor Chuck (Sad Sack, to use his CB radio name) who was in a nursing home in Lone Pine and Jim suggested that we drive back via Death Valley and see the Ubehebe Crater. Good idea. I recall a bullet-peppered sign as we entered the Saline Valley: NO SERVICE NEXT 50 MILES.
The sign was right, in fact we passed no one the entire drive in.
Stopping to eat lunch at the Racetrack Playa, we spotted in the distance; three guys on mountain bikes disappear around a bend at the south end of the dry lake. "Lets follow them", Jim suggested as it was getting later in the afternoon. Off we went. Easy driving for a mile or so and then suddenly a sharp right turn.
We had come to the end of the plateau and were staring down at the dry valley far below. The only way down was on a narrow switchback road, barely wider than Jim's Ford pickup, which didn't seem to faze him a bit. The road had been scraped into the side of the cliff many decades earlier by miners but hadn't been maintained for several years. Sketchy driving for sure.
It seemed that every hundred yards we had to stop the truck and roll stones into wash outs and cavities along that tenuous lip of dirt. With just inches to spare, he masterfully coaxed that truck over the rocks and avoided a dusty roll into oblivion.
Two hours after sunset and under a rising full moon, we finally rolled into the camp of the bikers who had preceded us down the trail. They were amazed and impressed. "We were taking bets that you wouldn't make it", volunteered one of the campers. Jim just smiled and said, "Well, looks like we did."
- Michael McMillen, Artist and Friend

Jim Doolin painting in the Mojave Desert

Jim Doolin came to one of my openings in LA. I was excited to meet him and flattered that he came. He was friendly and unassuming and I had the privilege and pleasure of making a couple of studio visits. In the studio he was frank and open about his process -- I'm organized about my palette and found some of the similarities affirming -- he was taking it further than I was and tubing his mixes for different areas. I do that now for some things. His rigorous process made it clear what a colorist he was. A continuing investigation into color and complex lighting ties together his body of work and reminds me of Rackstraw Downes' observation that working from life is a good challenge to a painter's resources. There are things I would have liked to ask him. The paintings are left to answer my questions.
Thank you Jim.
- Marc Trujillo, Artist and Friend

Jim and Lauren Doolin painting off Mulholland Drive: Photo by Barrie Mottishaw

There's a hill in the Santa Monica Mountains, accessible from Mulholland Highway, that turns an almost neon green under the California spring rains. For a few years during the early nineties Jim and Lauren and I would work there on and off, from about mid-March through early May, before the grass faded to a dull yellow. We would station ourselves at about ten feet apart along the top of the ridge -- the perfect distance for private focus, but close enough for talk.
I was just coming over to oil painting after a career as a water color painter and to me the oil medium was daunting, a complicated mystery. So I watched Jim carefully for guidance. Jim seemed so easy in his practice, yet at the same time methodical. He would appear to take his time with a study, but then it would all come together quickly at the end: the composition unusual, the colors sometimes natural or sometimes a bit wacky, but always just right for that particular piece.
I miss Jim terribly. I think of him when I am driving around Los Angeles looking at the city, when I am in the studio confronting a problem, when planning a painting expedition out into the landscape. Sometimes expressions he'd use will come back to me unexpectedly. "Bye for now," he'd usually say, ending a phone call. "Bye for now." So you'd know it was just a temporary break in the ongoing conversation. That conversation stopped suddenly ten years ago. I still find it difficult to accept.
- Barrie Mottishaw, Artist and Friend
Two Chapters
I met Jim in 1960 in New York, when I'd moved after my stint in the army. Jim was then a graphic designer, a very good and successful one, but not very happy with his chosen profession. He seemed to feel that fine artists, painters especially, were following a "higher calling" and doing something much more satisfying and worthwhile. I could sense his frustration and longing to move in this direction.
A few years after that Jim moved to Australia and I lost touch with him. Many years later in 1989, I discovered through a former student of his from UCLA, Jessica Dunne, that he was now living in Los Angeles. Enormous changes had taken place during those almost thirty years. Jim had moved to Los Angeles from Australia, raised a family, went to graduate school, began teaching at UCLA, divorced, remarried (to Lauren Richardson), fathered a daughter, Eve, and become what he so wanted to be: an artist.
A few years later I relocated to Los Angeles from New York and was able to reconnect with Jim. His work ethic, focus and dedication to his art was as strong as it had been in graphic design, but he was now doing something he was happily committed to. I'd seen two very different chapters in someone's life, one where the way forward was unsure and undecided, the other clear and focused.
My contacts with Jim in Los Angeles were usually long, leisurely lunches, sometimes coupled with seeing a museum exhibit or looking at a particular landscape or cityscape that he wanted to see because of a painting he was planning. Lots of our conversation was about art and I especially want to mention this because it was such an informed and sympathetic pleasure. For an artist to be able to talk to another artist with real visual understanding is a rare and special kind of communication. I absolutely had that with Jim.
- Jim Zver, Friend and Artist

