Elmer Bischoff: 'I've taught all my life.'

I've taught so much. I've taught all my life, and the number of teaching jobs I've had which I haven't liked have been very few.  
- Elmer Bischoff, Interviewed by Suzanne B. Riess in 1990
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Elmer Bischoff (1919-1991): Photo by Mimi Jacobs via WikiArt

Elmer Bischoff, whose work is on view at the George Adams Gallery in New York through August 14th, was a dedicated teacher throughout his life and career. After graduating with an M.A. from UC Berkeley in 1939, Bischoff got his first teaching job at the downtown art center of Sacramento High School, where he taught ceramics, crafts and jewelry making to "mostly housewives" for the next two years. By the time he retired in 1985, Bischoff had spent more than 38 years, with a few interruptions, teaching art, primarily at college level.

After a wartime stint as an Army intelligence officer, Bischoff joined a generation of postwar Bay Area artist/teachers who paid their bills by teaching and who felt very fortunate to have the work. "Without teaching positions, none of the Bay Area Figurative artists could have supported themselves or their families," writes Caroline Jones in her book Bay Area Figurative Art. For Bischoff, who had fathered five children with two different women by the mid-fifties, the income earned from teaching was essential.

In the fall of 1945 his friend Karl Kasten recommended Bischoff for a teaching position at San Francisco's California School of Fine Arts. It was there that he met other teaching artists -- including David Park and Hassel Smith -- and later became acquainted with a talented student named Richard Diebenkorn. It is worth pointing out that if it hadn't been for teaching, the tight circle of friendships that led to the Bay Area Figurative style would have never been formed. As David Park's biographer Nancy Boas comments:
Elmer Bischoff is known as a Bay Area Figurative artist. The three met at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in the mid-1940s, where they began their close personal and artistic friendship. They could be found weekly visiting each others' studios. Park and Bischoff played in the art school jazz band and Diebenkorn, a lover of classical music, went so far as to buy a trombone at a pawn shop in an effort to join the others.
In 1952 Bischoff resigned from the CSFA to protest the firing of his friend and colleague Hassel Smith and took a job driving a truck for Railway Express to make ends meet. A year later he landed a job teaching art at Yuba College from 1953 to 1956. Teaching work, although it didn't always pay well, was far preferable to most of the other work that was available to artists, especially in the early 1950s when Bischoff's friend David Park briefly worked arranging displays in liquor store windows and artist James Weeks painted billboards.

Bischoff, who in 1976 told Paul Karlstrom: "I'm still supporting myself by teaching," had only two one man shows before his first New York show at Staempfli Gallery in 1960, including a 1955 show at the Paul Kantor Gallery in Los Angeles from which nothing sold. In contrast, leading artists in New York benefitted from a booming art market. For example, Willem de Kooning's 1959 New York show sold out on the first day, bringing in about $150,000 (about $1.2 million dollars today, when adjusted for inflation).

Of course, de Kooning was a sensation, but many other New York artists sold well while California artists struggled. In this situation, decently paying teaching jobs were a rare and precious commodity. When it was rumored in 1955 that David Park had been offered $10,000 per year to teach at UC Berkeley, artist Nathan Oliveira -- who at the time was earning $2.50 per hour teaching art 18 hours per week -- thought that Park had been given "the opportunity of a lifetime." As it turns out, Park's actual starting annual salary was $5,300.00.

In late 1956 Bischoff returned to chair the Graduate Program at the California School of Fine Arts where he taught until 1963 when he joined the faculty of UC Berkeley. He taught at UCB for the next 22 years, winning the Distinguished Teaching Award of the College Art Association in 1983, and the Berkeley Citation by a vote of the Berkeley faculty in 1985. During his long teaching career, Bischoff was also a visiting artist at a number of schools including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1961) Yale University (1961) UCLA, The University of Notre Dame (1971), The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (1975) and Kent State (1976).

