Monday, December 30, 2013

Kenneth Baker's Top Ten shows of 2013

It's difficult to express the pleasure that Jack Fischer and I felt when we opened the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and read art critic Kenneth Baker's "Looking Back at art in 2013." Along with shows of Richard Diebenkorn, Christian Marclay and Mark diSuvero, he included our September exhibition:

"Ward Schumaker: The Years of Pretty: Selections from Ten Years of Work––The Jack Fischer Gallery's inaugural show at its Potrero Flats location reintroduced a San Franciscan in his 70s whose work would earn him world recognition, were there any justice."

What can I say?  Except thank you!

Kenneth Baker Looking Back at art in 2013


Friday, November 29, 2013

Miami Project | Jack Fischer Gallery | Art Basel Miami

If you're planning to attend Art Basel Miami, please visit Jack Fischer Gallery’s booth at the Miami Project:
02 December 13 - 08 December 13, 2013
NE 29th Street and NE 1st Ave
Miami, Florida 33137

Beneath Krakatoa, hand-painted book, page size 19” x 13”
Jack will be showing paintings, sculpture, and hand-painted books from our September show, along with works by artists Marlon Mullen, Katsuhiro Terao, Lauren DiCioccio.

Chrysanthemum, acrylic on canvas, 72” x 48”
Jack and I were fortunate to receive kind reviews on our recent show.

Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Very rarely does a critic encounter new work that immediately rewards a lifetime of learning to look. No one who cares about seeing as a sensation of life should miss this chance to inspect Schumaker’s albums.”

Dewitt Cheng in art ltd., “…opulently imaginative, not to be missed.”

Barbara Morris in Artillery Magazine, “…the work compels prolonged viewing…”

Matthew Marchand in SFAQ Online, “The surfaces are handled so deftly everywhere in the show but never so importantly as on the boxes where the light touch with the gesso and the distressed finishes reconfirm flatness.”

For complete text of reviews, please look at previous postings (further down).

Art Practice, polychrome wood sculpture, 9" x 8" x 11"

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Essay by Paloma Lanusse-Broussal | Paris

I spent the month of October with my son Matthew in Paris. He was recently awarded the Ladd Prix de Paris and will be spending the better part of a year there, writing a piece for orchestra. The time gave us the chance to catch up with old friends, among them the 16 year-old daughter of Denise and Jean-Marc, who surprised me at dinner with an essay she’d just completed for school.

I’ve been lucky these past two or three months to have people write kindly about my work, but this piece makes me especially happy.

(Do I need to add that the parents pressured Paloma to show it to me?)

Thank you, Paloma, and bravo!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dewitt Cheng | art ltd. | Review

Beneath Krakatoa
One of a kind hand-painted book, methyl cellulose paste and acrylic on Stonehenge paper19" x 13"
Photo: Vivienne Flesher, courtesy Jack Fischer Gallery

Ward Schumaker: "Years of Pretty" at Jack Fischer Gallery
by dewitt cheng
Nov 2013

Recurrent reports of the death of painting are greatly exaggerated, of course, as are related rumors about the death of the individual and the death of art in the hurry-hurry postmodern age. Ward Schumaker's generous display of painterly bravura at the newly relocated Jack Fischer Gallery makes the case for subjectivity and colored mud yet again. Schumaker's work clearly derives from modernist precedents--savory Abstract Expressionism foremost, with notes of Minimalism and Conceptualism--but his synthesis is personal rather than programmatic or theoretical. Viewers of Schumaker's solo show last year at Dominican University in San Anselmo recognized a powerful new talent. (Well, yes and no. Schumaker is an illustrator of some eminence and versatility, which makes his fine-art "personal work" even more remarkable.) "Years of Pretty," a large show of work from the last decade, stunningly confirms that impression, managing to avoid the twin traps of conventional prettiness and conventional iconoclasm. One critic discerned in Schumaker's poetic conflation of words and image "the best of" Guston, Kiefer, Twombly and Winters. One might add, perhaps, to that roster of unsavory characters, Basquiat, Miro and Tapies, with the reticent, intellectual Johns, the virtuoso of encoded emotions and gorgeous surfaces, Schumaker's closest ancestor figure, to my eye.

One illustration on the artist's website reproduces Gertrude Stein's paradoxical praise of tradition as the means to freedom. "Years of Pretty" features five bodies of work that have been executed in traditional materials: medium-format mixed-media paintings on paper mounted on wood; acrylics on canvas; small collages on paper; small, idiosyncratic painted wooden sculptures derived from Minimalism and hard-edge abstraction that suggest mockups of houses or furniture; and six, bound, 64-page volumes of 20-by-13-inch paintings, opulently imaginative, and not to be missed. With their teasingly cryptic titles (The Alps, The Niger, Saskatchewan, Shostakovich, Veut Dire, Beneath Krakatoa) and texts, the works demand analysis far beyond the scope of this space that is sure to be forthcoming. With two highly regarded recent shows, this has been Schumaker's well-deserved year of plenty.

