Nixson Borah


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Artscene, December , 1987, Volume 7, Number 4

(Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Orange County, through December 30)

Among the most interesting and informed artists working in Southern California over the past two decades is Nixson Borah. A former student of Howard Warshaw, he has taught for twenty years at Fullerton Community College. Borah also completed a Ph.D. in the philosophy of education, specializing in the mechanics of language and metaphor. Specific emphasis was placed on the means of discussion in and about the arts. In addition to pedagogical pursuits, and his two-dimensional artwork, Borah has also created masks, costumes and theatre designs. This lifetime of artistic, educational and political involvement adds up to a striking anomaly and a strangely out-of-sync with the times body of work.

“Nixson Borah: Selected Works, 1967 – 1986” includes work as far ranging as Golden Blocker (1985) through Adonis and Boar (1968). Both the earliest and the most recent works engage renditions of the figure by a natural, casual draftsman with an uncanny ability to express form and musculature with impressive economy. As though ‘knocked out’ as classroom demonstrations for a group of students, Borah’s style has a self-conscious but easy charm. The most appealing pieces are a synthesis of monoprinting, papermaking and drawing coupled with the peculiar introduction of characteristics carried over from his interest in making masks and shadow puppets. R.E.M. Ramayana XVI (1983) and Laguna Basketball #5, (1985) both exemplify his recent mesh of techniques, utilizing woodcut, collage, papermaking and painting.

Consistent throughout this body of work is enduring hope. Borah is a bright, talented, mature and skillful artist whose work is inspired by a quick-witted enthusiasm for the creative and intellectual process. While this work is intense and pregnant with meaning, it offers no confluence of harming passions. Qualities such as doubt or self-pity play no role in this work. For this survey, guest curator Edward Den Lau declined to select work from the artist’s oeuvre which betrays the artist’s political or personal convictions, resolutions or losses.

Borah’s art is nonetheless about human experiences and folly. “Borah is a storyteller” according to Suvan Geer, “but he tells tales on an epic scale. He’s a kind of 21st century Homer, spinning timeless tales of quest and ascendency.” His highly personal style of figure drawing is at its best when frozen and transformed into shadow-like silhouettes. Plaques, as though cut from scraps of paper, or placards littered against soft landscape, are actually impressed in the surface of the paper. These figures are a mature synthesis of the early, bold Warshaw-influenced drawing with the subtle eloquence of shadow puppets.




Young Sun Bai


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This catalog essay was prepared for the 1991 solo exhibition of Young Sun Bai at the well-known and highly celebrated alternative gallery L.A. Artcore. The show was curated by the gallery founder and director Lydia Takeshita and the printmaker Bong Tae Kim.


As if they were gems found in an opened drawer, the colorful arrangements of irregular squares, rectangles and circles in Young Sun Bai’s recent artworks are set against an oxidized background of darkly rusted hues. These mixed media pieces betray an awakening artistic sensibility, which synthesizes some of the traditions of modern abstract and figurative painting. Adding to this fine mixture is a formal and structural vitality revealed by her placement of architectural components together with calligraphic forms, which in some instances recall ornamental ironwork, Navajo hogans, steel girders, teacups, or primitive tools. Other times, she draws in a vocabulary of organic forms alluding to sea life, such as fish, shell fish and mollusks, as well as snake rattles or human forms.

Young-Sun Bai’s use of color adds immeasurably to the charm already established by the tightly rendered structures. Without fear she employs bold reds, vivid yellows, mysterious greens and rich blues. Often she’ll join these volleys of color with pockets of black or crusty whites.

In Ireland’s Burren region, a complicated variety of flora grows among the rockiest and most forbidding terrain. On small ledges between rocks and boulders, bright blooms take hold and flourish in stunning contrast to the inhospitable grey sky, the jagged ledges and blistering wind. What a will to live these wild flowers must have to bloom and grow. Perhaps, these harsh circumstances contribute to such wealth, or at least to the delightful surprise for the unsuspecting viewer. Astonishingly, such beauty can be nurtured in remote and difficult conditions as well as in the perfectly controlled systems of a greenhouse garden.

Recently the crucible from which many noted artists are formed has been the “hothouses” of our art and design institutes, colleges and universities. Upon completion of undergraduate and graduate work in the arts, these talents often seek the stimulating environment of an arts-supporting community and lifestyle such as the “grand tour” we have come to expect in New York’s Soho, Tribeca and Greenwich Village, or on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, Venice and San Francisco. These environments cultivate and protect the artistic individual. It is, therefore, always startling when an artist of the merit of Young-Sun Bai appears from an unusual or remote context. Currently, and happily, we are seeing more artists emerge whose background and experience has been an alternative to the Art School-to-Manhattan Express.

Often, when an artist emerges from a remote venue, or alternative social setting, rather than producing the trending formal mainstreamed stuff, which predictably comes into being in response to cosmopolitan areas where individual artistic ideas get comingled with communal thinking. Before long, an artist tends to mimic the solutions of others. And, the communal consciousness. Then, when we finally do encounter artwork demonstrating independence, intelligence plus rare commitment, we should be charmed.

Young-Sun Bai is one of the exceptional new breeds of artists whose work is born of the collective experience of being an outsider moving in. Developing, possibly naively at first, an artistic vocabulary of shapes, colors, marks and patterns, her works offer a distinctive and refreshing vision. Raised in Korea, Young-Sun Bai studied at the Seoul High School of Music and Art, the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University. After settling in Pasadena around 1961, she raised a family, became President of the P.T.A. at the Korean Language School, President of the Korean Artists’ Association, Chairwoman of Fund Raising Committee for music events for the Crossroad School for Arts and Sciences and recipient of the Joong Ang Daily Newspaper Mother of the Year Award. During this period of great demands, Young-Sun Bai continued to work at and refine her art.

These wonderful and refreshing credentials bring with them a body of work and lifestyle, which bears rich fruit. “Art for me is a place in which one’s idea and feeling can be documented through visual language. Throughout my life, I earn wisdom that enables me to accept and respect challenges – both intuitive and imaginative.”