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Girl Geting a Haircut, 1962, Oil on Canvas, 63 x 70 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Over the years Bischoff taught and encouraged hundreds, if not thousands of students including prominent artists -- Joan Brown was one -- and a few other notables including Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead who studied painting with him in late 1950s. Across time and situation, his teaching manner changed, but the description that Poet/Art Historian Bill Berkson offers is the most familiar:
Students who took his classes the University of California, Berkeley, recall Bischoff as "a twinkling Buddha" extolling the virtues of "vague" as opposed to a too-clear partiality of image: above the attainable, "stamped-out" product, he favored the more arduous, open-ended personal search.
Bischoff's friend and colleague Sidney Gordin (1918-1996) recalls a dedicated, devoted teacher:
He was a superb teacher--conscientious, responsible, articulate, full of ideas, and completely devoted to art and teaching. The students loved him for it. Although he often lectured to his class about art projects, setting up still-life arrangements, posing models, and discoursing on the basic problems of visual perception, process, composition, color, light, and technique, most of his teaching time and effort was spent giving individual critiques. To this end he set up his office as a viewing room, which he kept mostly bare to avoid distractions, so that only the individual student and his or her work was dealt with. He was a master at analyzing art and, being a great listener, he also encouraged dialogue. His relationship with students was extraordinary for the rapport that he usually achieved. His manner was relaxed and congenial. He was sensitive and gentle, but could also be very tough and critical when he thought it necessary. He always explained the reasoning behind his opinions with great clarity. He verbalized eloquently, and even poetically.
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Figure with White Lake, 1964, Oil on Canvas, 79 1/2 x 79 1/4 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Recollections from Elmer' Bischoff's Students

What follows are a collection of recollections and anecdotes from a small sampling of Elmer Bischoff's students, including one of my own.

Gordon Smith ( A Canadian Artist who studied with Bischoff in 1951)

He told us: "Paint without any pre-conceived ideas."

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Adelie Landis Bischoff: Photo by John Seed

Adelie Landis Bischoff

(Adelie Bischoff, who married Elmer in 1962, was one of his students at the California School of Fine Arts, where she also studied with David Park.)

"He was one of best teachers I had. Questions of color and composition would eventually spill into a whole philosophical, ethical look at why you're painting. . . . He was very inspiring. Like wow, there's this world out there for me to discover."

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Figure at Window with Boat, 1964, Oil on Canvas, 91 x 79 1/2 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Ellen Singer

I studied painting with Elmer Bischoff at UCB between 1966 and 1969.

He had incredible presence but there was stillness about him: he wouldn't interrupt people as they worked. He had a paternal quality and solidity. His large hands had a squareness and heft to them.

He would come around and quietly look at our work. There wasn't a lot of direct instruction, and his teaching was more about asking questions. He didn't talk to us about technique. He asked us "why" questions including why we wanted to portray something.

One morning he looked at a painting I was working on and simply said: "What did you have for breakfast this morning: cornflakes?" It wasn't unkind and in fact if was kind of funny. I had gotten a little lazy in my painting and that was just his way of saying it. His crits were strong but with kindness. He always found something to say that was true.

I fell in love with his art and still to this day I would rush to see the works of Diebenkorn, Park and Bischoff. An attachment was formed that made me a loyal fan of his work. His work really reflected who he was and how he lived. He was only who he was: he wasn't going to be anybody else.

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Bay, 1971-72, Oil on Canvas, 80 x 92 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Jack E. McWhorter

I met Elmer Bischoff at Kent State University's Blossom Festival School in 1976. The Blossom art program provided for infusion of new ideas and attitudes through a concentration in studio experiences with major visiting artists. Students were encouraged to explore the interrelationship of the visual arts through informal contacts and lectures by visiting artists. Individual work was also critically evaluated.

The question of influences, especially in the formative stages of an artist's career is fairly an easy matter to sort out when you have an opportunity to meet artists such as Elmer Bischoff. Quite simply, listening to Mr. Bischoff's talks and critiques on painting and seeing his work blew my mind and changed my preconceptions about painting. He helped me to discover my own sensibility.

All the visiting artists had several paintings on exhibition. His paintings were not only interesting and affecting works to experience, they were aesthetically lovely, because Bischoff was enraptured with the beauty of his materials. His surfaces seemed so casual at first, but hearing his words and looking more carefully at his works I discovered his gorgeous juxtapositions of push-pull pigments and eye-popping textures and effects.

David Newman

I studied with Bischoff in the late 1970s and remember one thing he said very clearly. He said that we should "create work that we would be proud of five years from now." Note: Links to two recordings of 1978 Bischoff lectures taped by David Newman can be found at the end of this blog.

