Witness

Anthony Holdsworth's cityscape paintings capture the moment.

Art-worlders who follow fashion as determinedly as the fickle
banner-chasers in Dante’s Canto III should read, for a little
perspective, Peter Schjeldahl’s review of 1960s-1970s conceptualism in
the August 3 issue of The New Yorker. Beginning on a
satirical, though not infernal, note, it progresses upward toward elegy
and transfiguration, raising questions about artistic faith and
aesthetic folly, that occupational hazard of the arts — Stanley
Brouwn, for example, counting his footsteps in 1971. These days, the
radical experimentation of forty years ago may seem as silly as disco,
platform shoes, and puka shell necklaces, but also pretty benign,
compared to the recent follies perpetrated by “real Americans” in the
military, political, and financial realms. (Conceptualism, by the way,
is doing very nicely in its eclectic, less austere form.)

That’s an oblique intro for Oakland plein-air painter Anthony
Holdsworth
, who has been painting the Bay Area for decades (along
with other locations in California, Italy, Mexico, and Nicaragua), but
fashion should be seen for what it is. Realism is generally dismissed
as a retrograde style, due to the prejudice we inherited from the
modernists; they had some justification a century ago, which we
latter-day dogmatics can no longer claim. And then there’s the Bay
Area’s schizoid provincialism: LOVE and HATE tattooed on our
knuckleheads.

Meanwhile, Holdsworth has a very nice mini-retrospective at Alta
Galleria
featuring work from various series: older expressionistic
slice-of-life oils (“Sunset in Oakland,” a backyard scene from Shattuck
Avenue, “Berkeley Bowl Series: Meat Counter,” “Boiling Pot,” “John’s
Garden”); traditionally picturesque scenics (“Rooftops of Patzcuaro,”
“Rincon de La Plaza Grande,” “Amsterdam, “La Stella, Tuscany,” “New
Montgomery at Market,” “Old Oakland Farmer’s Market” in several
versions); less traditionally composed street scenes (“Trucker’s
Friend,” “Day Workers on Cesar Chavez”); and urban scenes containing
social commentary (“Bring the Troops Home Now,” “Storm Clouds over the
Chronicle”). That panorama of the Chronicle Building at Fifth and
Mission with its appropriately moody Constable sky occupied Holdsworth
from March 15 through April 10, 2009. Painting while seated on a
traffic island, the artist chatted with some of the more than one
hundred employees —”reporters, columnists, editors, copywriters,
and teamsters” — who were fired or bought out as the paper
downsized. (Art critic Kenneth Baker offered some friendly analysis of
the work in progress.) Holdsworth: “Like it or not, over the years the
Chronicle’s reporters, editors, columnists have laid the cobbles or
[blazed] the trails that constitute much of the intellectual landscape
that we navigate in the Bay Area. We should all work to keep this
institution alive.” Cityscape Paintings runs through
August 20 at Alta Galleria (2980 College Ave., #4, Berkeley). AltaGalleria.com or 510-414-4485

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