Rico Solinas' "You Never Know" at Anglim Trimble Gallery, San Francisco (from 48Hills.org)

Rico Solinas's Paintings Depict Bay Area with Affection and Humor

RICO SOLINAS: You Never Know
Anglim/Trimble Gallery
March 2-April 27, 2024

Rico Solinas, an Oakland artist who lives in the Mission, is the subject of a You Never Know, mini-retrospective at Anglim/Trimble Gallery,. While the hundred or so paintings, treating a number of subjects, fill the gallery, it must be said that even this embarrassment of riches is but a tiny sampling of Solinas’s prodigious oeuvre of hundreds of notebooks and tens of thousands of paintings. As Senior Preparator at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the artist skips lunches and breaks, opting instead to document the generally unseen labors of his art-wrangler colleagues. He has also worked closely with and learned from some of the world-famous artists circulating through SFMOMA. He told an interviewer, “I’ve worked with a lot of artists in this job, and you pick up a lot of good tips. One of them is ‘Paint every day.’ ”

Painting is a synthesis of focused observation—the Surrealist painter Max Ernst claimed his favorite activity was seeing—and painterly improvisation. The wide-ranging subject matter in this show, which covers almost thirty-five years’ practice, reflects Solinas’s interest in daily life—“I paint what I see,” as the mordant cartoonist Gahan Wilson once joked— filtered through an sensibility both respectful and playful.

In the late 1980s, Solinas, then in his middle thirties, began a series of landscape paintings on the unusual substrate of antique handsaws. This was partly a tribute to his recently deceased grandfather, a carpenter whom Solinas’ s artist mother had herself honored by painting on his circular saw blades to make gifts for her children. The handsaw paintings now displayed  throughout the gallery depict trucks, piping, and industrial machinery, in an homage to manual labor—which includes art making. It is easy, in the resurgence of the labor movement in recent years, to see the series as sharing the celebratory spirit of the working-man art of the Depression and early 1940s. Solinas later expanded the series, now containing hundreds of saws, to depict the art museums that he visited (and worked in) in the United States and Europe, including SFMOMA and other Bay Area institutions, in the aptly named series,100 Museums: Paintings of Buildings That Have Paintings Inside.

In 1990, Solinas  painted a series of carefully observed portraits of the naval ships docked at Hunters Point (a WWII Navy base now housing artist studios), setting them in heaving, theatrical seas. The long rectangular paintings on panel , marine typology, resemble the ship paintings adorning boys’ plastic model kits, and their oddly skewed horizon lines, which the installation plays up by installing some of the thirteen works at odd angles, exude a storm-tossed vibe, as if the works had been hung on rotating gimbals, never to spill their contents no matter how buffeted, in true ship shape. Across the gallery hangs Solinas’s 1991 painting, “151Third Street,” depicting the jumbled skyline of the downtown neighborhood that four years later would house the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,. The painted skyline is oddly canted at about 7 degrees to the left, similar to those ubiquitous  photos of San Francisco’s hilly streets with the streets aligned with the bottom of the picture margin and the lined-up houses apparently tilted askew; the gallery has humorously installed the painting tilted so that the buildings look plumb (as we know most of them to be)..

Later in the 1990s, came a series of tondo (circular-format) works depicting windblown trees and commercial signage motifs from our urban infrastructure. Instead of painting from photos, Solinas painted these twenty-four works on-site, with his back to the motifs, working from a convex mirror attached to his easel, providing a wide-angle peephole distortion. This absurdist shoot-over-the-shoulder Annie-Oakley approach, with its resultant backward-reading looking-glass messages, remakes Pop Art motifs from ‘vulgar’ contemporary life with engaging wit and humor.

