“Circle of Friends, Painting, Drawings, and Sculptures by Robert Arneson, Joan Brown, Roy DeForest, Peter Saul and William T. Wiley,” presents the works of five artists of seemingly diverse interests and styles: Arneson is best known for his ceramic self-portraits; Brown for her autobiographical, stylistically “Bad” paintings; DeForest for his fantastical paintings of animals in the landscape; Saul for his hyper-chromatic, insistently irreverent Pop Art paintings; and Wiley for his ruminative multi-media works once described by Hilton Kramer as “Dude Ranch Dada.”
Despite their apparent differences, on closer inspection these artists have a great deal in common. All five lived in California for significant portions of, if not their entire professional lives. Three - Arneson, Brown and Saul – were born in California while DeForest, born in Nebraska, and Wiley, born in Indiana, moved to the Bay Area at the beginning of their respective careers. Both studied at the San Francisco Art Institute (then California School of Fine Arts), where Joan Brown earned her BA and MFA and where Saul also studied before moving on to Washington University in St. Louis. Arneson, DeForest and Wiley were on the faculty at the University of California, Davis, where Wiley arranged to have Saul as a visiting artist after returning from living abroad. Brown, meanwhile, taught at UC Berkeley, where she eventually chaired the Art Department.
Aside from their roots, education and teaching, all five were bound by other ties, notably to galleries. Brown and Wiley both exhibited with George Staempfli in New York in the early 1960s, and all five would eventually be represented by the same galleries not only in San Francisco (originally the Hansen-Fuller Gallery, now Brian Gross), but also in New York (Allan Frumkin Gallery, now George Adams Gallery).
In addition, all five were included in Peter Selz’s seminal “Funk” exhibition at Berkeley in 1967, and again in “Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era,” organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1977. There are also unexpected pairings: Brown and Wiley participating in “Young America” at the Whitney Museum in 1960; Deforest and Saul in the “67th American Exhibition” at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1964; Saul and Wiley in the 1966 Carnegie International; and Arneson, DeForest and Saul in “Recent Works on Paper” at the Madison Art Center in 1978. Arneson, Saul and Wiley showed together in the Whitney Museum’s “Human Concern/Personal Torment” show in 1969, and again in “Spirit of the Comics” in 1969 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, which also included DeForest. Many other examples of such overlappings exist throughout the careers of all five artists.
It is not by chance, then, that these artist influenced each other to varying degrees over the course of 30 or more years, and this exhibition presents a selection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures to demonstrate the impact these artists had on one another, often in unexpected ways.