Bruce Klein

Like many others, I came to UC Berkeley in the seventies to study with Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff. In the courses I took with him, Bischoff's emphasis was on keeping your painterly process open, on finding your painting's subject matter through the act of painting and on letting the painting lead. These ideas continue to characterize my practice.

Once during a portfolio review in his office, he picked out a painting I thought of little value. "That," he said, "was a gift. Put it up in your studio and look at it until you can see why I think it is beautiful." I was interested in painting the figure. He had picked an abstract piece that I hadn't even brought in for review, but had used to wrap some figure studies.

So I put it up. Looking at it every day for months, I finally began to see the piece's beauty and realize it had a certain kind of presence that I couldn't make happen, or force to happen. That experience ultimately led me to understand that, for me, my highest aesthetic level was reached not through conscious, meticulous control of media and of the creative processes but through simply starting out with a blank canvas and seeing what happens.

In my studio I've tacked up this Bischoff quote: "What is most desired in the final outcome is a condition of form which dissolves all tangible facts into intangibles of feeling." This serves as both a goal and reminder.

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Girl Leaning Against Chair, c. 1965, Ink and charcoal on paper, 18 x 15 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Pia Stern

I first studied with Bischoff in 1975 as an undergraduate during my senior year at UCB. At that time, I was designing an independent major in city planning, and intended to go to law school to become a trial attorney.

The year before I had attended a private university in Aix-en-Provence, France (Cézanne's home). Up until then, I had always avoided art classes. However, a painting class was the only thing that fit into my schedule. The teachers of the class were American expatriates - their mentor was Leo Marchutz, originally a German Jew who had hidden in those very mountains around Aix during the Hitler years. These artists were all devotees of Cézanne. More than the act of painting, I just got completely hooked on their philosophical approach - their way of looking at art and life in general. Also, they seemed to think I "had something" as an artist, which certainly left an impact on me.

I went back to UCB and enrolled in an art class as a trial - just to make sure that I still wanted to go forward with my original academic plan. Elmer's was one of the first art classes I had. I took Life Drawing with him and realized that I knew nothing. He didn't say a lot; but people hung on his every word. At times he could be sharp and sarcastic, and his critiques could be painful - and deadly silent. We were all very intimidated, and very few students felt comfortable speaking during these critiques.

We would put all our drawings up on the wall, and he would work his way down the line, finding something to say about everyone's work but mine. It was pretty devastating. Elmer was not particularly patient and didn't take pains to explain things - it felt very much like a 'sink or swim' situation for me. Finally, one day I asked a student for their permission to watch them draw - a student whose work he consistently praised. It was then that the light finally turned on - it wasn't so much about drawing - it was about seeing! And in that moment, I saw in a completely new light; realizing that every object in the picture plane related to every other object - all the elements made up the 'whole'. I now understood what he was talking about - and from that day on, he began to not only comment on my work, but to praise my work. All of a sudden I existed.

The way Elmer talked about art was never in cosmetic terms, which was very unusual. He was able to tune into something deeper than just the "look" of a painting. He spoke more metaphorically, often using musical references, which somehow I totally got. We had a shared love of music - and I wonder if he didn't even have a bit of synesthesia - he was so incredibly attuned to visual rhythms. But his wasn't a language that worked for everyone, and when he spoke to some others about their works, they would often come up to me for a 'translation'. After I got my BA he became my mentor throughout graduate school, and I served as his Teaching Assistant.

He was very reserved as a teacher - and I think he held back a lot of his energy for his own work and his personal life. One never felt a surge of joyful energy when he entered the room - more like a surge of nervous energy. Students were a bit in awe of Elmer and held him in high esteem, though I don't think he was aware of this. He wasn't the perfect teacher for all - but he certainly was for me - and I feel very lucky to have worked with him. Ultimately, because he saw something about my potential as an artist, his influence became life and path-changing.

John Seed

 I took a seminar from Bischoff in 1981 during my graduate work at UCB. Once I showed him a figure drawing of a nude female model that I was very proud of. He looked it over soberly and said to me "What about all of the blank paper? It's not a good drawing until you have given the figure an environment that she can live in." I remember realizing then that Bischoff wasn't interested in isolated forms: he was interested in how everything worked together to form a whole.