FInally, in 2020, with the advent of the covid pandemic, Solinas began a series of small plein-air (outdoor) gouache (opaque watercolor) paintings on paper, documenting the street life of the Bayview District, in southeast San Francisco. If the predominantly minority Bayview is regarded with trepidation by the cautious, Solinas’s corrective views of la vie bohémienne, which have gained a wide audience on Instagram and Facebook (where I first saw them), betray neither angst nor indignation over social injustice. The Bayiew’s denizens are carefully observed,, but Solinas eschews photographic realism in favor of cheerful distortion. He depicts not individual people so much as characters in a scene, as if onstage, performing in, say, a music or opera. Again, the depictions of working-class life by sympathetic Depression artists come to mind. Solinas: “A couple figures, a couple buildings… I just want to capture everyday places that people go to.” The Bayview, a book with sixty-seven of these friendly paintings inside, so to speak, has just been published.


Abstract Paintings by A.L. Woods, 2020-2023, Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory, Menlo Park CA, through March 25, 2024

Recent Abstract Paintings

In the 1950s, the Abstract Expressionist painter Barnett Newman stated, “It was decided just to paint,” declaring the new movement’s rejection of the outworn creeds of realism and representation. Some seventy-five years later, amid the dizzying variety of contemporary art, with performance art , video, installation, computer art, and conceptual art having replaced the traditional manual skills prized by Newman and his peers, the statement could be read quite differently: as a commitment to painting, that millennia-old medium as old as civilization itself  that is periodically declared dead so by upcoming generations.

A.L. Woods is a former engineer and scientist whose painting practice is a dialogue between her materials—water-based acrylic inks and paints on wooden panel—and the humanized geometric vision that she pursues with discipline and purpose. Woods jokes about her labor-intensive process while restating her commitment: “No one wants to copy my work. You’ve got to like you process.” Eighteen of her recent paintings, all but one in her favored square format, are on view at Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory’s Building 52 through March of 2024. Her systematic approach is evident in the numbered titles, suggesting scientific experimentation; but ancillary titles like Undersea, Granite, Lichen, and the quartet of rose-bush paintings —Honor, Freedom, Mr. Lincoln, and Cecile Brunner —demonstrate that the grid format is flexible enough to accommodate real life, like being trapped at home by the pandemic quarantine, surrounded by plants. Picasso once noted that the greens that inundated him at a Versailles garden demanded that he paint them out of his system.

Woods’ abstractions are very different from Picasso’s vehement, prehensile distortions, however. Viewers may be reminded of the geometric razzle-dazzle of 1960s Op Art because of the underlying rhythmic structure, which also suggests the artist’s background in fluid dynamics, but the assertively flat patterns and domineering sizes employed by  Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley, with their flawless, mechanical-looking facture, are a far cry from Woods’ medium-sized handmade artifacts, with the colors modulated and mixed to create shading, space and even pictorial atmosphere. The color and tonal variations in Wood's grid patterns create light- and dark-centered forms that suggest change and variation within a controlled format.

Woods’ preference for mathematically grid-based abstraction reflects her methodical, approach to artmaking, perhaps  shaped by her decades of making fiber art (which included weaving audiocassette tapes) and her enjoyment of the visual paradoxes of M.C. Escher, like the lizards in Reptiles (1943) endlessly marching from printed-book 2D space into the viewer’s 3D space and back again. I am reminded as well of Josef Albers’ Despite Straight Lines prints, depicting geometric shapes seen in axonometric perspective, that resemble engineering drawings of irrational optical illusions. (Albers’ Stanford Wall, 1974-7, featuring some of these designs, stands on Roth Way just east of the Oval.) The methodical approach applies not just to the careful painting of her orthogonal grids—which combine the two-dimensional perfect forms of equilateral triangles and hexagons with diamond shapes that read as squares, seen in perspective—but also to her color mixing, which must be done flawlessly, with no retouching or correction. Woods found her color-mixing methodology, with the source colors placed at the corners of a square, and carefully mixed in the intermediary blanks, in the writings of the Bauhaus color theorist Joannes Itten; the idea of using a triangular grid for mixing instead of a square derives from the contemporary New York painter Sanford Wurmfeld.