Jim Doolin by F. Scott Hess, 1993

Jim Doolin was a great friend. I first met Jim and Lauren in 1985, when they came to a show of mine downtown. I'd just seen a painting of Jim's in a group show, the one looking down a stairwell at a doorway with an Exit sign above it. It gave you a great sense of vertigo, which was something I was also aiming for in painting. From that point on we always had a lot to talk about when we met.
In the early '90s a group of us went out to the Mojave desert with Jim and Lauren. We stayed in their little house, and during the day we toured the desert. The beauty of the place made me realize why he'd stayed out there so long, but the real surprise was the color variations. I'd assumed that Jim had greatly exaggerated the colors of the rock formations in those desert paintings of his, but there they were in all their glory.
What I miss most about Jim is his voice. Over the years we talked about many subjects, but painting was always the backbone of those conversations. He came from abstract art, and had a great appreciation of Modernism, so we had a lot to disagree about!
The tone of the discussion was always energetic, but measured. Jim had a calm assurance about him, borne of the rich experiences of his life and the skill needed for those magnificent huge paintings of Southern California. He gave advice freely, and it was always good. I still hear him talking sometimes when I paint, especially if it is an LA landscape I'm working on, or when an unusual color combination suddenly comes together unexpectedly.
- F. Scott Hess, Artist and Friend

Jim Doolin in Greece: Photo by Leslie Doolin

I met Jim Doolin on a street in the town of Lindos on the Island of Rhodes in Greece. Jim had come to spend time getting away from his commercial art background and begin his life as an artist. Lindos was a perfect town to settle down in at the time. He began to paint and sketch. People really responded to the sketches he did of the locals in tavernas, recognizing people from one town to another. Travel was a big influence. We traveled north to Turkey and later when we left Greece, we traveled on a motor scooter through Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, Morocco, France and England before leaving for New York. We visited museums everywhere so a great deal of art was viewed. Back in New York he began hard edge geometric paintings along with commercial art for money.
Later, while living, teaching and doing commercial work in Australia, the hard edge paintings caused some interest. Jim found a group of painters who were influenced by him so that by the time he left he had some shows and a sort of following. We left Australia for Los Angeles with the promise of the GI Bill. Jim became a graduate student at UCLA and later a member of the faculty.
- Leslie Doolin

Jim Doolin in 1971

One of my fondest memories of my father was in the summer of 1977 when our family went on a three-month camping road trip in our family van. From Topanga Canyon in Southern California we traveled up the west coast to Northern British Colombia and Alberta, then across Canada to relatives in Vermont and New York City and eventually back across the Southern U.S.
This amazing adventure was one of many. We went on California camping trips and backpacking trips in the High Sierras often. My dad loved adventures and experiencing the wilderness and painted many oil studies while on these trips. These experiences forged our relationship.
When I was very young my dad would give me many pointers and teach me techniques for the cartoons I was doing. He helped me make an animated short film which I drew and he filmed. Dad took me to work with him to show me the studios and introduce me to the students at UCLA. There have been so many times in my life where I have heard from his former students about what an amazing drawing and painting teacher he was.
When I was in art school, I would look forward to showing Dad my latest oil paintings and I would always be so amazed to see his latest master- pieces he was creating. When art teachers asked me who my favorite artist was, I would always write down his name. He helped me to not only look at things, but to really see things. I learned more about art from him than anyone.
- Paul Doolin
When I think of my Dad I think of light and contrast. I think of interesting angles and intriguing perspectives. When I'm out in the city or out in nature I have visions of scenes much like his paintings. I always think of him and see him in the sky. And his angles and perspectives were not just in his artwork but in his conversations and his ideas. He always had these ways of being and it has had a great effect on me, opening up my mind and my life and experiences.
He was very much into the details and worked a lot on them. And even though his work is so technical in many ways you never feel that when looking at his paintings, instead you just feel like you are there in it. And for all the light and life in his paintings I was always so surprised to see how thin the paint was on the canvas as if he was just tinting the light bouncing off of it.
I always knew he was a great painter and through the years he taught me so much. And not just about art but about life and learning. We had so many adventures and experiences out camping in nature and also in the city examining things and society. I think about these things a lot in my life and when I think of them I think of my Dad.
And when I think of my Dad, I miss him. Happy Birthday Dad! I'm thinking of you.
- Matt Doolin
Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories involve driving to the middle of nowhere and sleeping in the back of a truck. When the sun rose the next morning, my parents and I would traverse vast desert expanses in the same truck, and take in the spectacular landscapes as my dad scaled extreme grades, always with a huge amount of confidence and calculated agility. I can't ever remember being scared, or doubting his ability. Without fail, we would arrive safely at our destination to eat sandwiches on some rocky precipice while Dad showed me the exact route we had taken through a pair of massive binoculars.
My dad navigated through the city with the same calculation and skill. He regarded the landscape with equal parts respect, fascination and disdain that I've come to realize I've inherited, along with his strong appreciation for the extremes of both environments.
I only spent thirteen years with my dad, but he'll always be an integral part of who I turned out to be. I constantly find myself influenced by his attention to detail and fundamental love of seeing, both of which are apparent in his paintings, sketches, and the hand drawn map that I still use to find my way back to the desert.
- Eve Doolin