Kyung Sun Cho

I worked with Elmer Bischoff between 1982-1985, before he retired in 1985. I was an undergraduate then, I enrolled in his figure painting/drawing courses. He conducted studio work sessions during the week, but the critiques were scheduled for Saturdays, they were joint critiques with graduates and undergraduates together: nobody missed them. I enjoyed his critiques enormously; he was honest but gentle. I have fond memories of him walking in the classroom holding his coffee mug and wearing his apron, ready to go!

In addition to Saturday critiques, I really appreciated the one to one time with him. He would conduct individual discussions with each student regarding his/her making. He took the time to examine topics concerning each student's work and level; he thoughtfully recommended readings and artists accordingly. He often brought his own books to share them with me, very thoughtful. He was kind and generous man. He was a dedicated teacher.

Casey Chalem

 When I was a student at UC Berkeley in the mid-1980s I showed him a small still life of an apple and he told me "It looks like your grandmother did that." The comment made me cry, but he was probably right.

Steve Sas Schwartz

My memories of Elmer include his kindness, keen visual perceptions and a chronic curiosity.

He was incredibly supportive of me while studying with him as both an undergrad and a graduate student and seemed fascinated by my deep immersion in my work and how I would be cranking out these substantive abstracts like channeling some greater force. He once asked: "How do you keep up this intensity, don't you ever stumble?" and I said "No!" but then "Yes of course, but I just put my head down and plow right through." Elmer just cracked up.

Once when i was renting Bob Yarber's studio in this really dark zone by the Oakland industrial train station Elmer came riding up to my door on a giant Harley wearing a black leather jacket, boots, the whole deal. That was funny and surprising as I had never that aspect of his personality. From then on I always called him Elvis and he would always laugh his hearty chuckle.

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Seated Nude, 1965, Oil crayon and ink on paper, 15 x 18 inches
Courtesy the Estate of Elmer Bischoff and the George Adams Gallery

Eve Aschheim

I studied with Elmer through 1984. He had unstinting energy and devotion to his classes, most of all to painting. Elmer just lit up when he saw painting; he lived in painting. He spent hours making setups for the model. He was always calm and engaged. During class critiques he would stare at a work for what seemed to be a long time, perhaps four minutes, and then offer insightful observations and thoughts, incisive critique, never predictable.

Elmer said things like: "It seems that the edges of the page are imposing themselves on the space inside of it, and determining too much of what happens within it." He talked a lot about the relationship of the figure to its environment, one of his chief preoccupations. He thought that the figure should be painted in as loose and intuitive way as the rest of the painting. He had a very fluid and subtle understanding of the relationship between drawing, painting, printmaking and cartooning.

On the last day of the semester of his drawing classes, Elmer would always give a slide show, with a surprising range of works, including prints! He showed Max Beckman's drypoint Self-Portrait (1914) and commented on the razor-sharp jagged strokes giving it a sense of tension. He showed Rembrandt's "unfinished" print The Artist Drawing from the Model (1648 or later), which he mused over, but considered to be essentially finished, a radical view. He also loved Krazy Kat!

When I was working in school independently of his classes, I would knock on his office door, and he always made time to critique my work, as if it were a welcome interruption. He was generous, but reserved and formal. One never had the feeling that teaching was a chore for him or that he wanted to be somewhere else, rather that through teaching he could communicate something of his inner life. 

Years later, I ran into Bischoff at the at the Anselm Kiefer exhibition (1988) at MOCA, Los Angeles. He was happy to see me and extremely enthusiastic about the show: he gestured at the brushstrokes and the thick paint application, as we discussed individual works. I think he commented favorably about the incorporation of large woodblock printing. He was impressed by the massiveness and sheer energy of the work. I remember bring impressed at how open he was to the work, not polemical or defensive. We talked about the work, and then as soon as we stopped looking Elmer just said: "Bye, see you again soon!" He didn't want to talk beyond that.

