Moment to Moment: Figuration and the Northern California Avant Garde

May 12 - October 31, 2020
San Francisco, CA



“I think Northern California is the most beautiful place on earth. . . there’s something about the air in SF, for instance. It changes from moment to moment, like one’s thoughts.”

-Hilton Als

Heather James Fine Art presents a two-part online exhibition of the avant-garde art and artists from Northern California. Part one focuses on figurative and representational art and how these artists pushed against the overwhelming tide of East Coast abstraction.

The San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California proved to be fertile in producing artists that changed the course of art history. The artists in the show all worked in Northern California, and the exhibition examines the importance of place and context to understanding these artists. With artwork and people travelling on an international level, it can be difficult to remember the importance of location and environment. The artworks and artists were deeply affected by the Bay Area and Northern California, but nevertheless, in their specific subjectivity, there is a global resonance.

The exhibition takes its title from a quote by renowned cultural writer and author Hilton Als that also applies to the enterprising spirit of these artists and the diversity of movements founded in the area. The quote provides a metaphoric and environmental backbone through which to understand these artists and the circumstances in which they worked.

What movements sprung forth from the Bay Area? There was Bay Area Figurative, which returned the focus onto the body and pushed against the dominance of East Coast abstraction. Some of the very proponents of the San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism became founders of the Bay Area Figurative movement. These artists reincorporated subject and representation not just in rebellion to abstraction but in search for a deeper artistic fulfilment.

And there was Pop Art, which gave more warmth and more depth to the increasing focus on conceptualism. Perhaps one of the most identified with the hippie spirit of Northern California, there was Funk Art with all of its anti-establishment tendencies.

By no means comprehensive, this exhibition is a first dive into the metaphorical pool of creativity in Northern California. There were not one or two movements but an embarrassment of riches in artistic imagination that reveal themselves from moment to moment.

Running concurrently is “The Cool School” which looks at the simultaneous rise of artists in Southern California. By juxtaposing these two exhibitions, we can understand both the breadth of artistic output but also how artistic relations and geographic location are necessary catalysts for creative endeavors.

Artists include Robert Bechtle, Elmer Bischoff, Wiliam Theophilus Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, George Miyasaki, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, Siddharth Parasnis, Roland Petersen, Mel Ramos, Hassel Smith, James Weeks, and Paul Wonner.