The British painter David Hockney once postulated that the more time a painting took to make, the better it would be. (He was doing photo-mosaics at the time, which take 50 or 100 shutter clicks, and negligible time, so the math is still on the side of painting.) Viewers of Woods’ meditative mazes will find the the slow, accretive richness of these carefully wrought paintings to be infinite and inexhaustible.

The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England, at Palace of Legion of Honor, San Francisco

We Americans may consider ours a classless society, but American culture belies our national myth of democratic equality. So does our fascination with dynasties and royalty, whether monarchic or capitalist. The Legion of Honor’s new treasure-trove exhibition, The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England, coming after the inauguration of Charles III and the conclusion of the popular Succession television series (based on the Murdoch media empire), is thus timely and informative, an eye-popping spectacle of luxury goods—paintings, prints, ritual vestments, tapestries, vessels, and other artifacts. Created as state propaganda to legitimize an upstart dynasty, the artifacts still gratify the eye, while providing us moderns, half a millennium later, an object lesson in how power shaped and shapes official culture.


The Tudor Dynasty began in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, with the defeat of the last of the York kings, crookback Richard III. That battle ended the Wars of the Roses (1455-87)—a  power struggle between descendants of cons of the Plantagenet Edward II (1312-77): John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99), his side symbolized by the white rose; and Edmund, Duke of York (1341-1402), his side symbolized  by the red rose. Shakespeare’s history plays—Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI—detail the fratricidal conflict, with Richard III ’s villainy contrasting with the current enlightened patroness of the arts, Elizabeth I.


Henry Tudor (1457-1509), crowned Henry VII, was not in fact of the York line, but of the lowborn Welsh Tudors, one of whom had become the secret husband of the young widow of Henry V. Henry legitimized his reign as the de-facto head of the York side by marrying Elizabeth of York, and uniting the Lancastrian and York roses into the composite Tudor rose. Succeeding Henry (reigned 1485- 1509) were his son, Henry VIII (r. 1509–47), and then Henry VIII’s three children, Edward VI (r. 1547–53), Mary I (r. 1553–58), and Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603).


The exhibition, which originated at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, was curated by European art specialists Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker, and comes to San Francisco in a somewhat abbreviated form due to covid and insurance factors that came into play after 2020. While it is large, it is not exhaustingly so; furthermore, the show is laid out chronologically rather than thematically, one or two galleries per monarch, making it easy to negotiate without time-tripping mental gymnastics.


In the catalogue’s introductory essay, Cleland and Easter note the backwardness of English art at the time: “When it comes to the visual arts, the English have a long- standing tradition of national self-deprecation. Writing at the end of the Elizabethan era, Richard Haydock lamented that the art of painting ‘never attained to any great perfection amongst us.’ Almost two centuries later, Horace Walpole apologetically prefaced his Anecdotes of Painting in England by acknowledging that its ‘chief business . . . must be to celebrate the arts of a country which has produced so few good artists.’” The most accomplished paintings in the exhibition are Hans Holbein’s the Younger’s portraits of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, in 1536-7; her son, the young Edward VII, as a regal two-year-old princeling, in 1538;  and the young German nobleman and humanist, Hermann von Wedigh III, in 1532; all three are masterpieces of detailed observation and human sympathy. Mention should also be made of a 1540 full-length portrait of Henry by Holbein’s workshop, capturing the young monarch’s outsized personality, every inch a king, and Paolo Torrigiano’s 1510-15 polychromed terra cotta bust of John Fisher, the ascetic Bishop of Rochester, beheaded in 1535 for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as head of the Church of England, a tour de force of sympathetic realism.


The homegrown English talent, working from a more conceptual, decorative aesthetic, produced striking works as well: Nicholas Hilliard’s iconic, bejeweled 1576-8 portrait of Elizabeth I captures the Virgin Queen as national symbol; and George Gower’s earlier 1567 portrait portrays the young, fashionable (and supposedly marriageable) Elizabeth as a paragon of female virtue and fecundity.