Links:

Recorded critique session by Elmer Bischoff: January 21, 1978

Elmer Bischoff: Slide Talk on his Work, March 9, 1978

Elmer Bischoff Remembers "The Breakfast Club" (video)

Elmer Bischoff: Working from Life and Figurative Paintings (concurrent exhibitions)
Through August 14, 2015
The George Adams Gallery
525-531 West 26th Street First Floor
New York, NY 10001

Ruth Weisberg: The Adventure of Living In Between

If you look over the biography of artist Ruth Weisberg you will note that she was born and raised in Chicago. After earning a BA and an MA in Michigan, where she also taught, Ruth moved to Southern California in 1969 where she has lived since. Ruth has also spent time overseas, including three formative years in Italy between the ages of 17 and 21, as a student at the Academia di Belle Arti in Perugia.

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Ruth Weisberg at Judson Studios, Los Angeles: Photo by Eric Minh Swenson

Of course, the physical locations where an artist literally "lives" may have only slight connection to the life of their mind. In Ruth Weisberg's case it has to be said that she has lived--as an artist--in the margins between reality, history and art, constantly inter-weaving them in an effort to reconcile her own identity and experience with universal forces and concerns. To put it another way, Ruth has a feeling for culture as adventure. Making art is her personal way of obliterating the boundaries of time and place and of using imagination and empathy to suggest parallel realities that are zones of the "in between."

"My main pre-occupations have been time and memory," Ruth recently explained to me; "I'm very interested in the artist's ability to travel through time." While growing up in Chicago--her father was an architect and her politically active mother was "the president of everything"--Ruth was exposed to artistic culture by the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also took her first ten years of art classes. She grew up with the knowledge that her family was part of a diaspora. The sweetness of her early life was both deeply connected to her family's Jewish heritage and also tempered by her growing awareness of the previous generation's tragic losses.

By her fourth class at the Art Institute Ruth had made up her mind to become an artist. It helped that her parents approved of her choice, and also that she was able to study as a teenager with a brilliant drawing instructor: Emmanuel Jacobson. To this day drawing remains central to Ruth's work in all media including printmaking and painting and is an important aspect of her teaching at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.

Because of her attachment to drawing and earlier engagement with Italian Renaissance art, Ruth found herself "out of synch" during her art studies at the University of Michigan. "The choices were Abstract Expressionism or Pop," she recalls. "I was interested in surface and tactility but couldn't have been more remote from Pop." As a woman artist Ruth also became increasingly aware of her relative "invisibility" in the male-dominated art world. After graduate school she held a teaching job at Eastern Michigan University and also received a Ford Foundation grant to research and illustrate a Holocaust-themed book: The Shtetl, a Journey and a Memorial.

For Weisberg, who as a young woman saw and was emotionally devastated by her grandmother's "Memorial Book," filled with images of Polish Jews who had perished in the Holocaust, this project was a watershed. It established her "voice" as an artist, and confirmed her feeling that as an artist she could be a "witness to history" across time and memory. Like writer/critic Susan Sontag, who in 1945 saw photos of Nazi concentration camps in a book and later wrote that "When I looked at those photos something broke," Ruth's is a Post-Holocaust intellectual. Her art is driven by her sense of empathy towards a profound quest for life's redemptive meanings as the antidote for her glimpse of incomprehensible evil.

Looking across time is both an imaginative act for her and a moral imperative. As Ruth once wrote: "My work demonstrates intense interest in the cycle of life, the continuity of generations, and issues of survival and impermanence."

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Weisberg's current exhibition--Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time--offers the opportunity to view and consider a selection of her key works. Most are drawings and prints, along with a single mixed media painting on canvas. "I see painting and drawing as tremendously inter-related," Weisberg comments, "and printmaking has always been very important to me." The show has been hung to forefront pairings of works and relationships between themes, and works that might have been made decades apart are often seen in close proximity.

The color lithograph Waterborne, created in 1973, is one very personal and revelatory image that suggests myriad themes and possibilities of meaning.

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Waterbourne, 1973, Color Lithograph, 30 1/4 x 42 1/4 inches

While pregnant with her first child, Weisberg floated nude in the pool of her great friends the art patrons Elyse and Stanley Grinstein. In some respects, the lithograph she created from this event could be said to be a record of a performance that deals with emergence, motherhood and birth. In fact, Weisberg had been around performance and dance during her time in Ann Arbor Michigan, and after coming to LA had taken part in a performance workshop with the late Rachel Rosenthal.

