A striking tribute to the work of celebrated Bay Area artist Nathan Oliveira, who died Nov. 13, is on view at Crown Point Press gallery, where he worked for many years.
Oliveira came to prominence in San Francisco during the Beat Generation period, between the late 1940s and early ’50s when a swirling creative milieu swept The City.
Along with painting and sculpture, he explored printing, particularly lithography. Though abstract expressionism — the style that dominated American painting at the time — influenced him, he remained adamantly devoted to figuration.
He fused the two, however, creating a unique blend.
In the early 1990s, Crown Point founder Kathan Brown invited Oliveira to work in etching at the gallery. He was reluctant, thinking that finding the energy necessary to learn the new language might not be worth the effort. But Brown kept after him until he finally decided to try it.
Oliveira took to etching almost immediately, feeling a sense of freedom he didn’t expect. The ability to experiment with the language, the varied ways of working with it, and the importance of the relationship with printers brought him to a new phase in his artistic life.
The gallery tribute consists of a selection of four pieces of work done over the years at Crown Point.
Imagination, the way Oliveira etched, and color all play integral roles in the works’ success.
The pinkish orientation in the work comes from his love of the Southwest: “Color is like food,” Oliveira said. “You have an appetite for certain colors.”
In “Rocker 07,” a crudely drawn figure is set against a flat and solid glowing orange background. The contrast is striking. Although the figure’s outline is clear, its interior consists of quickly applied strokes and splashes throughout, with tiny, undefined forms in certain areas.
There doesn’t seem to be a particular reason for lack of definition in the body’s interior, nor any logic for contrasting background. But together they are intriguing, and give the piece an appealing, mysterious essence, a quality that runs throughout Oliveira’s work.
IF YOU GO
Tribute to Nathan Oliveira
Where: Crown Point Press gallery, 20 Hawthorne St., San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; closes Jan. 12
Contact: (415) 974-6273; www.crownpoint.com