Paintings from the Bay Area School: Californian Artists from the 40s, 50s and 60s

By Emily Beeson | 22 May 2013

Exhibition preview: Paintings from the Bay Area School: Californian Artists from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Thomas Williams Fine Art, London until June 22nd 2013

A photo of an image of two abstract figures in blue and yellow against black backdrop
Frank Lobdell, September 1954 (1954). Oil on canvas© The Frank Lobdell Trust, courtesy Hackett|Mill, San Francisco, CA
For British audiences, California's Bay Area School may not be the most familiar artistic movement. But this group of artists affected the post-war American art scene dramatically, and defined a counter-culture and new artistic movement birthed by a thirst for a cultural revolution.

The shift began in San Francisco, led by the now familiar names Ansel Adams, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still who, like so many of their generation, were disillusioned by the conservative American lifestyle, their experiences as GIs during the Second World War and the potential for political change.

This exhibition is the first of the Bay Area School artists to be held outside the United States, featuring work by the defining members of the radical arts movement, such as Richard Dibenkorn and Elmer Bischoff.

It coincides with the release of a superb new book written by Thomas Williams and published by Lund Humphries which documents and interrogates the post-war Bay Area scene, as radical artists traded the life of a soldier for a place at the California School of Fine Arts.

Like the beat poets of the same downtown area, this school of artists set out to discover new modes of expression; to produce the work they longed to see and create an alternative world that they strived to experience.

In doing so, they generated a new and radical school which mirrored the musical and literary insurgency that was occurring at the same time.

Both the book and exhibition chart this journey from its birth under the leadership of avant-garde museum curator Douglas MacAgy, its growth as the movement's 'bridge' and 'second-generation' artists, including Joan Brown, who were welcomed under its name,

Eventually its influence was significantly overshadowed by the prolific New York School of abstract expressionists and artists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. As a result, it is still a relatively obscure chapter in the narrative of American art history.

A generous and fascinating insight into the movement’s role in west coast counter-culture, the exhibition also challenges the critic-induced assumption that Abstract Expressionism was solely a New York- based phenomenon, and reveals how the Bay Area school influenced figurative art forms and Pop Art.

It offers a look into a vibrant yet overlooked movement, and reveals its impact on generations to come.

More Pictures:

An image of a pastoral-coloured painting of a man's face
Nathan Oliveira, Self Portrait (1964). Oil on linen© The Estate of Nathan Oliveira, Stanford, CA, courtesy Thomas Williams Fine Art
An image of an abstract painting of various strands of black, yellow and red on white
Ernest Briggs, Untitled (1952). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Hackett|Mill, San Francisco
An image of a painting which is predominantly pink with bits of brown, green and blue
Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled (Alberqueque Series) (1951). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Thomas Williams Fine Art
An image of a painting of a green chair on a brown floor against an orange wall
Richard Diebenkorn, Folding Chair (1966). Oil on canvas© Courtesy Thomas Williams Fine Art
An image of an abstract painting of various squares and circles in different colours
John Grillo, Untitled (1949). Poster paint and mixed media on paper© Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, CA, courtesy Thomas Williams Fine Art

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