THE SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

With the conclusion of WWII, the Golden Age of American Painting began. New York became the epicenter of a new movement that became known as Abstract Expressionism.  It was in NY that the power of the press, the art critics, the endorsements and exhibitions from both museums and the best galleries, and the support of wealthy patrons, made this art form gain tremendous national and international attention. This new style of art and its successful promotion in the 1950’s, in fact was revered so much that it moved the capital of the art world from Paris to New York.

Soon after the end of the war, the Abstract Expressionist movement quickly gained interest and a following throughout the United States. While the spawning of the movement had began in New York for the reasons stated above, the largely untold story is the fact that this new approach to painting also quickly developed a following on the west coast and specifically in San Francisco where the SF Art Institute existed.

The San Francisco Art Institute was unlike other art schools in the country in many ways. Their studios and classrooms were full of ex-soldiers who had disembarked on the west coast with money from the GI Bill for their tuition and/or to claim teaching positions. The faculty and local artists were quickly joined by students from throughout the country. The likes of Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Ansel Adams, and many others of acclaim were invited and brought in to enhance the programs.

In San Francisco the effects of seeing combat and wars atrocities (as opposed to the East Coast artists of which very few were veterans,) played an important difference in the brand of rebellious politics and defiant attitudes of these West Coast artists. Abstract expressionism quickly became an important way to release and express sensitive and emotionally charged feelings about the present state of our country and the world. While some of those feelings were anger and disgust, others lent themselves to a special appreciation of nature, jazz and poetry. With a strong philosophical unity of these artists, a general comfort and non-proprietary attitude in the sharing of ideas and techniques became routine.  The New York School did not have the same attitude of unity and their artists influences and ideas were not as freely traded back and forth. Another extremely important and recognizable influence on The West

Coast artists was the proximity to Asia. The Eastern philosophies figured strongly in the art of the west coast with their language of marks, philosophical beliefs, and inclusion of their historical and early art.

To describe briefly this period of 1945 to 1965 is a fascinating story that is rich with unique and exciting art and characters that were bigger than life. When looking at the SF Bay Area Art of this period the following might be a somewhat helpful guide.

San Francisco was home to a group of abstract artists who rivaled the New York school for innovation, authenticity and rebelliousness.

The SF school as it has come to be known flourished in San Francisco’s “live and let live” atmosphere. Surrounded by the bay area landscape, they imbued abstract expressionist painting with a deep sense of nature and produced art forms seen nowhere before and nowhere since. The paintings we show are carefully selected examples that document the spirited uniqueness of this group.

 

Edward Dugmore, 1953, 90″ x 58″