For the original review, please visit:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Barbara Morris review in Artillery Magazine

Ward Schumaker
Jack Fischer Gallery / San Francisco

November 5, 2013

The buzz around San Francisco’s new art hub—near the Design District along a stretch of Utah Street and nearby Potrero—resonates throughout Jack Fischer’s expansive new space. Its inaugural exhibition, “Years of Pretty,” is a mini-retrospective of SF-based Ward Schumaker’s work from the past 10 years. 

Schumaker’s day job for 35 years has been commercial illustration for clients like Hermès and Kronenbourg. While his hand is finely trained, in his fine artwork he chooses to let other energies come into play. Roughly brushed, intuitively composed paintings mix randomness and design, the skillfulness of the hand revealing itself slyly in the flip of a brushstroke—the blunt, ragged dragging of paint which obliterates text just so.

While Schumaker presents his gestural musings in a variety of formats, it is the presence of seven hand-painted books that carry the most weight. The hefty books on Stonehenge paper mesh expressionistic paint-handling with washy fields, at times disrupted by stenciled text. Beneath Krakatoa (2004) offers dense black passages enlivened by brush tracks or faint gestural figurative suggestions in hues of pink or red, the rich, energetically composed fields in effect constituting a thick stack of paintings packed back-to-back between bindings.

It was in a class at the San Francisco Center for the Book where the artist first experimented with mixing bookbinding paste into acrylic paint. The resulting pages caught the eye of a gallerist from Shanghai, who offered to show them as paintings. The work has since drawn attention from many in the art world—finding its way into the collections of Eric Fischl and Ivan Karp, among others. Schumaker enjoys the hard, tactile quality and glossy sheen that the medium lends to the work, stating that it adds an element of uncertainty, which he enjoys.

Elixir Refused (Make Happy) (2005) draws narrative from the Bhagavad Gita, while Weather Patterns (2003) offers atmospheric fields of apricot and pale aqua broken by quirky biomorphic forms. As one becomes immersed in Schumaker’s images, it’s almost a process of getting to know how he thinks. Certainly for those with a painterly orientation the work compels prolonged viewing, soaking in the impressions of form and color both as visual nourishment and as a challenge to decipher technique and meaning.

Rounding out the exhibition are large and small wall-mounted works along with his “dumb boxes,” an assortment of sculptural objects combining geometric forms, cubes, rectangles and sloping planes, with roughly applied geometric designs. One-Eyed Afternoon (2012) features a pair of cubes, 7” on a side, joined across the bottom by a plane on which they both rest. Roughly brushed with white gesso, the interior spaces are tightly filled with squares of corrugated cardboard. 

While elusive snippets of text throughout intrigue and tease, some, such as the repeated phrase “I Am Big Heaven,” clearly demand attention. Schumaker maintains an active meditation practice, and one might reasonably conjecture that these words are offered as a form of mantra for both artist and viewer to latch on to—if only in order to let go.

Barbara Morris

Another Mention by Kenneth Baker

A few days before my show at Jack Fischer was to come down, Kenneth Baker gave us another kind mention in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Ward Schumaker: Years of Pretty:
Selections from Ten Years of Work:
The art of San Franciscan Schumaker makes a dazzling impression––especially in several volumes of paintings on paper––in this offhand retrospective.  It makes the case, without really trying to, that education, experience and relaxation count for more in making art than big ideas or competitive drive.  Ends Saturday. 11a.m.––5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Jack Fischer Gallery, 311 Potrero Ave., S.F. (415) 956-1178.

Kenneth Baker

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Matthew Marchand in SFAQ International Arts and Culture

©2013-2014 San Francisco Arts Quarterly

Ward Schumaker’s “YEARS OF PRETTY:
Selections from Ten Years of Work” at Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco

The title “Reason Drifts Far From The Shore” is printed in black acrylic on a grey background, centered on the left side of the 48 x 72 inch canvas, on the right side that same black paint pulls its way through the grey in a painterly stroke that drips and switches back on itself. Punctuating the right side is a layer of ten bright dashes that reconfirm the surface as essentially flat. Metaphorically to be “at sea” is to be confused, overwhelmed and at a loss, what happens when reason is set adrift on the unfamiliar and estranged?

This May Sound (mixed media on paper on wood) 50″ x 34″, 2007.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The work in the show “Years of Pretty” rides back and forth between a concreteness of the written and the derangement of visual language. Mr. Schumaker’s extensive collection of drips, jabs, slashes swirls, swipes and arabesques cribbed from the abstract lexicon is never secondary to the civilizing nature of text. Unexpectedly the interplay between the two systems of language causes them to take on aspects of the other. In “This May Sound” the text element is so dense and obscured by its own means of production that it shifts away from the verbal integrating itself into the visual structure of the composition.

