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Mid-century masters Park, Avery paint humanity

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David Park’s “Portrait of Lydia Sewing” (1955), left, and Milton Avery’s “Reader with Plant” (1963) are at Hackett Mill. (Courtesy Hackett Mill)

David Park and Milton Avery — who bucked the trend and painted the human figure in abstract-expressionist times — receive deserved attention in a gallery show highlighting their substantial influence on two major postwar art movements.

About 20 paintings by the two modernist giants are on view in “David Park and Milton Avery,” a new version of a project recently presented in New York City. The show runs through May 31 at Hackett Mill Atelier in San Francisco.

Like most American painters after World War II, Park (1911-1960), based in Berkeley, and Avery (1885-1965), an East Coaster, were part of the abstract-expressionist movement. Its artists were known for their gestural (vigorous and expressive) brushwork, thick application of paint, and nonrepresentational imagery.

Around 1950, both turned away from abstraction and embraced the human figure as subject matter.

Park, who continued to paint in the gestural style, was instrumental in instigating a return to figurative painting. He helped found the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Additional members included Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud.

Avery, an admirer of Matisse and the Fauves, considered color his primary structural and expressive element. His mode of painting, which involved flat areas of color, thinned paint and a reduction of pictorial detail, inspired the formation of the color-field movement, whose stars included abstract expressionist Mark Rothko.

Both Park and Avery painted intimate and personal scenes filled with humanity and warmth. The works at Hackett Mill reflect this quality.

Highlights by Park, whose paintings account for about 60 percent of the exhibit, include “Table With Fruit” (1951-52), a scene picturing members of Park’s family and portraying regular domestic life fondly but without sentimentality. Plates, glasses and silverware add invigorating light and color.

“Portrait of Lydia Sewing” (1955), a simple but deeply felt work, displays Park’s gift for creating stirringly down-to-earth imagery with gestural brushwork.

“Crowd of Seven” (1960), one of about 100 gouache paintings Park created in the weeks before he died of cancer, contains a septet of figures suggesting both conformity and individuality. The striking work illustrates Park’s power as a human-condition artist.

Avery, too, is a painter whose work cannot be adequately viewed on a cellphone.

His quietly mesmerizing “Women Playing Cards” (1948) features two female subjects sitting at a table and focusing on their hands of cards. Through Avery’s trademark fields of color, the painting radiates comfort and feeling.

In “Reader in the Quarry” (1947), a woman rendered in warmer hues reads amid natural surroundings painted in neutral tones. The woman lacks facial features. Her essential humanity, however, and the peacefulness of the scene stand out beautifully.

“March Sketching” (1940-45), whose sitter is the artist’s daughter, is another affectionately painted Avery gem.

Additional selections include Park’s knockout portrait “Red Man in Striped Shirt” (1959), Avery’s candy-colored “Mountains and Meadows” (1946), and whimsical portraits, by both artists, of avian subjects.

IF YOU GO
David Park and Milton Avery
Where: Hackett Mill, 145 Natoma St., Suite 400, S.F.
When: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; closes May 31
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 362-3377, www.hackettmill.com

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