A master in our midst

A local gallery is presenting “Theophilus Brown: Nudes,” spotlighting one of the pioneers of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, which helped change the course of art history in the 1950s.

Triple Self Portrait by Theophilus Brown

Brown, now 90, moved to the neighborhood in 2001. He still works daily in his nearby studio and recently joined a new drawing group.

“I paint three or four hours every day,” he says. “I like to work. I think it’s the secret to staying alive and interesting and as vital as you can be — and besides, there’s no telephone in the studio, so it’s peaceful.”

His exhibition at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, at 2291 Pine Street, continues from January 16 to February 27, 2010.

Brown lives at the San Francisco Towers, the residence for seniors on Pine Street. “I’m glad I’m here,” he says. “It’s pretty posh. If you want to see friends, all you do is get on the elevator.”

He has found among his neighbors collectors of his work old and new. And a connection all the way back to the beginnings of the figurative movement: His fellow painter Richard Diebenkorn’s widow Phyllis also has an apartment at the Towers.

His health is good, although in the fall he had his second knee replaced. “Now I hope I’ll have a lot more energy,” he says. “I’m gonna get serious one of these days.”

Photos from the 50s see the light

Photograph by Gerald Ratto

When Gerald Ratto was a student at the California School of Fine Arts in the 1950s, he would hang out in the Fillmore with his camera and a bottle of brandy, which sometimes made it easier to make friends.

“I wasn’t documenting anything,” he says. “I was just photographing the people who lived there.”

Ratto went on to become an admired architectural photographer and hadn’t thought much about those Fillmore photos since 1952, when he made them, until a few months ago when he stopped by Tadich Grill for dinner. He struck up a conversation with two men sitting alongside him at the counter. It came up that he was a photographer.

“Ever take any pictures in the Fillmore?” one of them asked between bites of his sand dabs. Continue reading

From Tony Duquette, a magical space

The Duquette Pavilion on Geary near Fillmore.


In the late 1980s, while driving down Geary Street in San Francisco, designer Tony Duquette discovered an abandoned and vandalized synagogue. He immediately purchased the building. After thoroughly remodeling and updating the structure [located on Geary near Fillmore where the post office now stands], Tony began creating a new exhibition named the Canticle of the Sun of Saint Francis of Assisi, after the patron saint of San Francisco.

The building itself was historic, and what Tony did with it architecturally was equally historic.
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A masterpiece, created on Fillmore

The Rose by Jay DeFeo


By Jerome Tarshis

Youthful aspiration, ambivalence toward conventional art world success and a pitifully low budget came together for Bruce Conner and Jay DeFeo in the history of her masterpiece, The Rose.

DeFeo worked on it for eight years in her Fillmore apartment, building up layer upon layer of paint to a thickness of eight inches. By the time she stopped working on it, in 1965, it weighed a ton and its future was compromised by the fact that its paint was so heavy that the painting was pulling itself apart.

Looking back, Conner said that DeFeo’s potentially endless reworking of The Rose needed “an uncontrolled event to make it stop.” The Pasadena Art Museum had asked to exhibit the painting, but DeFeo put off letting it go. The eviction of Hedrick and DeFeo from 2322 Fillmore provided the nudge; it was necessary to move The Rose somewhere, and circumstances dictated Pasadena.
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Drawn to Alta Plaza

Noted French artist Daniel Levigoureux made a visit to the neighborhood last month and quickly found his way to Alta Plaza Park, where he was captivated by these Scott Street Victorians.

Blue bridge will remain and be repaired again

The often vandalized blue glass panels will remain on the bridge at Geary and Fillmore.

Despite an earlier recommendation that it be removed and relocated or put into storage, “Blue,” the public artwork on the bridge at Fillmore and Geary, will remain in place.

At a recent meeting, the citizens advisory council was told by officials from the Redevelopment Agency, which commissioned the artwork, that it would be too expensive to take it down. “It will cost at least $300,000 and perhaps as much as $500,000 to remove it,” the Redevelopment Agency’s Gaynelle Armstrong told the group. “And that doesn’t include storage.”

Instead, Armstrong said, it will cost about $20,000 to repair the glass panels and another $20,000 each year to maintain them. She noted the bridge may be changed as part of a new Geary transit plan.

The blue glass panels etched with words reflecting the area’s disparate ethnic groups have been repeatedly vandalized since the artwork was installed a decade ago. Some of the glass panels have already been replaced, some more than once.

“This thing is an eyesore,” said Barbara Meskunas, vice chair of the advisory council. “If we’re not going to take it down, it needs to be fixed.”

Rev. Arnold Townsend, who chairs the council, said the problems are caused by rowdy fans attending concerts next door at the Fillmore auditorium. “As long as it’s there, it’s going to be vandalized,” he said.

Arts & Crafts movement started here

Photograph of the Swedenborgian Church by Jim Karageorge

By Leslie M. Freudenheim

From 1876 to 1910, a group of creative and pioneering men and women in Northern California sought an architectural expression appropriate to the region. They rejected Victorian excess, preferring simple homes of natural materials. Their aspirations went beyond architecture to advocate a sensibility and a way of life.

The cradle of the movement was the Swedenborgian Church at Washington and Lyon Streets. Its leader was the modest but charistmatic Swedenborgian minister, Joseph Worcester, a serious student of architecture who inspired a quiet revolution as he turned Californians, and eventually Americans, toward the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement and a return to a simpler life in harmony with nature.
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