Categories: Arts

Terry St. John’s new abstracts reveal painter’s figuartive roots

A survivor of the mid-20th-century figurative-art sphere, Bay Area painter Terry St. John demonstrates his roots in that significant circle, and also explores fresh, abstract terrain, in an exhibition of recent work.

Titled, with a fitting lack of frill, “Terry St. John,” the show continues at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery through Aug. 30.

The exhibit contains about two dozen paintings by St. John, whose career dates back to the Bay Area figurative movement, the 1950s and ’60s school that rejected abstract expressionism, the dominant mode of the day, in favor of figurative and representational art.

Richard Diebenkorn was a top influence on St. John, who, during his college years, took lessons from a friend of the notable painter. James Weeks, David Park and St. John’s own way with the brush also shaped the artist’s style, which features solid forms, undelineated contours, liberally applied paint, and loose, dynamic brushstrokes of many colors.

A particularly defining characteristic is the artist’s adept use of light to affect shape, color, and how subjects coexist with surroundings.

The exhibit consists primarily of female nudes, painted locally and during stays in Thailand and measuring up to 4-by-6 feet. St. John seats his models in interior settings and illuminates them with incandescent and fluorescent lighting. Each work conveys solidity and substance.

While the models anchor the picture, and inspire, with their individual nature, what the artist paints, St. John doesn’t present them as stand-out personalities. Rather, via color, form, and, light, he almost merges each woman with her environment.

In “Solveig/Studio” (oil on canvas, 2011), the sitter dominates the right foreground, while the form of her body and that of nearby inanimate objects tonally connect via the expressionist brushwork they share. At the same time, the flesh shades of her skin separate her from the greens and browns occupying the space. The viewer takes serious note of her.

Recently, St. John has ventured deeper into the realm of abstraction. While we can make out the model’s basic features, or a bottle on a table, in these works, a smeared appearance replaces greater detail with a hint of intrigue.

In “Woman/Landscape” (oil on canvas, 2013), the sitter’s face suggests a blurred mask. The pink and beige skin tones of the woman, and a triangular line on her torso, echo the hues and shapes in the adjacent space, enhancing the quality of oneness.

The exhibit also includes several outdoor, sun-lit landscapes of local sites, including the Berkeley marina. As with St. John’s interior landscapes, these works give the impression of being both created in a burst of spontaneity and color-coordinated by a master designer.

Several ink-on-paper works featuring quickly painted nudes complete the exhibition.


Terry St. John

Where: Dolby Chadwick Gallery, 210 Post St., Suite 205, S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes Aug. 30

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 956-3560,

SF Examiner

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