Using charcoal, oil and acrylic, Young-Sun Bai sees her work as a reflection of both nature’s changing patterns and surprises, and one’s personal interpretation the mysteries contained therein. Stylistically, the works range from rather brushy washes of colors accented by bright highlight, to pieces that combine muted backgrounds over which a highly composed series of forms and marks engage the viewer. The most exciting paintings are those charged with forceful energy which reflects “nature’s changing of colors by day and by season, and the force and energy of nature in which I breathe and dwell.”

My admiration for this artist’s work stems from the recognition of the inertia and momentum with which we apprehend the painted surface. Young-Sun Bai’s work holds us because of the dramatic promise and delivery of her color and form. These artworks are immediately taken by our senses, but, as is true of all painting of merit, they slowly reveal themselves. They are paintings we can go back to repeatedly, admiring some previously noted particularity or pausing to unravel a previously unseen and mysterious series of forms. Young-Sun Bai’s work has a fresh and alarming vitality. The paintings are sometimes irregular, peculiar and diversified. Imaginative and inspired, Young-Sun Bai’s new paintings are not to be missed.

William Hemmerdinger, Ph.D.

Los Angeles 1991




Lowell Nesbitt


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The catalog essay below was prepared for the Lowell Nesbitt retrospective held at the Louis Newman Galleries (Beverly Hills) in 1987. I am told the essay pleased the artist and I know for a fact that Mr. Louis Newman was satisfied with both the essay content and the response from his clientele and Nesbitt collectors. For this reason, I am reproducing the article here without update or modification.


The flower “represents the voice of all nature.”1 To Lowell Nesbitt, one of America’s leading representational painters, the painting of flowers offers the boundless challenges of color, form, structure and the substantive issues commonly associated with landscape and anatomical art.

Lowell Nesbitt’s genius is not, however, applied exclusively to the flower, although it is the bold contemporary flower paintings with which his name is associated internationally and upon which a portion of his fame is built.

Born in 1933, Lowell Nesbitt studied at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University. At the age of twenty, he was an apprentice set designer at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, then a popular laboratory for talented playwrights and summering New York Repertory companies. At twenty-three, he won two coveted prizes from the Baltimore Museum of Art (1956), which led to his first major solo exhibition held at the museum in 1958. He attended the Royal College of Art, London, England (1955-56), studying stained glass. He entered the U.S. Army upon his return to the United States.

Early on, Nesbitt’s strong, painterly, sculptural instincts were evident. Consisting of painterly abstractions, the Baltimore show was a success. Even though he had moved to representational painting by 1964, the artist’s ambition was still to “paint forms not surfaces.” 2

“Two Red and Yellow Tulips – ‘77/’78” (illustrated cover) betrays the primary aesthetic formulations of the artist’s power. Scaled to monumental proportion, eighty by one hundred inches, this is an intimate, close-up view in which the shape and form are richly rendered in flurries of controlled, vigorous brushwork. These flower forms are often set against a richly painted backdrop of variegated color.

First signaled by the “Flower Abstraction” series (1964), the flower paintings of Lowell Nesbitt are at once delicately painted and bold, vividly colored, then again subtle. The artist’s particular gift is to merge these disparate properties into a singularly unified statement. Although often compared to Georgia O’Keefe’s famous flower paintings, the artists’ works are dissimilar in several key factors. O’Keefe, for example, paints volume in relative chiaroscuro, often with dissonant contrasts in hue and value. On the other hand, Nesbitt creates his drama through closely keyed combinations of real colors (that is, the actual colors of the flowers). Also, Nesbitt utilizes a seductive, magical, theatrical light, which renders the form and shape with uncommon clarity. From the beginning, Nesbitt has demonstrated painterly inner structure, hard edge outline, against his delicate, sensuous brushwork.

“Fruit on a Checkered Rug – ‘78”, illustrated in this catalogue, carries forth another creative agenda in the artist’s work. In a complex psychological theater, inanimate objects assume anthropomorphic characteristics. The pieces of fruit take on personalities and attitudes. Some appear lazy and casual, others stand at attention. Some are helpless and inert, others eager to wander backstage to some sensual spot. Placed in a field comprised of a rectangular checkerboard center medallion, the center stage is bordered by a broken abstract. This psychological factor, present, but less obvious in the flower paintings, is not unlike the effect found in Nesbitt’s “Fruit and Vegetables on a Kilim Rug” and “Box with Twelve Bulbs” (both in this exhibition).

The anthropomorphic and theatrical suggestion is not new to the artist’s work. In his first flower painting, completed in 1964, Nesbitt sought to humanize the subject. The human presence was suggested by the artist’s rendition of the flower set against versions of the human pelvis and hip, which he had observed in X-rays. This early work has been regarded by certain critics as a key to the sensual, organic imagery that followed in his work.

The human implied tension or theatricality can be observed in “Ten Lemons – ’78,” “Green and Brown Orchid – ’81,” and “Two Red and Yellow Tulips – ’77-’78.” Here certain plants, flowers or fruit, are perceived by the viewer to be dominant or aggressive and others disinterested and passive. Also, we can see a kinship of the flower and fruit allusions to the beastiaries of Hieronymus Bosch and Pavel Tchelitchew. It is for this reason, I suspect, the artist has occasionally been incorrectly called a Surrealist. Part of the motivation to this erroneous critical analysis may be owed to Nesbitt’s exhibition of dream-like landscapes which embody a similar sense of seductive mystery and subdued tension, coupled with the magical, theatrical light which strikes and renders the forms.

“Nesbitt’s Choice: A Survey From Lowell Nesbitt’s Private Collection,” offers a rare glimpse of an artist’s treasury of seminal works, until now held back by the artist as a way of possessing some of his best. Inspired moments which irretrievably capture the artist’s creative process. “Nesbitt’s Choice” functions as a kind of autobiography of the evolution and development of the artist’s insight and artistic means. A veritable compendium of the artist’s revelations collected in the artist’s 18,000 square foot studio in New York City’s West Village, this collection spans the most productive period of one of the nation’s leading artists.