Printed at Cirrus Editions, Waterbourne is a rich masterful print that demonstrates Weisberg's confident drawing and interest in texture. It presents a distinctly feminist consciousness, in which the artist presents herself as having a heightened awareness and sense of control over her own progress towards giving birth while also accepting the fluidity and risk of her situation.

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La Comedia é Finita, 1977, Lithograph, 29 1/4 x 37 1/2 inches, Edition of 30

In a black and white lithograph made four years later-- La Comedia é Finita--themes of transition are again apparent, but in a much darker context. Weisberg has always taken an interest in cinematic and theatrical settings, and in this case both are at work. A figure of Pierrot, a Commedia Del'Arte character who also appears in the paintings of Watteau, draws back a curtain to reveal the climactic scene of Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) which was made during the Nazi occupation of Paris. A close examination of the figure of Pierrot, a character who often serves to suggest an honest witness or interloper, will tell you that "he" was modeled by a "she:" a friend and filmmaker named Laura Vazquez who often took care of Weisberg's children.

Among the faces in the crowd are those of some of the nearly 1,800 extras hired for the film--including members of the Resistance--many of whom were youthful and starving. Weisberg, who responds intuitively to her source material, is clearly dealing with the collisions between art and life that occurred during the making of the film, and with the idea that art can create an imaginative space in which one can make sense of life's potent mixture of pain and joy. For Weisberg, who was an infant in the relative safety of the United States during the years when this film was made, the print also explores the theme of where she was versus who she might have been.

 Although Weisberg's ability to work on an intimate scale in making drawings and prints is one of the strengths of her oeuvre, Reflections Through Time also features a monumental, mixed media drawing, Island, that is just over four feet tall and seven feet and one half feet wide. Made for Weisberg's 2008 exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum--Ruth Weisberg: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image--it is one of a series of works created to respond intuitively to a painting in the Simon's collection: Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity. Emanating from her conviction that contemporary art is not separate from art of earlier periods, Weisberg conceived Island as a dialogue with a work of art that was very much receptive and alive to her imagination.

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Guido Cagnacci, Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity, c.1660, 90.2 x 104.7 inches
The Norton Simon Museum

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Island, 2007 Mixed Media Drawing on Paper, 51 1/2 x 90 inches

"I think it's a great painting," Weisberg says of the Cagnacci. "It has a theatrical sense of ensemble and presentation." Weisberg's drawing isolates two characters from the original canvas--the reclining semi-nude figure of Mary Magdalen and her kneeling sister Martha--and recasts them with herself and her daughter-in-law Laura Darlington. It is a re-enactment, something that is present of many of Weisberg's recent works. In regards to the Cagnacci image, Weisberg explains: "At its core, the original painting is about the relationship between two women." Weisberg's re-enacted and re-focused variation softens the sense of "rebuke" and transmutes the relationship between the two women into something more affectionate: perhaps a blessing. In fact, another major work in this series is titled The Blessing.

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Paolo Veronese, The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, ca. 1565
Oil on canvas, 86 1/4 x 66 3/4 inches
The Frick Collection, New York

Another of Weisberg's re-enacted works is based on a work by Veronese that Weisberg views as "a very great and troubling painting." Titled The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, which is described by the Frick Collection's website in this way:
At a crossroads, Hercules encountered Vice, who offered a path of ease and pleasure, and Virtue, who indicated a rugged ascent leading to true happiness -- a moral lesson underlined by the motto on the entablature at upper left: [HO]NOR ET VIRTUS/[P]OST MORTE FLORET (Honor and Virtue Flourish after Death). The long talons of Vice have ripped the hero's stocking. A jagged knife leans against the breast of the sphinx supporting her throne.
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Questioning Veronese, 2011, Oil and Pastel on Gessoed Paper, 37 x 25 1/2 inches

Weisberg's painting removes the figure of Evil, and replaces it with a self-portrait that glances toward the viewer. "It's significant when someone in a painting is looking at YOU," Weisberg observes. "When characters don't look down or away, it reveals that the artist knows that they are going to have a direct communication with the work's viewers." As to just what her glance means, Weisberg is hesitant to comment: "My glance has many interpretations, and I like people to come to their own conclusions."

