Exhibition of the Month: Bay Area Figurative Drawings

Seated Figure, by James Weeks, 1966, charcoal, brush and grayish-brown wash on buff wove paper, 23 x 15 5/8. (c) Estate of James Weeks. All artwork this exhibition collection Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California.

One of the most important schools of 20th-century American figure drawing occurred in Northern California’s Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s, and a new exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum, in Sacramento, looks at the accomplished figurative drawings of these artists.

“Back to Life: Bay Area Figurative Drawings” explores 40 works on paper by artists including David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. According to the museum:

These works exemplify the abundant and influential artistic expression on paper that arose from the Bay Area Figurative movement.

The history of this mode of drawing begins with Park, Bischoff and Diebenkorn, who began meeting weekly in 1953 to draw from live models. Unique to their production was they way they brought to paper the same activated marks and loose manner of their figurative painting on canvas. …

Observing the posed model with pen or pencil in hand offered the trio a new engagement with the figure. By 1956, artists such as James Weeks, Paul Wonner, and William Theophilus Brown regularly attended the evening studio sessions that hopped from Berkeley to San Francisco, Oakland, and Sausalito.

While the group drawing-sessions furthered friendships, extended camaraderie and stimulated mental focus, the true focal point was the skill required to rapidly capture ever-changing poses. Each sketch displays the deft handling of graphite, pen and ink, ink wash or gouache that resulted in the many and varied renderings in this exhibition. Some emphasize the figure amid the studio’s furnishings; others focus on the lines of the body and how posture communicates emotional states.

The exhibition runs through May 1, and we’re happy to feature it as Drawing magazine’s exhibition of the month for February. Enjoy the preview images shown here, and to stay abreast of all things drawing, subscribe to Drawing magazine.

Models II, by Elmer Bischoff, 1968, charcoal, brush, and black wash on off-white laid paper, 24 3/4 x 19. (c) Estate of Elmer Bischoff.

Standing Male Figure With Stool, by Paul Wonner, black Conte on buff wove paper, 23 1/2 x 17 3/8. (c) Estate of Paul Wonner.

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