Bay Area Figurative Art, 1950 - 65

Richard Diebenkorn, Still Life with Letter, 1961, approx. 20 x 25 inches

Beginning around 1950 in the San Francisco Bay Area a group of painters started moving away from abstraction -- at the very moment when the New York School of Romantic and heroic Abstract Expressionism was in full flower. Key figures associated with the West Coast movement were people such as David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Brown, and many others. In the book Bay Area Figurative Art: 1950 - 1965, author Caroline Jones writes.
The new figurative "pictures" created by the Bay Area artists were neither reactionary nor merely illustrational. Although clearly moving away from the subjective isolation and and grandiosity of Abstract Expressionism, the new work was clearly in its debt.
She goes on the quote David Park:
I believe the best painting America has produced is in the current non-objective direction. However, I often miss the sting that I believe a more descriptive reference to some fixed object can make. Quite often, even the very fine non-objective canvases seem to me to be so visually beautiful that I find them insufficiently troublesome, not personal enough.
As we know, the abstractions of Pollack and DeKooning could in fact be pretty troublesome, nor is the Diebenkorn above especially stinging, but the point is well taken. At the time there was the notion that art "progressed" through styles and forms, with abstraction being the pinnacle. Now, we know that everything sits side by side in the Eternal Now of creativity. Here are some images from the Bay Area School. Look how similar the poses of the men in the Bischoff and Wonner are. Probably not a coincidence.

David Park, Nudes by a River, 1954, 59 x 47 in.

Elmer Bischoff, Man and Lavender Sky, 1958, 41 x 59 in.

Joan Brown, Noel on a Pony with Cloud, 1963, 72 x 96 in.

Paul Wonner, Living Room at I's, 1964, 12 x 18 in.


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