“I usually work on two to seven paintings per session because of the drying time required for oil paint.” 3 Procedurally, he works very quickly, owing to adroit draftsmanship and skillful brush handling. Working on coarse toothed linen, he rapidly obscures preliminary pencil drawing with vollies of color, coaxed from the fourteen color palette he employs. Working with brushes one-quarter-inch to one-inch wide to lay in color, he then employs a four-inch sable blender to bring the image into soft focus. After the painting is dry, Nesbitt then brings the image into sharper and sharper focus. Since 1958, the artist estimates that this technical bravura accounts for a productivity rate akin Picasso, Matisse and Robert Motherwell.

“Nesbitt’s Choice” reveals one man’s perception of himself, humanity and nature. In the exhibit, he sets forth the inventions of the journey, the result of his inquiry into order and chaos. The paintings are testimony to the well-spring of hope and inspiration the artist has found in nature.

— William Hemmerdinger

Los Angeles, 1987


[1] DiLaurenti, M. New York, Lowell Nesbitt: Secret Gardens, exhibition catalogue, DiLaurenti Gallery, New York, 1986.


2 Simmons Zelenko, lori, American Artist, “Lowell Nesbitt,” May 1984, Vol. 48, Issue 502, p. 65

3 Ibid.



Hideo Sakata Paintings


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Los Angeles 1986 / Boston 2017

The distinguished California abstract painter Hideo Sakata is best known for complex and tightly organized compositions. These works frequently make use of circular shapes functioning as portals which puncture panels of color. Each window provides a separate vision into tiers of variegated color below. His palette is most often bright, with hues drawn from a full range of warm pigments. Wonderful lemony yellows give way to a citrus green then again partially obscured by a sky-toned cerulean.

The compositional arrangement is suggestive of deep spaces, opening into even deeper cavities. Like tunnels, catacombs or caverns. The brightest set of hues appear at the very rear, almost as if we are standing inside a shaded arbor looking past leaf and vine into a sun-drenched bright spot on the horizon. The effect is quite handsome. The paintings are beautifully crafted and vary in size from an intimate scale to large.

Contributing to the sense of scale is a densely organized pattern of circular shapes of differing importance. Some are grand, revealing much of the layer behind; others are diminutive, being just large enough to hint at the continuation of the pattern below. At times, the pattern seems so pleasantly calibrated as to mimic musical cadences. In some instances, the artist interferes with our expectations by breaking into something else altogether.

The single most engaging and perhaps the most difficult aspect of Sakata’s work is a certain “otherness.” His beautiful works do not intersect with Modernism, let alone California or Asian Modernism. In both color and composition, his choices push off to the outer ledges of perception and convention. That is to say, such color combinations as a lime green and cerulean blue can be unexpected, otherworldly and not unanimously popular. Nonetheless, the paintings are enchanting.

Sakata solo showings include: Gallery Markant, Langelo, The Netherlands; Modern Art Gallery, Los Angeles; Stone Institute, New York; William and Catherine Hemmerdinger Gallery, Palm Desert; Noba Gallery, New York; Nagasaki Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan. Group showings include: Ueno Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Olympic Arts Festival, Seoul, Korea; Japanese American Community Cultural Center, Los Angeles; Rajamangala University, Bangkok, Thailand; ASTO Museum, Los Angeles; Pyong-Taek Museum of Art, Pyong-taek, Korea; Nagasaki-ken Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan; San Francisco Museum of Art, California; Azuma Gallery, New York; M.M. Shinno Gallery, Los Angeles; Westbeth Gallery, New York; Lela International, Los Angeles.

A review of the art and life of Hideo Sakata, especially a retrospective discussion such as this one, would be incomplete without commentary on two additional aspects of his remarkable career. Hideo Sakata has an extraordinary life. He is loved and admired by countless people around the world. Sakata is a highly praised curator, educator and arts activist on an international stage. His personal trait of generosity coupled with commitment to people, artists, ideas and community have led him to organize amazing children’s art programs, lectures, demonstrations, performances, catalogs, and digital catalogs in addition to operating the gallery arm of Lela International, a venerable organization for which he functioned as impetus and co-founder. In his Lela capacity, he has curated international art festivals and exhibitions appearing at the Japanese American Community Cultural Center, Los Angeles; L. A. Artcore, Los Angeles; The Art Bank, Los Angeles; Pyong Taek Museum of Art, Pyong-taek, Korea; Manila Cultural Center, Manila, Philipines; Atelier Grognard, Paris, France; Nagasaki-ken Museum of Art, Nagasaki, Japan; National Center for Aesthetics, Yerevan, Armenia; National Museum of Art, Yerevan, Armenia; Burapha University,  Thailand; Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, India; King Mongkut’s Technological Institute, Bangkok, Thailand; Boyusan Cultural Center, Pusan, Korea; and many more. These achievements were often carried out through international collaborative effort with distinguished colleagues, host curators and galleries or other agencies.

As is the custom in Asia, exhibition catalogs often include dedications and proclamations from dignitaries, which serve as an expression of appreciation to event organizers and participants. Examination of previous Sakata projects reveals many letters of praise, recognition, commendation and support from such notables as long-time participant and collaborator Kamol Tassananchalee; artist, actor and native-American activist Russell Means; actor and activist George Takei; artist and L.A. Artcore gallery director, Lydia Takeshita; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California; Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of City of Los Angeles; Mayor Tom Bradley of City of Los Angeles; Consul General of Japan, Kazuo Kodama, and artists Minoru Niizuma, Sam Francis, Fonje de Vre, Tadashi Hayakawa, Bong Tae Kim, Kenji Shiokava, Nancy Uyemura, Joseph Piasentin, Matthew Thomas, Jr. and many others.