"While so many artists want to make history by being contemporary through stylistic gyration," explains art dealer Jack Rutberg, "Ruth Weisberg makes history contemporary. Art history is her source of inspiration as it converges with her own history." Looking through Weisberg's show it is very clear that not only is she deeply interested in finding the life and meanings of culture over time, while seeking to involve others in her sense of connection.

 "A combination of intellectual and emotional is what I want" says Weisberg. As her show demonstrates, she balances those two aspects with considerable confidence and grace.


Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time
June 13 - August 29th, 2015
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts Inc. 
357 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Edith Beaucage: 'Chill Bivouac Rhymes' at CB1 Gallery

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Edith Beaucage

Artist Edith Beaucage recently invited to meet me at CB1 Gallery's new downtown space to walk me around her exhibition Chill Bivouac Rhymes. The show, which features both paintings and free-standing elements, has a rough storyline about a group of teenagers at a rave concert. By the way, if you don't know what a bivouac is -- as I didn't prior to the show -- it is a temporary encampment. Keeping mind in Roland Barthe's idea that the best stories are those which are open to widely varying interpretations, Beaucage's sweet and sweepingly painted characters meet, flirt and wander in a loosely brushed Rococo paradise that opens up myriad narrative possibilities. "It's in California in a way," Edith explained to me as we entered the gallery, "there are woods, there is water, there is swimming: actually it's kind of a mix of Quebec and California."

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Installation View: Edith Beaucage, Chill Bivouac Rhymes

The addition of a central implied narrative is something new for Beaucage, whose 2011 show hurluberlu show consisted of idiosyncratic figures in abstracted settings. To prepare for Chill Bivouac Rhymes Beaucage made a maquette of the gallery space -- complete with tiny paintings and models -- and also generated a sequence of studies on paper. In the back room of CB1 Edith showed me a selection of these works, which have the bold immediacy of unfiltered ideas. They "rhyme" with each other in the sense that they present clusters of themes within a consistent range of feeling, as do the larger works on view.

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One of Edith's studies on paper

As Edith leafed through the story, she reflected on how her narrative had unfolded: "As I made these sketches the story became evident to me in the relationship between this young woman and this young man. They are in the woods -- But what are they talking about? Why are they there? -- but I could tell that they were falling in love."

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Rave Prose, 2015, Oil on canvas, 135-1/2" x 115"

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Rave Prose, 2015 (Detail) Oil on canvas, 135-1/2" x 115"

So there is a love story at the heart of Edith's rave, which the press release for the show describes enticingly: "A young Bolshoi ballerina, Ekaterina becomes a rave bunny and escapes her Russian lover to venture in cutting shapes with a young surfer from Bora Bora." From that kernel of a storyline Edith conceived locations -- Yellow Boa Canyon is one -- and an entourage of sweet, technicolor hipsters including Josephine, Happy Hardcore Sebastian, and some Scottish Gypsies.

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Happy Hardcore Sebastian an American Poet, 2015, Fired enamel on iron, 6" x 4"

Edith has tendency to see the best in people, and as we looked over the show we talked about a side of raves and the Burning Man Festival that is easy to overlook: people need places to unwind and experience love and friendship away from the world's insistent pressures. In the way she paints, she leaves angst behind at the studio door and let's pleasure and innocence take over. Beaucage's canvases, even the large ones, have almost no evidence of editing, scraping or revision. They are what they are: unadulterated marzipan pleasures that unfold in a looseleaf Eden.

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By Morning We Jumped Into the Crisp Water, 2015, Oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″

Chill Bivouac Rhymes is a an easy show to like as long as your recipe for art doesn't necessitate a social reality or tragedy as thematic ingredients. In the gallery opposite Beaucage's show is Jaime Scholnick's bracing exhibition Gaza: Mowing the Lawn which includes graphic imagery of war, grief and loss. Paradoxically, the two shows compliment each other through their profound sense of difference. Beaucage's show offers escape and release, and the reminder that love is always the answer, even to life's toughest, most pressing questions.

Edith Beaucage: Chill Bivouac Rhymes
June 6 - July 18, 2015 CB1 Gallery
1923 S. Santa Fe Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90021