Thiebaud, Turner and Gearhart, Pasadena Museum of California Art

Jan/Feb 2010|Bryson Strauss, Vol 4 Issue 3

An unlikely and exciting triumvirate of exhibitions opened simultaneously at the Pasadena Museum of California Art: “Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting,” “Population: Portraits by Ray Turner’” and “Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart.”

Compelling from beginning to end, the best visitor experience is from the top down. That means, start with “Ray Turner, ‘Population’” in the upstairs gallery for a surprising reinvigoration of portraiture. This work is tight on all levels, from concept to execution to installation. Consisting of over 125, 12 x 12-inch paintings on glass and with wood backgrounds painted a single color of the pantone scale, these small works of art come together to form giant, raucous, highly-populated murals. The effect is a cacophony of voices and darting glances that are at the same time familiar and unsettling. While Turner’s quotations are overt, (i.e. Francis Bacon, Nathan Oliveira, or Lucien Freud to start) his gestural language and use of color is totally his own. He is laying paint down in a way that captures the individual without sacrificing the painting so that in the end, these works of art are as much about form, color, surface, and movement, as they are about identity and emotional depth.

Then, heading downstairs into the main exhibition hall, behold “Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting.” This exhibition is curated to illustrate not only Thiebaud’s rich and unique imagery but to also present a visual narrative of the creative life of one of this century’s most revered and innovative painters. Beginning with simple sketches from his early life to his newest, hyper-complex and somewhat surreal cityscapes, the exhibition shows the perpetual evolution of a dedicated, life-long artist. For the most part, the work is delightfully simple in its idea while being utterly captivating in its execution. The iconic paintings of cupcakes, candies, and people at the beach all rendered white on white with light pinks and greens that point toward but never arrive at pastel, cause pause and patience and appreciation for the art of the everyday. Thiebaud shows us that the simplest moment of our daily lives contains all the essential components of a good story.

Finally, in the Back Gallery, the incredible printmaking exhibited in “Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Francis Gearhart,” is a reflection of an obsessive artist in mad love with both her subject matter and her craft. The unimaginable perfection and yet loose lyrical quality of these multi-color woodblock prints is evidence (or a reminder) of the great possibilities of the graphic arts. Completed over 70 years ago, this body of work illustrates Gearhart’s California, reflecting the awe and intrigue of the America West mixed with the romantic sentiments of the Barbizon painters. While the scale is small, the narrative is huge and the visual quality is vibrant and enduring.

Thiebaud, Turner, and Gearhart all exhibit such Roarkian individualism in their artwork that the combined experience of these three shows demonstrates the breadth of good representational art across time and across mediums.

Pasadena Museum of California Art

490 East Union Street Pasadena CA 91101 / 626.568.3665