Rarely, do we have the opportunity to honor a great friend. Especially with 80th birthday wishes. For more than half of that life, Sakata has qualified without equal as my best friend, and, his friendship would often be expressed in marvelous (and sometimes amusing) ways. When my children were small, we were residing in the desert east of Los Angeles. Sakata would often make a special trip to visit me, rather than wait for me to make a studio visit to the city – bringing friendship, ideas, garden supplies, books and treats for the children and more. His personal generosity being such as it is, and knowing that fish is not always abundant in the desert, he would make a unique and special effort. Quite early on the day of his intended visit, and before driving the two hours east to my home, Sakata would collect from fishermen in San Pedro an assortment of fresh fish and crustaceans. He’d pack all this finest quality seafood in an ice chest and bring it with him to my house in the desert. A gift. A meal. A wonderful evening. Once, while unloading from his vehicle, an ice chest handle broke with the case crashing open on the ground. Large whole crabs tumbled out and scampered in every direction across my driveway, into the desert garden among the barrel cactus and cholla. Sakata was embarrassed and flustered, but my young children squealed with delight!

Sakata’s loyalty and generous spirit may have much to do with an intense childhood memory. Born in Nagasaki, Japan, Sakata was a child when the United States of America dropped the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Shortly after the explosion, he was separated from family, but for his grandmother. The old woman put Sakata inside a wheelbarrow, covered him with damp blankets, and ran as far as she was able, pushing the youngster in the makeshift cartage. Only later, a few days or so, they would return to the blast center with relief workers to search for surviving relatives. Many Sakata family members were lost. His father and two sisters died from the effects of the nuclear fall-out. Sakata survived. He thrived in Post-war Japan, going to art school and university. Eventually, he relocated to the Americas. First to an established Japanese community in Latin America, and then to Los Angeles. Sakata settled downtown, near the historic Temple on First Street. As an adult he would become reunited with mother and sister. Sadly, both suffered the long-term effects of nuclear radiation.

In the seventies, the refreshments for art openings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art were set up on the lower level, in front of the bas-relief sculptural walls from Ashurbanipal (among my favorite works of art). One time, while standing just there, in the wine queue, I was introduced to Sakata by the legendary American painter, Sam Francis, who said to me: “You are going to love this guy!” Indeed.

Sakata-san, becomes 80 years of age soon, and in a recent note to me, handwritten in English and Japanese, he wrote: “I’ll arrange shows in… China, Japan, Thailand, Armenia…. Then in four years — age 84—I’ll retire.”

Friends of Hideo Sakata have started a high school / college art scholarship in his honor. If you wish to join others recognizing this exceptional artist, please make a contribution to The Hideo Sakata Fine Art Scholarship Award, c/o Craig Cooley, Lela International, 1029 West 161st Street, Suite B, Gardena, California 90247

For more about Hideo Sakata please see:

Additional information in the form of catalogs, photographs, correspondence and documents related to Hideo Sakata art may also be found in the archived William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Elaine Lustig Cohen / Raimund Girke


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Arts Magazine, January 1981

(Janus Gallery, Los Angeles, November 5 -29, 1980)

New York artist Elaine Lustig Cohen’s beautifully crafted geometric abstractions make use of squares, rectangles, right angles, trapezoids and triangles. Luscious colors enhance the angular shapes, creating a harmonic geometry akin to de Stijl or Contructivist works. The solo exhibition of paintings, collages and gouaches betrays the artist’s proclivity for thoughtful utilization of color long established through her association with architectural and interior design industry (Lustig Cohen was design associate with her husband Alvin Lustig, until his death in 1955).

The harmonious bars, bands, stripes forge a compelling balance. Cautious manipulation of the painted surface and the faintly tinted or raw canvas interval in between the colored volumes, cause a dynamic interaction of elements – color, shape, tone. These ingredients comprise essential features which give Lustig Cohen’s work a precisely integrated continuity uncommon in painting of the late 1970s and early ‘80s

Border to border, content to content, and element to element harmonies are mastered in Lustig Cohen’s paintings. Resembling architectural designer’s flow-plans for building interiors or choreographers’ plots, these judicious, thoughtful, energetic, and impeccable orchestrations reveal her to be a maestro of stagecraft. Color and form are managed in complex, immediately understood series of movements. Elaine Lustig Cohen’s forms retreat, advance, impose, and relax in a flow of contrast and constant counterpoint, working the limitations of the canvas with a brilliance akin Oskar Schlemmer’s dance plans or the choreography of Evita, The Wiz, or Marta Becket.

Lustig Cohen’s excellent paintings are accompanied by a selection of cast paper pieces, collages, and drawings. Exploring particular facets of her vocabulary the works do not detract from the paintings. Especially fine is a suite of collages produced during the artist’s summer in Spain; these collages carry the artist’s magic into a profoundly graphic expression.

Companion to Lustig Cohen exhibit, German artist Raimund Girke presents monochromatic paintings in the gallery’s anteroom. In participation with the Los Angeles Bicentennial exchange program with Berlin, Girke shows a promising suite of paintings on paper and three large canvases. The artist’s paper works possess a range of subtle colorings white to gray, resting in the valleys of heavy rag stock; the entire surface is covered with a pale white wash. Raimund Girke’s large canvas paintings hold austere military or industrial associations; the monochrome, precisely brushed fields of plate steel colors recall battleships, tanks, armaments, skyscraper girders, and unpainted automobile sheet steel.

Craig Ellwood Paintings and Multiples


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Originally penned for Artweek Magazine in Los Angeles, this commentary examines the paintings and multiples in low relief produced by Craig Ellwood. (American, 1922 – 1992). The review appeared  in Artweek on May 31, 1980.  Some materials related to the original review may be found in William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Ellwood’s architecture, especially his masterpiece, the Pasadena campus and buildings of the prestigious Art Center College of Design, is represented by a photograph at the bottom of this page. Ellwood paintings, compositions in relief and multiples are a direct and fascinating look at the evolution of his thinking. The Artweek article, Painted Mosaics:


images-3“Internationally acclaimed architect, Craig Ellwood, closed his architectural office three years ago to devote his energy to painting. The beauty and precision of his architecture are carried over to his paintings and multiples on view at Mirage Editions Gallery.