Those who might enjoy a deep dive into English Renaissance culture—and the human stories behind the artifacts— can delve into the scholarly catalogue, which traces the myths and symbols of Catholic and Protestant culture in England and the Continent (from which a prosperous England imported the best artistic talent); the role of religion at this crucial period; and, as always, the role of strategic marriages between members of transactional ‘frenemy’ aristocratic families. 



John Roloff, "Sentient Terrains" at Anglim Trimble Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)

JOHN ROLOFF: Sentient Terrains
Anglim Trimble Gallery


Ecological concerns, once disparaged as the alarmism of elitist’ scientists, are now accepted as legitimate, as we edge closer to climatic tipping points. The Bay Area artist John Roloff has made environmentalism one of the cornerstones of his diverse art practice since the mid-1970s, when he finished his studies in art and geology and the University of California in Davis. “Ecology in an expanded frame,” i.e., an understanding of the interrelationship between human and natural processes. the “global metabolism,” has informed Roloff’s multifarious practice in sculpture, site-specific installations, and visionary conceptual works, which draw upon the fine-art ceramic tradition established in the Bay Area, its longtime political progressivism, and its aesthetic embrace of sociopolitical content(with and without overt polemics). The new show at Anglim Trimble, Sentient Terrains, showcases the artist’s considerable breadth and depth, even as it reminds us that late-Anthropocene-Era humans can no longer believe that dominating nature autocratically is our prime objective.


Modernist abstraction abandoned illusionism in order to create new realities arising from the relationships between shapes, forms and color. Conceptual art makes s similar claim on the viewer: to find meaning in material that may not be explicitly related, visually. This show, which is a kind of miniature museum retrospective, assembles four types of artwork: nine long vertical-format Meta-Site flags, digitally printed on satin; digital inkjet print assemblages and videos depicting various site studies and proposals, resembling scientific or architectural presentations; images on glass panels, set atop against wooden blocks, and leaning on the gallery walls; and ceramic sculptures set in long vitrines that depict wedges of seemingly excised landscapes, ruined and ravaged, but possibly regenerating.


If the exact content of the works is ambiguous to science or geology novices, the works are nonetheless visually compelling. The Meta-Site Flags, depicting the vascular facies between chemical substances— lava, orchid, chlorophyll, hemoglobin, hematite and ancient earth’s iron rain—have a heraldic banner look, due to the tall vertical format, with the elements grafted together by a spiky sawtooth cut suggestive of dovetail wood joinery. The site studies and proposals for the Great Valley Complex of California, a San Francisco Wharf Complex, and even the old Geary Street location of Gallery Paule Anglim (in 2001) situate specific regional locations within the wider context of vast natural forces and immense time scales. More immediately appealing are Roloff’s more pictorial works, including two large glass panels, both dated 1996-2023, bearing digitally printed black ad white images of historical or art-historical motifs .urban/Coal (Witness/Seance) conjoins and juxtaposes the face of a man in a red turban (by Jan Van Eyck?) with what appears to be semi-liquid coal slurry: carbon to carbon, dust to dust? Equally enigmatic and fascinating is Biotic Knight (Witness). featuring the full-sized image of a slenderly built knight in armor who, printed onto glass as he is, appears to hover in space, awaiting commands. Roloff’s geological tableaux—composed of ceramic, glass, silicone, and wood—are decidedly Romantic and surrealist evocations of blasted landscapes—and, with their shattered wedge shapes, fracture ship hulls. Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (1823-4)—also known as The Wreck of The Hesperus, or The Wreck of Hope, comes to mind as an artistic predecessor, but so do the war-torn landscapes of the English war artist, Paul Nash (especially Totes Meer, Dead Sea). Roloff’s Vector Ship: Vascular Sea sculptures, set within plexiglass boxes like relics or artifacts, depict fragmented forms—both architectural and biological/botanical/human—arrayed along exposed wedge-shaped ridges that are here and there bisected by glass shards, and half-buried by snow or ash that has been sprayed red or black by explosions. They depict the horror of war and desolation, as well as its terrible beauty, dramatically, without melodrama.