Painting in Southern California:

The 1980s Neo-Expressionism and Driven to Abstraction II

December 2, 2008 - February 21, 2009

Reception: December 13, 2008, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Several of decades removed from the 1980s, two critical contemporary art movements in Southern California from that decade, neo-expressionism and abstraction, merit historical contextualization and museum scholarship. "The 1980s saw an emphatic, almost ferocious 'return to painting' all over the western world," says Peter Frank, RAM Senior Curator and organizer of the two exhibitions. "So-called 'neo-expressionism' drove that return, in Europe, New York, and even out here…Meanwhile, the abstract painters here were continuing the multifarious tradition established in southern California after the Second World War. We traced that tradition two years ago in 'Driven to Abstraction,' and here we show how it survived, and even flourished anew, in the '80s."

Southern California neo-expressionism was defined in the early 1980s against its already established New York counterpart. Unique styles emerged from gestural figurative painters and also from Chicano painters using expressionism as a means of asserting cultural identity and depicting personal fantasy. Some of the artists defining this tendency are Charles Garabedian, Andrew Wilf, Roger Herman, Victor Henderson, Carlos Almaraz, Patssi Valdez, Gronk, and Raul Guerrero. Highly stylized imagery appeared in the work of such individual neo-expressionists as Ernest Silva, Jim Morphesis, Sabina Ott, and George Rodart. Younger artists associated with performance art, punk music, and the emergence of a “downtown art scene” in the loft district east of L.A. also distinguished themselves as neo-expressionists, among them David Amico, Sheila Elias, and Bob & Bob.

Abstract painting coexisted with neo-expressionism in Southern California and shared with it the pleasures of paint and the joys of fanciful form. Minimalism, the “finish/fetish” movement and “material abstraction” continued to blossom in the work of such painters as June Wayne, Channa Horwitz, Laddie John Dill, Scot Heywood, and Sheldon Figoten, while new, more eccentric forms of organic and painterly abstraction emerged in the work of William Brice, Marc Pally, and Robin Mitchell. The decade also saw the emergence of artists such as Roy Dowell, Charles Fine, Claude Kent, Merion Estes, John Millei, Ann Thornycroft and Gary Lang, who fused geometric, gestural, material, and color-field practices. These painters and many more contributed to the discourse in painting that once echoed and challenged the more popular and widely touted neo-expressionists.

This exhibit includes the work of thirty Southern California painters from the 1980s. The exhibit remains on view until February 21, 2009.