Lauren and Jim Doolin with their daughter Eve at Koplin Gallery, March 14, 1992

We began our twenty-two years together in the Mojave Desert with no electricity, no drinking water, no phone but many hours to paint, play and explore.
I have heard Jim's time in the desert described as a self- imposed exile, a retreat from society, a spiritual quest.He may have used these clichés himself to justify or dramatize the decision to live and paint off the grid for three years.As it turned out, he was there for the glorious good time! And if the staunch reserve of the Vermont gentleman had a hard time admitting this, the delirious beauty of his desert paintings told the whole truth.
I painted River of Stars for Jim a couple of years ago, from memory and with the help of Jim whispering in my ear.
- Lauren Doolin

Lauren Doolin, "River of Stars"

F. Scott Hess Paints a Portrait

Last August, when F. Scott Hess offered to paint a portrait for me, I was very pleased. My first suggestion was that he paint my five year old daughter, but Scott advised against that. "I don't know if I'm the guy you want painting your young daughter, " he told me via e-mail. "I generally make gnomes of them, and mothers are never happy."

When Scott offered to paint me instead, I was both flattered and a bit nervous. On the one hand I knew that whatever Scott painted would be remarkable. On the other hand, I was also aware that Scott would not be giving me an idealized portrait that would pump up my vanity. Scott is as close to Lucien Freud as an West Coast painter I can think of. He is an acutely perceptive artist who paints people's outsides as a map of their insides.

My portrait session took place in March in Scott's Los Angeles garage/studio. Behind me, wrapped in plastic was Scott's giant mural "In Transit." Scattered around the garage were some of the faux historical artifacts he had been working on for his "Paternal Suit" exhibition. I sat down, trained my eyes over Scott's left shoulder, and let him get to work. Scott doesn't mind talking while working, and we started out with light topics like LA traffic. At my first break just less than an hour later, I walked over to see the panel in progress. This is what I saw...


The portrait: stage one

It was disconcerting seeing myself as an écorché. After all, I was never able to finish painting and assembling the "Invisible Man" my parents got for me as a kid, and have to close my eyes during the surgery scenes when my wife watches "Grey's Anatomy." I sat back down.


After 90 minutes

After about 90 minutes of work, the portrait had a mask of flesh tones, and also blue shadows. The effect had progressed from "skinned head of St. John the Baptist" to "battered, disoriented middle-aged man." The pinpoint irises floating in my empty eye sockets added a Zombie-like vibe. As time went by Scott and I talked about more important topics -- money, artist friends, and daughters -- and I took a shot of Scott facing me with his paintbrush.

Thinking about lunch helped me make it into my third hour of sitting, and Scott worked quietly and with great focus. Although I couldn't see the panel progress, I could hear his brush at work, especially when he laid in broad areas of color.


My view of Scott at work
After lunch the portrait really began to take shape. When I took the shot below I felt a shock or recognition. There I was... well except I had someone else's nose...


After about 3 hours of work
As the afternoon progressed, Scott left the face alone and added my collar and sweater. Honestly, the best part of the day was having over five hours of time to talk to a friend, and we covered a lot of ground.


Scott at work, adding the collar and sweater
I left Scott's to drive home in the late afternoon feeling rested, but also curious: how would the finished portrait turn out? The next time I saw my portrait was on Facebook. After adding the background and refining it, Scott posted a photo of it, and asked for comments from me, my friends and family and his 5,207 Facebook friends. What had begun as a private portrait session now became a kind of public forum.

 "It still doesn't look like John Seed to me," Hess posted, "but the painting is becoming more refined." I went to Target and bought a new tube of 50 SPF sunblock, and then came home to read the comments.


The portrait, as posted on Scott's Facebook wall
There were many admiring comments, but also some quibbles about whether Scott had really gotten me right. "I'm going for the gritty truth," he told my wife Linda in a comment. "John doesn't have a gritty truth," she replied. Several people felt that the portrait made me look older, and Scott acknowledged that his portraits tend to make people look ten years older. Jim Pujdownski, one of Scott's Facebook friends, took a pragmatic approach, commenting that " He (John) will eventually look like your painting!"

 Scott then set the painting aside for a few months and devoted himself to preparing and shipping the many items in his "Paternal Suit" show. Then, on July 2nd, the finished painting, complete with Scott's signature, appeared on Facebook.


The finished portrait
"Hess captured your contemplative peaceful quite creative inner soul here," commented my friend Ron Wood. My sister Marie had this to say: "Very striking portrait but you definitely look younger in person!" I personally love the finished picture and find it dead on honest and psychologically acute.

Sitting for a portrait is a vulnerable experience, but it was very rewarding to see how carefully rendered and expressive the final image turned out in the end. Of course the picture is not entirely objective: it is also a portrait of me as a part of his world, one reflects Scott's unique vision. "Really interesting portrait John," commented artist Lucinda Luvaas when she saw it on my Facebook status, "... a bit of you and a bit of him here."