Influenced by his friendship with artist Josef Albers, Ellwood explores the variety of illusions possible by using minimal shape and color. A gallery announcement quotes Ellwood: “I confront outer chaos with an order consisting of balanced relationships. Each completed canvas provides at least one refined concept for the next. As with architecture, the process is dynamic and the progression intrinsic.” The progression in Ellwood’s paintings is obvious – his art improves with each work; the 1980 pieces surpass the prismatic paintings of 1979.


Ellwood’s recent paintings, diamond in format, look like brooches encrusted with small areas of color. A cross-shaped matrix, formed in part by retaining the ground color, contains tile-like squares that are carefully painted to ensure unwavering chroma. Values change throughout the surface, creating illusions of chevrons, crosses and diamonds. The space between the squares of color can be read as solid or as negative.


The prismatic paintings of 1979 are less appealing than the recent gradated canvases. Using brilliant color, the works buzz with harmony and dissonance generated by tonal combinations. Placing the prismatic paintings in the same gallery with the recent paintings may be a flaw of this show. Hanging the vivid diamonds in a separate room isolated from the prismatics would enhance the viewer’s ability to view each group.


Vaguely recalling the art of Agnes Martin, Ellwood’s works are free of quirky mysticism frequently attributed to Martin’s enigmatic painting. In their celebration of the beauty of color and its interrelationships, Ellwood’s paintings have more in common with the works of contemporary southern California artists Karl Benjamin and Guy Williams, than with Albers’ color explorations. As a new artist, Ellwood does not champion new ground. His finely tuned perceptions continue established modes of inquiry offering a rarefied and demystified look at painting.

Ellwood’s multiples on view at Mirage include a suite of small, superbly crafted painted constructions that extend the artist’s vision in an interesting direction. Masonite is incised with an architectonic design of twin rectangles placed slightly askew (See below). Rippled lines radiate away from the central rectangles. Painted in reds, blues, and oranges, these works have an unusual resemblance to fascia and floor tiles produced for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Yet these constructions, because of their size, read as paintings, rather than as tiles or incised reliefs.”


A view of a campus building at Art Center College of Design. The building spans an arroyo and forms the entry to the isolated and beautifully landscaped campus. Building facades, interiors and integrated structure redefine modernist simplicity.


Ellwood spent his final years in Italy, restored an antiquated farmhouse, built a studio, created paintings and prints, married, raised a daughter and enjoyed life. He died suddenly of a heart attack at Pergine Valdarno in 1992.

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above. This document was originally assembled as a review of an Ellwood exhibition at Mirage Editions, Santa Monica. Special thanks to the artist, the artist’s representative, Joan Hugo and Cecile McCann (Artweek)

Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Ellwood art should be directed to the estate of the artist through the Los Angeles Conservancy.


Martha Alf: Still Life Personalities (1981)


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Artweek Magazine, was a product of the influential California artist and publisher Cecile McCann (1917-2009). The venerable newspaper style weekly was a pulse-beat for all visual arts in California. Although McCann worked from Oakland (East Bay area) the coverage was divided into North, Central and Southern regions of the state. The editor / co-editor Joan Hugo (1930 – 2006) was based in Los Angeles. My writings were performed under the aegis of this legendary editor. Miss Hugo was a pioneering art librarian at the Otis Art Institute, distinguished author, editor and curator. The publication, defunct since the death of the publisher, was partially inventoried in the Artweek Index (1975).

Martha Alf is a gifted and skillful painter and draughtsperson. A Santa Monica College Art Gallery exhibition catalog biography describes her — “After growing up in San Diego and raising her family as a traditional housewife, she went to UCLA and studied with well-known figurative painter Richard Diebenkorn.” More than just brilliant artist, she possessed the ability to animate seemingly inert subjects. My 1981 Artweek (Volume 12, Number 6, page 16, February 14, 1981) essay: Still-Life Personalities.


“Ten beautifully crafted images by Martha Alf, at Montgomery Art Gallery of Pomona College, demonstrate her technical prowess as she infuses sets of pears, apples, and other fruits and vegetables with drama. In these still-life compositions, Alf gives expression to human emotions. Clusters of pears, gourds, kohlrabi, persimmons and apples play out scenarios of intimidation, frustration, rejection, disobedience, pomposity, dominance, submission, and friendship through a gauze of exquisitely precise, parallel pencil strokes.

Alf’s pencil marks, less than an inch long, originate at the right and progressively aim downward at a forty-five degree angle. The fruit and vegetable vignettes are perceived through this “texture screen” of marks. The process has an ancillary benefit – it yields a shimmering light. The “tooth” collects graphite or charcoal on high spots; the valleys retain little of the medium. Globules of white paper twinkle in dense grays and blacks, as in Pears #9 (1976).


Kohlrabi (1979), Persimmons (1977-78), and Persimmons, No. 2 (1978), all in pencil on paper, reveal Alf’s extraordinarily fine workmanship. With unrivaled elegance, she gently moves strokes from right to left. The thousands of marks make up a ledger, recording the individual character and “aspect” of subject matter while maintaining an almost automatic, stylized plainness (or unexpressiveness).

The drawn line can be typically romantic or classical, casual or formal, implying various qualitative and quantitative degrees of humanity. Humanism in drawing is betrayed by elements of “drawnness.” Alf’s austere dramas range from expressive, sensual line (Persimmons, 1977-78) to formal, precise line (Three Apples, 1980).

Measured on a scale of expression, Alf’s formal lines lack compassion. Kohlrabi (1979) holds the marks with both gestural, figurative sensuality and precisely formal eloquence. Although Alf has the distinctive ability for imbuing character in the drawn line, she can also drain expression from her lines, depending upon the specific temperament that is her objective. Fabricated to illustrate a stylized psychology of human evolution, Alf’s drawing style gently shifts from the humanistic and compassionate (Three Gourds, 1969) to the dispassionate (Apple #3, 1979).


