Raymond Saunders returns | View of Potrero
Award-winning contemporary artist Raymond Saunders has chosen two San Francisco galleries as the sites for his first solo exhibition in over a decade.
A major figure in contemporary art, Saunders received a Masters of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts in 1961, where he later taught, and has been bi-coastal and bicontinental for much of his career, living and working in New York. , Oakland and Paris.
In 1980, Saunders had received a Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and had published his influential essay “Black is a Color,” which argued that the emphasis on a black artist’s skin color was rather limiting. that liberating.
His new exhibition, 40 years old: Paris / Oakland, is co-presented by Casemore Kirkeby in Dogpatch and Andrew Kreps Gallery South-of-Market. The exhibition features several works from the artist’s studios in the titular cities, many of which are on display for the first time in the United States. Saunders’ inability to date many pieces accurately is testament to his process: most of the paintings on display have been in the works, on and off, for the past four decades.
The works exhibited at Casemore Kirkeby are divided between two rooms of the gallery. The first exhibits large-scale figurative and abstract paintings – sometimes on the same canvas – and resonates with frenzied energy. The second, smaller, is dedicated to more delicate floral studies. The first room is fortunately unified by certain visual elements: the background of each canvas is a thick layer of black paint, on which disparate visual elements dance and collide, Saunders repeatedly returning to the same motifs. Almost every image contains the chalk outline of a woman’s head in profile, one or more birds, and several pieces of fruit.
Saunders also incorporates contemporary images and references. A Flash Gordon comic book and newspaper advertisements are pasted in one composition; a French traffic sign has been nailed to another canvas. In one piece, Saunders jotted down a list of names: Ella, Monk, Nina, Train; a coded ode to the founding artists of jazz. The incorporation of these influences, the tradition of painting into everyday life, and Saunders’ abstract and frenetic style, make each canvas an explosion of the artist’s consciousness.
This visual similarity of each painting, coupled with the lack of titles, suggests that each painting is an extension of the last, a body of work greater than the sum of its parts. Considered a 40-year-old production, the series becomes diaristic, a recording of the artist’s daily practice of recording his consciousness through branding. This window into Saunders’ mind becomes a pond for reflection for our own thoughts, which is not limited to a single interpretation. “The reality of the truth,” Saunders said in an interview in 1994, “is that there is variability.”
Saunders’ influences are clear, from the Dadaist collage and geometric abstraction of Modernism to his contemporaries, such as Cy Twombly. His own style was recognized by other major figures, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. This roots Saunders in a tradition while also placing him in art history, a canonical recognition that few artists live long enough to be granted. The feeling is that of a genitor fully assuming his place in history and asserting himself in the present.
40 years old: Paris / Oakland is on view at Casemore Kirkeby, Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street, and Andrew Kreps Gallery, 657 Howard Street until June 12.