Richard Diebenkorn was involved with a group of painters in San Francisco known as the Bay Area Figurative Painters. The work of all of these painters is wonderful, but one whom I like a lot is Elmer Bischoff. He has a painting of a student seated several feet away, either studying or working on her artwork. It’s very loosely done, which is typical of Bischoff. It focuses a lot on the space around the student – the majority of the canvas is taken up with the studio. It, like the works of Diebenkorn and Matisse, focuses on space and light. Light comes in through an interesting window configuration onto the table where the student is sitting. The perspective is also unusual. In most rooms the tables would parallel the walls, but in this one it appears to be at an angle to it.
Orange Sweater, Elmer Bischoff
Stanley Lewis is a representational painter whom I’ve become aware of in the last 20 years or so. He paints very mundane-seeming subject matter, but his use of paint and composition make his paintings intriguing to look at. Lewis is a very “painterly” painter, which means you’re highly aware you are looking at strokes of paint and daubs of color. His painting 55th and Main is a good example of how he takes his ordinary surroundings and makes us appreciate the extraordinary quality in them.
55th and Main, Stanley Lewis, 1985
Two British artists I became aware of in the 80s who were friends with one another also are very painterly painters: Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. Their paintings are done so loosely and are so thickly painted that you can almost mistake them for abstract paintings at first glance. This is especially true of Auerbach’s cityscapes, whose drawing/placement of the large forms is spot-on. To The Studio (1990/91) is typical of his cityscapes. The loose brushwork, the exaggerated color – both are typical of expressionism. Although most expressionists would distort the drawing of the forms, Auerbach does not.
To the studios 1990/91 (in the Tate Museum), Frank Auerbach
Kossoff’s work is very similar to Auerbach’s except he distorts his drawing somewhat, which is typical of expressionist painting. He also includes figures in his painting. Usually Auerbach only does so when he is doing a portrait. Take Christchurch, Spitalfields (1987). Looking at this painting you can see Kossoff’s buttery, heavily impastoed layers of paint. There are a few figures in the foreground and a building in the background. If Auerbach had painted this building it would be architecturally correct, whereas Kossoff’s building resembles a cartoon character animatedly lumbering up the hill.
Christchurch, Spitalfields, Spring, 1987, Leon Kossoff
I cannot talk about my favorite artists without mentioning Cy Twombly and Philip Guston. Guston worked in many styles during his long career, but it’s his cartoonish figure paintings of the 70s that he’s known for these days. These and his abstract expressionist paintings of the 50s are the paintings by Guston that I like.
In the Studio, 1975 (MoMA ), Phillip Guston
Perhaps it is the facts that he was born in Lexington, VA, as was I, and that my father had once played golf with his father, that leads to my special affinity for Cy Twombly. All I know is that I respond to his work on a visceral level. To me, Twombly’s best paintings are his ones from the 50s. In these paintings he would use white or off-white house paint and pencil, sometimes with a little bit of color. Twombly would often put words in his paintings from classical mythology and his sparse but exuberant pencil scrawls would reference these classical ideas in an expressionistic but at the same time minimalist way. It’s hard to describe how Twombly’s childlike pencil marks on heavily brushed white paint make such a beautiful surface, but they do. My love of Twombly is evidenced by the fact that it took seven tries to narrow down to one painting for this article!