Suggesting human emotions, the humanlike figures and shadings prance, dance, strut, cluster, tilt, and lean in postures of love, friendship, trust, hate, and despair. Conflicting schemes of dominance and subordination appear in each drawing. In Pear Series, III, #4 (1977), a single pear at the left poses as the aggressor, threatening and intimidating two acquiescent pears to the right. A mysterious glow shines on the dominant pear, which by this celestial endowment, gains a highlight that humbles its companions.

Kohlrabi (1979) is the strangest work in the exhibition. Eerie shadows, brilliant highlighting, and the odd configuration of the vegetable are disarming in effect. The kohlrabi, recalling automatons, kachinas, and Aristophanes’ “hermaphrodites,” advance toward the viewer with an intimidating posture and pace.

In these superbly crafted drawings, Alf is able to animate or call up from the unconscious, the viewer’s conception of self. David S. Rubin’s excellent leaflet accompanying the show explains: “When drawing, Alf does this through the process of projection; for the activities and temperaments of the fruits and vegetables in the drawings are, in effect, those known from the personal experiences of the one who pencils the scripts, selects the cast, and directs the action – Martha Alf.”

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above. This document was originally assembled as a review of an Alf exhibition at the Montgomery Art Gallery of Pomona College. Special thanks to the artist, the artist’s representative Joni Gordon (1937 – 2012) of Newspace Gallery, Los Angeles, Joan Hugo and Cecile McCann (Artweek) and David S. Rubin, Director, Montgomery Art Gallery. Some materials related to the original review may be found in William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Alf art should be directed to Winfield Gallery, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.


Frank Stella Painted Constructions (1987)


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Frank Stella gained international attention with an initial success in painting, yet, he rapidly evolved into painted sculptural constructions and then sculpture.

During the summer of 1980, the Stedilijk Museum in Amsterdam exhibited a suite of drawings by American sculptors. There, I had the pleasure of seeing a small showing of drawings and sketches for sculptural objects and installations by Carl Andre, Christo, Joel Shapiro, Donald Judd among others. An especially noteworthy drawing was a simple Stella sketch (Stella does not regard himself as an expert draughtsman, and, next to Christo, who could?) offering schematic details of soon to be realized possibilities. The little drawing on graph paper was for the design sheet for the set of works discussed below.

Eight years after seeing the drawing, Bill Lasarow, editor of Artscene (A Monthly Guide to Art in Southern California) invited me to review the debut Southern California showing of the pieces at the James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles (1988). This review appeared in Artscene, Volume 7, No. 9, May 1988. James Corcoran Gallery provided the transcript of an excellent interview with the artist written by Andy Grundberg, (The New York Times, October 11, 1987) which is quoted, and, my essay was illustrated with a black and white photograph of the Stella sculptural relief Merry Christmas, 1987. The Artscene review:

 “Frank Stella’s prodigious talent and clarity of vision is as exceptional as it is welcome. The veteran modernist painter continues to test the limits of painting, while himself serving as a barometer of painterly concerns.

For Stella, “the aim of art is to create space, space which is not compromised by decoration or illustration.”* His most recent works, such as The Forge or The Quadrant are massive day-glo and candy-colored curvilinear, perforated metal forms that jut out aggressively from the walls on which they are mounted. Absorbed by an almost single-minded passion for non-objective painting, the artist fervently pursues the fullness of sculptural form without letting loose the principles of painterly abstraction for an instant. As he has argued, “No matter how sculptural, or three-dimensional, or projective they might be from the wall, the essential way that you look at them and address them is through the conventions of painting.”*

Beginning with the Polish Villages series, Stella has been creating wall reliefs for over a decade now. Pictorial space has increasingly been seen through fundamental projective surfaces, woven forward and back through an imagined picture plane. As in the Indian Bird and the Exotic Bird series, the viewer is made to wander through a visceral space occupied by a quilt of patterns and shape which consistently violate the suggested parameters. The principal unifying element is the everpresent geometric structure variously explicit or implicit throughout three decades of Stella’s work.

He regards the current reliefs as “loosely Constructivist in a way”, a frame of reference in which he is “building pictures.”* The reliefs are colossal fabrications of carbon steel, bronze, stainless steel and aluminum, each fabricated from scale models produced by the artist. The prototype, done in foam board, are successively enlarged until the final construction, typically ten feet or more, is returned to the studio to be painted. Some parts are now being painted prior to final assembly.

This prodcedure reveals more than just methology. Stella once more asserts his genius at formulating recombinations of essentially known and familiar shapes (protractor, French curves, etc.) patterns (stripes, cross hatching, etc.) and materials, as well as conventions of pictorial space. Format, ideas, and materials are reorganized with such unabashed, straightforward simplicity – and this is the essence behind the baroque skin of these works – as to startle by its directness and economy.

These recombinant ideas continue to bring forth new and formerly unrealized potential. By synthesizing various components of his own as well as new sources in a changing visual and intellectual vernacular, Stella simultaneously crystallizes painting’s priorities while infusing it with fresh mission, distinction, and a sense of purpose.”

Born 1936, at Malden, Massachusetts, Frank Stella studied at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts then moved on to Princeton University. Although he lives in New York City he maintains strong connections to Boston’s South Shore (his sister is a faculty member at the Boston Architectural College).

Stella works are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York, M. Knoedler & Company, New York; Lever / Myerson Galleries, New York. Stella many awards include First Prize at the International Biennal Exhibition of Painting in Tokyo, Japan.

The artist is listed in: Pate-Havlice, Patricia, Index of Artistic Biography, Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1981; Who’s Who in American Art, Cattell Press, Jaques, New York & London: R. R. Bowker Company, 1980 – present; Who’s Who in American Art, 1999-2000, Millenium Edition, Flinsch-Rodriquez, Patricia. New Providence, New Jersey: Marquis Who’s Who, 2000; The New York Art Review, An Illustrated Survey of the State’s Leading Museums, Galleries and Artists, Krantz, Les. Chicago, Illinois: American References, Inc., 1989

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above plus Frank Stella, Andy Grundberg, The New York Times, James Corcoran Gallery, Bill Lasarow, Artscene, Whitney Museum of American Art (Worleygig photography from Stella Retrospective, above) and re: Sculpt (a publication of the International Sculptural center). See:

This document was originally assembled for Artscene (Los Angeles), Bill Lasarow, editor. Items related to the Stella show at the James Corcoran Gallery and the creation of the Artscene review above may be found in the William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Frank Stella art should be directed to the artist at Frank Stella Studio, 17 Jones Street, New York, New York, 10013




Jim Huber Paintings


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Sun Shower

In 2012, the art gallery at the California State University at Channel Islands organized a solo exhibition featuring the recent paintings of Jim Huber (American, born 1945). In this extraordinary debut, the paintings made a smashing impression. A handsome body of work structured around one artist’s love of core elements of painting.

