THE SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL OF
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM


[1] [2] [3]

(1) Hassel Smith, "The Triumph of Gargoylism," o/c, 68 x 68", 1957. Courtesy the collection of Gimpel Fils. School of the Fine Arts on Russian Hill.
(2) Richard Diebenkorn, "Berkeley No. 22," o/c, 59 x 57". Courtesy the collection of the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
(3) Sonia Gechtoff, "Children of Frejus," o/c, 76 x 3/4 x 102", 1959.

by J.D. Callaghan

(Laguna Museum of Art, Orange Co.) The basic tenets of abstraction or non-representational painting were that line, shape and color themselves were the expression, and that paint surface on canvas itself was the object. No overt or intended reference to the "real" world was the shared ground of non-objective painters not only in San Francisco and New York, but around the world.

Although drawing from the unconscious, the effects of the Northern California landscape and atmosphere are visible here. The range of feeling ranges from the dark and introspective, to the sensuous and pleasurable. James Kelly and Jay Defeo, as second generation painters, began to introduce a gestural approach, previously rejected because of its association with their New York contemporaries. Kelly's Assault on K-2 reflects the arm movement in brush strokes akin to action painting.

While the earlier works concentrate on texture and surface with a limited, dark and earth-toned palette, the later paintings are more improvisational, brighter, perhaps more optimistic in feel and expression. An example is James Budd Dixon's Study in Red and Green #13. But regardless of stylistic differences between artists and when they painted, the San Francisco School is unified in abstraction, in the rejection of traditions of European representationalism, the conformity it demanded, and the excesses of materialism about to be unleashed in America--which are still very much with us today.