A memorial exhibition of work by Nathan Oliveira at John Berggruen Gallery exemplifies to an unusually high degree the seemingly endless creativity, inventiveness and variety that characterizes his art.
Oils on canvases, watercolors, sculpture, acrylic, ink, charcoals and monotypes — 42 pieces in all — fill two floors. Among the show’s highlights are Oliveira’s 13 last paintings, most of which were finished a few months before his death on Nov. 13, 2010.
The Bay Area-based Oliveira had been a major figure in American painting since the 1950s, when he began exhibiting in European, Asian and American museums and galleries. His work is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Gallery of the University of California, the Oakland Museum of California and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, among others.
The artist, who taught for many years at Stanford University, was part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
Despite the impressive variety, an order, or lack of randomness, with colors, figures and backgrounds remains constant throughout his work.
The charcoal head in “Charcoal Head 14,” a watercolor on paper, at first seems merely an interesting touch — an artistic choice. Upon closer inspection, the charcoal itself becomes meaningful.
The large paintings on the exhibit’s second floor reflect a distinct style. A sense of mystery, a prominent aspect of his work, is particularly significant in these paintings in which the figures seem to rise from the background.
With its textured background, subtleties of tan shading and slim, vertical female figure in the center, “Untitled Figure,” a 66- by 50-inch oil on canvas, feels almost alive.
Orange-to-red hues of shading in “Runner,” an 89- by 77-inch oil on canvas, are particularly fascinating. While the primary figure is a deep, orangish red, the same shade repeated in the orange background provides a brain-teasing contrast.
IF YOU GO
Nathan Oliveira: A Memorial Exhibition
Where: John Berggruen Gallery, 228 Grant Ave., San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (415) 781-4629; www.berggruen.com