Huber paintings are meticulously crafted over a pair of initially imperceptible matrices. The first and most apparent is the vertical banding. Huber does this very well. The viewer is relaxed by the engaging color and casual ease that is a hallmark of the work. Yet, buried within the obvious is an unanticipated and unforeseen complexity. The color bands are far more than passages of pigment across a surface.

The Wichita Art Museum possesses a remarkable painting by Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 – 1926) entitled Mother and Child (c. 1890) depicting a seated female figure comforting a child. It is, a simple scene, stirringly executed. The painting is so beautifully made one can hardly imagine it to be rich with innovations, even so, it is. One of which applies to appreciation of the work of Jim Huber. A key element of Cassatt’s composition is the abstracted panel of brushed verticals against which the figures rest. Was this a table drape? Extremely subtle tonal variety repeats throughout the section of canvas from side to side. The bars of color are close-keyed and alternately valued — middle-tone, light middle-tone, middle-tone and light middle tone, repeating to and fro’ across the composition — with the periodic counterpoint of a strike of a dark value / dark hue or a stab of a bright white. Then, with flourishes here and there, Cassatt’s whim and desire, a maddening scherzo of brush volleys obliterate nearly all semblance of colored pattern.

In Paris, in 1890, things Japanese remained all the rage (the Japanese Pavilion in Paris World’s Fair of 1878 had attracted huge crowds).The Ukiyo-e print was a passion for Cassatt. Her enthusiasm was reinforced by a robust exhibition of Japanese block prints under way at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Soon, Cassatt (who had been experimenting with etching) made gorgeous prints of her own. Her etchings, using drypoint and aquatint, were chockablock full of tonality, color and pattern. Printing, thinking about printmaking in general, had transformed the devices and protocol Cassatt followed when constructing a painting.

Huber grasps the vision and mastery of Cassatt’s mechanics, and, he has made an equally brave leap. Surprisingly, the artist adopts and drags Cassatt’s persuasion further, adding to this mix another, deeper tier. Within Huber paintings there appears a second level of complexity. An underlayment of rich coloration unites the whole package. Buried just below the Huber surface is the alternative picture plane. Overlain, over-lapping, dislodged and out-of-register (like Japanese woodblock prints). Perceptible if visualized as a layered matrix, or, imagine stacked flats of window screening, or chicken wire, wherein the vacant interstices are color filled pockets. With noteworthy efficiency and precision Huber designs and incorporates a substrate of hot and cool zones – the upper left quadrant begins hot, alternates to cool tone and repeats throughout the section. In each direction – up, down, across – within every painting, and, over the entire group these tonal shifts occur.

Forty-four years ago, in Kyoto, of all places, I had the pleasure of seeing a portfolio of paintings and prints by the legendary British artist Bridget Riley (British, born 1931). The works were comprised of vertical bands of painted lines of uniform width. The line width of these vertical passages might, at one point, inflate, arc, deflate and then recover to the vertical course. With each successive line repeating this process at roughly the same location, Riley created periodic hot blisters and demiluns about the picture plane. As an Op (Optical) artist, rightly so, Riley enjoyed immense appeal.

Around then, I met Jim Huber, and immediately recognized that he too possessed an innate curiosity for, and knowledge of, the inner workings of painting. He grasped color theories, the structural codex in Op Art, Cubism, Orphism, Russian Constructivists and the teachings of Hans Hofmann. Huber, a Viet-nam veteran, was already familiar with the arts and culture of Asia. At that time, his paintings had manifested deeply held beliefs. Huber, like Riley, was examining core ingredients of painting and nurturing unique personal insight.

Huber knew, knew of, or followed artists who pursued the challenges and iterations of modern painting composition. For example, in Europe, Jesus Rafael Soto (Venezuelan, 1923 – 2005); in New York, Robert Goodnough (American, 1917 – 2010); Sol LeWitt (American, 1928 – 2007) and Agnes Martin (Canadian / American, 1912 – 2004); in Los Angeles John McLaughlin, (American, 1898 – 1976), Helene Lundeberg, (American, 1908 – 1999), Lorser Feitelson, (American, 1898 – 1978) and Karl Benjamin (American, 1925 – 2012). Each of these masters, like Cassatt and Riley, experimented with complex or simplified arrangements of bands, ribbons or lines.

Huber produced a variant. Early in his work, he made paintings and drawings on canvas and watercolor paper comprised of precisely delineated clusters of vertical lines which appear to oscillate. The works are quite stunning. I remember one in particular, quite large, paint and diatomaceous earth on cotton doek with elegant flurries of lines and form scribed into the surface. (As a personal sidebar, in 1975, Huber gifted to me a handsome set of these originals in miniature. After enjoying the small panes for many years, the drawings eventually became part of my dossier on Jim Huber art, now archived in William Hemmerdinger Papers at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles).

Taken superficially, Huber works, might be misconstrued to be stripe paintings. Properly considered, it is easy to see that these are not paintings about stripes. Jim Huber paintings are brilliant studies in color as form. The vertical bands are the emulsion used to deliver the true agent: color. Color volumes are formed, dissolved, rebuilt, warming, cooling. Color. The paintings are the beautifully articulated result of four decades of a near single-minded and smart inquiry into one of the most mysterious dominions of modernist painting.

