Artists in that place and time were not saddled with a canonical modernist art history, and were encouraged to reject dogma and follow their instincts. Jean Conner, Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, and Franklin Williams made idiosyncratic work that embraced memory, absurdity, sex, and protest as primary subjects for formally daring work in painting, collage, and sculpture. They are linked by attitude, camaraderie, the North Beach and the Fillmore neighborhoods of San Francisco, a handful of exhibition spaces, and a necessarily DIY art culture.
Clyfford Still’s ethos of, as the critic Thomas Albright put it, “the freedom and integrity of the artist as fundamentally indivisible from [their] art” was overarching for this constellation of artists. Remington and Hedrick, who were childhood friends, became familiar with this idea firsthand as students at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), where Still’s influence was prevalent; they were also two of the cofounders of the now-infamous Six Gallery in San Francisco, where Allen Ginsberg first recited Howl. Jean Conner was, with Hedrick, a member of Bruce Conner’s Rat Bastard Protective Association; Williams developed his work in Oakland, was featured in Peter Selz’s Funk exhibition in 1967, and taught at the SFAI for over thirty years.
Conner’s collages demonstrate her prolific artistic activity from the late 1950s to the present. Comprised of found imagery taken from magazine pages, are surreal, witty meditations on contemporary life. Hedrick’s Black Paintings, made and remade over extant paintings to protest each war in the artist’s lifetime, are accompanied by his Dada-inflected image-based paintings from the 1990s. Remington’s Bay Area years are represented by mid-1950s pastoral abstractions and her breakthrough kimono-inspired gestural paintings from the early 1960s; Williams is exhibiting his highly suggestive color-infused soft sculptures and densely painted and sewn wall pieces, all of which made him a key figure in the area.
An illustrated publication, with an introductory essay and texts on each artist, will be released at the exhibition.
Special thanks to The Conner Family Trust, San Francisco; Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco; The Estate of Wally Hedrick; The Box, Los Angeles; The Deborah Williams Remington Charitable Trust for the Visual Arts, New York; Parker Gallery, Los Angeles.