In “Chrysanthemum” more than half of that single word is crossed out by a brushstroke that swirls off into space. This haptic hop between the flatness of writing and the space of painting draws you into the surfaces black and white layers where acid greens and nearly entirely obscured blues appear. Then you find an in-between color that isn’t red or brown or pink or orange, but could be. There are singular brushstrokes (and potentially other text) buried in the surface, drifting down away from you. Suddenly the language of the brushstroke is working to organize and the drips and gestures of the letters are deranging.

Chrysanthemum (acrylic on canvas) 72″ x 48″, 2008.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The dumb boxes, as the artist calls them, are sitting on pedestals throughout the gallery. These small squat structures are reconstructions of a project started in the mid-1960’s when the artist first moved to San Francisco. They aren’t exactly sculptures (or boxes for that matter) but not quite paintings either although they could easily be wall mounted. The multiple surfaces on a single object is one of the most important ideas present in the show, showing up also in the hand painted artists books on display in the back room. The multiple picture planes intersecting at different angles can make statements via their objectness as in “Throne for a New Ubu”. They can also be looked at as iterations of the paintings where the painterly space of the two dimensional work has been deranged and cast into the real shared space of the gallery, each surface an analog for a separate layer of paint. The surfaces are handled so deftly everywhere in the show but never so importantly as on the boxes where the light touch with the gesso and the distressed finishes reconfirm flatness. In some places the planes are connected with apertures as in “One-eyed Afternoon”. Packed into the space behind the holes drilled into two of the works sides are precisely cut pieces of cardboard multiplying the potential picture planes of the work. Pushed together so tightly these “extra” surfaces come across as visual promises that will never be filled.

One-eyed Afternoon (polychrome wood sculpture) 14″ x 14″ x 7″, 2012.
Courtesy of the gallery.

One-eyed Afternoon (polychrome wood sculpture) 14″ x 14″ x 7″, 2012.
Courtesy of the gallery.

The show has an enthusiasm and generosity that seems at odds with the history of abstraction, so it’s not hard to imagine why Mr. Schumaker would want to set the discourse surrounding abstraction adrift. The work is not some radical staking out of new territory, but it sure does want to move beyond the dirge-like endgame normally ascribed to abstract painting for a chance to describe something else.

For more information visit here.

-Contributed by Matthew Marchand

©2013-2014 San Francisco Arts Quarterly

Monday, September 9, 2013

Years of Pretty | Jack Fischer Gallery | San Francisco | 07 Sep - 12 Oct 2013

Jack and I had used a cardboard model to plan the show and we were pretty much in agreement about the way we wanted it to look, but still, there were a few changes about where certain works got hung. (Of course, we asked for Vivienne's advice, as well.)

When we finished, we started hoping for a good turnout at the opening.

And then we got a present: the San Francisco Chronicle's art critic, Kenneth Baker, stopped by early to see the show and on opening day he gave us a really kind and generous review.

Everyone in town reads Kenneth Baker.
And as a result it seemed as if everyone came to the opening: our guess is 500+ visitors over the four hours.
What more can an artist ask?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kenneth Baker Review | San Francisco Chronicle | September 2013

Ward Schumaker's hand-painted book real page-turner

Published 2:50 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013

White gloves on a table in an exhibition offer an invitation to don them and page through a series of artworks on loose or bound pages. Like too many visitors, I skirt that invitation more often than not.

But once I started to page through Bay Area artist Ward Schumaker's albums of painted sheets at Jack Fischer's new Potrero gallery, I could not stop.

Seldom will you encounter contemporary art in any medium of such relaxed, fearless confidence.

Schumaker has not merely registered but digested the graphic aesthetics of Philip Guston's 1960s work - early and late - plus the best of Terry Winters, Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer.

Most artists whose work summons such references - with all that they imply of feeling for color, materials, mystery and surprise - cannot withstand the comparisons that inevitably follow in viewers' minds. Schumaker need not worry.

Here and there he takes on the additional challenge of incorporating words into the books. Surprisingly, for the most part, the text does not interfere, nor does it disappear by settling down into obvious meaning.

Very rarely does a critic encounter new work that immediately rewards a lifetime of learning to look. No one who cares about seeing as a sensation of life should miss this chance to inspect Schumaker's albums.

Even absent the books, Schumaker's show would stand out by the authority and variety of work it contains. He confronts head-on the absence of credible conventions or pretexts for composing a painting from zero and strides forward. Inevitably, stumbles occur, but seeing the effort alone will give heart to fellow artists and everyone open to it.

Ward Schumaker: Years of Pretty: Paintings, sculpture and collage. Through Oct. 12. Jack Fischer Gallery, 311 Potrero Ave., S.F. (415) 956-1178,