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February 26, 2004

Bay Area Figurative Artists

Dear Friedrich --

By Wonner; by Peterson

The San Francisco painters David Park (here), Richard Diebenkorn (here) and Elmer Bischoff (here) are three of my favorite 20th century artists, but the loose school they represent -- Bay Area Figurative painting -- included many other talented, if less well-known, artists too. Here's a page devoted to one of them, Paul Wonner; here's one devoted to another, Roland Peterson. I think many people who are wary of modernism might find the work of these painters surprisingly agreeable. It's casual, atmospheric, and pleasure-centric -- 1920s Paris via the Golden Gate, a bohemian utopia that smells of the Pacific.

The Hackett-Freedman Gallery handles work by a lot of these guys, and their website (here) is itself an informative and helpful thing of beauty. Caroline Jones' wonderful book, Bay Area Figurative Art: 1950-1965, can be bought here.

Are you a fan too?



posted by Michael at February 26, 2004


All of the Bay Area artists share a love of large flat (relatively flat) planes of color. Very appealing.

There is an American artist, John Hultberg, who interestingly, grew up in the bay area and then came east. You might want to give his work a look. At Google, the second listing,, will take you to a selection of it.
The same love of flat planes.

Posted by: ricpic on February 26, 2004 2:46 PM

Frankly, I know less than I should about the whole school; thanks particularly for showing some examples of Wonner and Peterson's work, both of which I really like.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 26, 2004 3:49 PM

there's maybe 1 or 2 Diebenkorns on view at any one time at SFMOMA. I tell you it's a crime.

Posted by: nick kallen on February 26, 2004 5:40 PM

Amen Nick, amen. I have NEVER seen a figurative Diebenkorn on view at SF MOMA (not even one on loan). (The exception, of course, is the retro from a few years back.)

And while I don't live in LA, I get to LACMA a lot. And I've only seen one on view at a time there.

Posted by: Tyler Green on March 3, 2004 10:38 PM

Wow, that does seem odd. Though I'm confused -- they don't put Diebenkorns in general on view? Or just the figurative Diebenkorns?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 3, 2004 10:44 PM

I spent a fair amount of time during grad school painting exactly like David Park. If the world was a better place, Bay Area figuration would have become the major historical art movement to follow abstract expressionism. Instead that honor went to pop art.

Posted by: Franklin on March 4, 2004 2:13 PM

Last time I was at SF MOMA they had a Berkeley abstraction on view (and maybe an Ocean Park -- which may have been on loan from a trustee or something... I don't quite remember). I don't think they own a major figurative Diebenkorn.

Posted by: Tyler Green on March 4, 2004 2:16 PM

I've always loved the bay area Fig. artists since i was turned onto them. One of my teachers had the book and i was smitten immediately. Subsequently i bought the book and it is one of my treasures.. I live north of n.y.c. and just saw a few paintings of Wonner's at the Silvermine gallery in Ct. They were fantastic! Do you know if there are any other published works of Wonners ? these were still lifes. I will check out J. Holtberg. thanks.TP

Posted by: Terry Pesso on March 14, 2004 8:43 PM

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