A common mallet sits on a narrow shelf. The sober construction of rubber and wood is not at rest, in the normal manner of mallets; its wooden handle juts out orthogonally to the right, almost as if posed. The observer’s eye is guided along the shelf to a series of colorful everyday objects: canned goods, squeeze bottles, a pear, a plum, several books bound with a blue rubber band. Then silence, and shadow; then a book, a bottle, a bunch of twigs. And a green marble which reflects the painter himself, Michael Tompkins, at work in his studio, cataloging and subtly transforming this assemblage he calls “Barge for an Evening Bird.”
Tompkins came by this manner of depicting the objects that wander into his life, the story goes, by studying the Central Valley landscape along Highway 80 as he commuted from Davis, California to a teaching job at Sierra College in Rocklin. The landscapes he recreated back in his studio are sombre and moody – and they don’t bear any immediate resemblance to the “barges” of colorful objects that he paints today. What they do share is an insistence on horizonality, and (his landscapes bearing only a tenuous relation to actual photographic views of the area) a willingness to let the hand of the artist populate what could be a bleak and enervating landscape.
The barges themselves have evolved since the nineties; the somber hues associated with classic Flemish oils and the wide horizontal gaps are less in evidence. Objects are bunched together, not strung out loosely along a horizontal line like solitary trees or columns of smoke from burning fields. And there’s more whimsy, notes Gallery Associate Morgan Carey, not to mention moves toward a more vertical format, as in Atlas, one of the more striking of the pieces currently on display. But the shadows are still there – infused with blues and purples like fellow-Californians Bechtle and Thiebaud’s – and there’s the respect for the individual object evinced by that hermetic composer of modern still lifes Giorgio Morandi. And the space around things – that’s where the shadows fall.
This venue, just far enough off Columbus to avoid the hurley-burley of San Francisco’s North Beach, is a fine place to display any kind of art. The gleaming hardwood floors, natural light, and crisply painted woodwork of a decidedly non-commercial building (formerly the Charles Campbell Gallery) bring to mind a tidy shop in a small New England town, and Tompkins colorful work shows well here. As a bonus, some charcoal drawings by Wayne Thiebaud are on display in the rooms upstairs.
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Michael Tompkins: Paintings
November 2 December 18, 2010
Paul Thiebaud Gallery
645 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94133