Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco recently opened 2 new shows. The first is a solo show from Bay Area painter Terry Powers, whose exhibit features figurative paintings of his wife, child, and home. The second is a 2 person show featuring Elizabeth Yoshiko Schmidt and Paige Valentine, 2 students of Powers, and Bay Area based artists who explore intensely personal themes through sculpture and painting.
Does the term Bay Area figurative painter still carry weight? Is there any exalted identity or illustrious lineage to be dusted off, upon it’s use or reuse? Regardless of your feelings on the subject, Terry Powers is actively adapting what it means to be a Bay Area figurative painter with each day. Chameleon-like in his approach to painting, Powers views style not as an immutable and unique personal characteristic but instead as an affected attitude awaiting reanimation. The history of painting is seen not as a series of precedents or linear progressions, but rather as a vast language of symbols, characters and personalities–raw material ready for dissection and recontextualization.
This past winter, the artist was awarded SFAI’s prestigious Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellowship, and much like Diebenkorn’s more figurative oeuvre, painting fulfills a vital role in tandem with daily life. While some of Powers’ work sees the artist acting as a deft conductor of art historical moments set on a stage of the artist’s making, another concurrent body of work sees the artist painting quotidian scenes that depict the places and people that surround the artist: most notably his wife and new baby, and the garden that lies out the door of their San Francisco apartment. There’s an inherent vulnerability to these paintings, as snapshots of Powers’ daily life are presented with little adulteration. They range from the darkly mundane portrait of Powers checking his side for skin cancer, to the entrancing portrait of Melissa the artist’s wife standing in an exhausted stupor next to their newborn napping baby, to simpler scenes of the couple’s humble yet bountiful garden as it exploded this summer after the winter’s record-setting rains. Painting within this context is not placed on the gilded pedestal upon which it’s so often thrust, but is instead carried on as a ritual that simultaneously complements and documents–graciously allowing the viewer to enter within the artist’s domestic day to day.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of Terry Powers is his artistic flexibility, replicating the dashing confidence of a John Singer Sargent figure to vulnerably depicting his own modest garden with its potted plants and resilient weeds sprouting from between bricks. It’s this exact flexibility that’s an essential element of spiritual survival in today’s Bay Area, as the cultural and economic landscapes fluctuate with disorienting rapidity, and the role of the painter is perpetually in flux. And It’s this exact milieu from which Terry Powers emerges as an archetypal contemporary Bay Area figurative painter ... or whatever that happens to mean today. Much can be said about Terry Powers as a painter, yet his impact as a professor is
perhaps most profoundly recognized through the work of his outstanding students. As an accompaniment to Powers’ exhibition, Guerrero Gallery is pleased to present an adjoining exhibition featuring the work of current SFAI students Liz Yoshiko Schmidt and Paige Valentine. For years Schmidt has focused her energies on an improvisatory observational style of painting that shares a lineage from Powers to two of his painting idols: contemporary Chinese realist Liu Xiaodong and the late great John Singer Sargent before him. With an affecting boldness, Schmidt has crafted scene after scene painted on site within SFAI’s paint-spattered studios–in realtime inserting herself within the storied paint-spattered studios which have served as foundations for decades of great painters. Alternately, Valentine weaves together a love of classicism, maligned craft and emotive dog portraits within an idiosyncratic approach to painting that includes ornately glazed ceramic vases and the occasional oil on velvet work. Valentine replicates and reinvigorates forms found throughout classical Western art history, imbuing them with a quirky humor and personal bravado that’s unexpectedly refreshing.
Text and images provided by Guerrero Gallery