Block Party

California in Relief prints merge art, history, and politics.

Relief printing is simple — everyone knows the potato print
— but woodblock prints and movable type made modern science and
the modern world possible. Prints, pamphlets, and broadsides, easily
reproduced and disseminated, were the blogs of the preindustrial era.
This exhibition of approximately one hundred relief prints follows the
development of modernist styles in California over the past century.
Curated by Art Hazelwood (who assembled the current From Hoboes to
Homelessness
at the California Historical Society),
California in Relief (which borrows its name from Richard
Wagener’s 2009 woodcut book) illuminates left-coast politics and
history as well as aesthetics.

According the Hazelwood, three influences shaped modern relief
printing: Japanese woodcuts, with their flattened, nonperspectival
(axonometric) space, simplified compositions, and absence of modeling
after 1915’s Panama Pacific Exposition; the powerful symbolic
figuration of Diego Rivera after his stay in San Francisco in 1930; and
the 19th-century illustration technique of wood engraving. After World
War II, the art departments set up in universities (aided by GI Bill
funding) disseminated the new ideas, as did activist organizations like
San Francisco’s California Labor School and its descendant, the Graphic
Arts Workshop, both well represented here. In the Sixties, the antiwar
movement galvanized young artists; in the Seventies, feminist and
Chicano artists made prints that aimed at raising mainstream
white-bread consciousness.

Doing their bit to raise consciousness in this show are Kathy Aoki’s
satirical “Thanks Mom”; Linda Lee Boyd’s sympathetic study of a Latino
laborer; Richard V. Correll’s 1943 “Air Raid Wardens”; Adelyne
Eriksson’s commemoration of the General Strike of 1934; Antonio
Frasconi’s portrait of Sacco & Vanzetti, with their moving
declaration; Juan Fuentes’ portrait of Cesar Chavez; George Hibi’s
reminiscences of the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah; Stanley Koppel’s
“Political Demigod,” a Bible-thumping demagogue in the Grosz/Gropper
style; Emmy Lou Packard’s porcine war profiteer comforting a grieving
widow; Giacomo Patri’s status-blinded white-collar worker; Byron
Randall’s juggernaut of war; Artemio Rodriguez’s skeletal defenders of
the status quo; Rachael Bell Romero’s anti-Pinochet “Neruda Presente”;
Frank Rowe’s portrait of Bobby Seale; and Herman Volz’s expressionistic
“Confrontation” between cops and crowd.There’s more here than polemics,
though. Viewers will also find compelling, beautiful landscapes, nature
studies and abstractions. California in Relief runs through
September 20 at Hearst Art Gallery at St. Mary’s College (1928
St Mary’s Rd., Moraga). StMarys-ca.edu/arts or
925-631-4379

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