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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