Two images selected for this post illustrate the scope of his exploration: most of the portfolio is similar in sensibility to Sun Flowers while the anomalous Daniel’s Dilemma opens the possibility of the Huber band-forms morphing into a surrealiste bouquet.

Huber paintings have been exhibited at Robert Graves Gallery, Wenatchee, Washington; Gallery One, Ellensburg, Washington, Icicle Arts, Leavenworth, Washington; many venue around the Pacific Rim. The artist studied at the University of California and earned an MFA in painting at Claremont Graduate University. The seventy-one year old artist now lives and paints in the beautiful Wenatchee Valley area of Washington.

Appraisals and opinions regarding modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Jim Huber art should be directed to (East Wenatchee, Washington).

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Daniel’s Dilemma


Cape Cod Modernist James Wolf


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In an uncanny way, the artist James Wolf has captured with lyrical abstraction the spirit of Cape Cod. Broad, bright, empty expanses suddenly merge into dense, sun-dappled, color-filled thickets. With his watercolors on paper he demonstrates his formidable abilities with the medium. Two strong categories of work coexist in his body of work. One set is comprised of spectacular tightly organized compositions such as “White Rock Girl’s Vacation” and “Latramm Solo” which rely on brushwork volleys placed in clusters of strokes. The open pattern of alternating diagonal passages forms multiple empty white spaces between. These crystal-like wedges seem to hover above the colorful background akin glints of sunlight cast off water. To make these shards of white paper pop forward, Wolf manipulates the surrounding colors. He employs wet into wet, wet into dry techniques, staining every stroke with color insertions. The watercolor bleeds are carefully controlled, suggestive of meshes, and intended to spark the white space. These paintings capture the feel of rain and light on ponds, and forest canopies.


The second impressive group of works is comprised of even more vigorous paintings, like “Samurai Sandwich” and “ Niche”. These are works in which the white of the page is released from the tight grasp of the overall background mesh and the white of the page becomes a punctuated expanse, like figures on a beach. Large areas of white are stabbed with tangled webs of color. Wolf’s genius is with the control of the cadence and interval between strokes to pattern the page the way musical notes delineate time, and define a rhythm. Wolf’s mastery is developed with a fascinating wet into dry technique, which creates an intramural counterpoint of lines, or crow’s feet, as a wet color is touched onto a near dry area of the initial stroke. Where the two blend – a “happy accident” – occurs. This is at its best when his bright colors blend with warm middle values. These are hard techniques to master, but exhilarating to see when done well. The enthusiasm, easy sophistication, and beauty of this work are hard to match. Anywhere.

James Wolf grew up in a rural area near Detroit, Michigan.  Wolf studied with his father, an artist, graphic and industrial designer. Plus, Wolf began taking formal schooling at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills. Later, Wolf studied at Oakland University, with the sculptor, Morris Brose (American, 1914 – 2000). During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wolf traveled throughout Central America. His Honduras and Panama journeys impacted the color and light in his painting.  On his return, in 1982, he developed and deployed many of these techniques with rewarding results; and, the artist settled in Boston where he exhibited in a few select galleries and executed a number of commissioned works.  In 1990, the artist relocated to the Cape Cod village of Cotuit, with his wife and young family. He opened the James Wolf Gallery in 1992, in the second floor space above the Cotuit Cooperative Grocery in the village center, (now known as the Cotuit Fresh Market). In these early years on the Cape, Wolf worked as a musician, oysterman, shipwright and waterfront laborer, all the while building up an exquisite portfolio of paintings.

In 1993, Wolf organized and performed in two World Music Concerts held at Freedom Hall in Cotuit to test the idea of a community arts center. Encouraged by a success, Wolf set out to organize a seasonal art center for classes, exhibitions, music and theatrical performances. In the yard, behind the grocery, there was an enfeebled cluster of garages, lean-tos and sheds and it was here that Wolf founded, and singlehandedly carved out the Cotuit Center for the Arts. In 1994 he founded Cotuit Center for the Arts, an artist’s work and exhibit space, offering workshops in various 2 and 3 dimensional art media, writing, photography, and computer graphics.  On any given day, you might find the legendary Impressionist painter Richard Judson Zolan (American, 1931 – 2001) a long-time Cotuit summer resident painting alla prima from a figure, with the equally legend Edward Gorey (American, 1925 – 2000) seated next to him making one of his own inimitable ink drawings (see intro to PBS broadcast Masterpiece Theater). Both working, watching, drawing, laughing as local children (including my own, Sophie and Schuyler Grant) costumed, painted sets, or rehearsed for a summer production. The center was a welcoming drop-in destination popular with artists, performers, musicians and an appreciative community.

In 1995 Wolf served on the board of DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) Boston chapter, and directed their two galleries at the Boston Design Center.  With this curatorial responsibility plus the Cotuit programming, the artist closed the James Wolf Gallery and established a formal exhibit space at the art center. Cotuit Center for the Arts became a non-profit corporation in 1995, and Wolf served as the Executive Director until recently.

James Wolf joined other artists organizing a painting studio (2009), at the Old Schoolhouse in Barnstable Village. Known at the Chalkboard Studios, this project has become an effective and successful artist collaborative, and, it is in the studios here that Wolf continues to create his abstract and figurative paintings.

The artist is listed in Artists of Cotuit, Cotuit Library and the Cotuit Center for the Arts; Contemporary Cape Cod Artists : On Abstraction, Schiffer Publications, New York, by Deborah Forman.

The author gratefully acknowledges contributions from the sources listed above. Special thanks to the artist, Chalkboard Studios, Barnstable, Massachusetts and to Kathleen Sidwell, artist and Director of the Studio on Slough Road, Brewster, Massachusetts. This document was originally assembled as a review of a Wolf exhibition at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, Massachusetts and subsequently re-issued as a catalog introduction by the Studio on Slough Road, and is now appearing with additions and alterations. Opinions regarding Cape Cod modernist painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and printmaking may be obtained by contacting Inquiries regarding art registry, purchase, sale or commercial galleries representing Wolf art should be directed to Chalkboard Studios (Barnstable, Massachusetts).