Wednesday, May 15, 1991

Duane Jones: Arts Activist/Sculptor


Duane Jones is a behind the scenes sort of guy when it comes to the viewing of art at myriad Bay Area benefit auctions and events, including the San Francisco Art Institute masterʼs Show, Sonoma Countyʼs annual Face to Face, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, etc.

Not only is he the one who made and installed all the panels and pedestals the art is displayed on, heʼs often an organizational sponsor, promoting and showcasing Sonoma County art on numerous platforms. In fact, the successful two-year-old Sebastopol Center for the Arts is his Athena—his brainchild.

Jones is also the director of the California Museum of Art at the Luther Burbank Center, and is responsible for securing eight major shows a year, and purchasing art for the museumʼs permanent collection (the 40-odd 1pieces are on display at the CMA until June 21).

But few know of Jones the sculptor. Jones who works primarily in paper pulp, cardboard, and found objects recently finished with an extensive shield project series. A long time ago, he sculpted in the lost wax bronze casting process. “The direction Iʼm going now is temples and habitats.”

Somewhat of a maverick, the 59-year-old Jones never attended arts school, nor received formal art training, but heʼs always considered himself a visual artist. He says his work is influenced by mentors and friends Raymond Barnhart and the late Paul Beattie; he gives some credit to the work of the masters Rodin and Giacometti.

Though Jones says he has not made a concerted effort to show his sculptures, his work may be viewed at the Bay Arts Gallery in San Francisco, and the Lawrence Gallery in Yountville. Some of his pieces were included at the Sonoma Arts Guild Shrine Show last month. He continues to donate major pieces to Face to Face, The Sebastopol Arts Center, and to local PBS station KRCB art auctions, and has been on the Art Trails open studio tour since its inception.

Born in East L.A., by the age of 17, Jones was a young father supporting a family, and working the swing shift at an aircraft carrier plant while attending school— studying photography. He dropped out of school, went into electronic sales, auto racing—(sports cars and formula cars at the Times Grand Prix, and the Riverside International Raceway against the likes of Phil Hill and Johnny Parsons), started a few successful businesses, but continued to sculpt on the side for pleasure.

In the ʻ60s, Jones worked with desktop size western bronzes in the style of Remington; “You know, that cowboy and Indian stuff. I tried not to make it trite; it was tongue-in-cheek, I didnʼt realize it was so popular. All I wanted was to work with the human gesture, and here I was using a magnifying glass with a loup to get the smile lines on the cowboyʼs faces just right. I needed to loosen up, and finally threw in the towel.”

He found that working with paper and cardboard was less constricting and offered the possibility to work in a larger format, which allowed him to “get caught up in the process, not the end product.” In 1976, the sculptor moved to Sebastopol, and became a builder, constructing houses for friends. Always the entrepreneur, he had a machine shop on the side—working on those foreign cars.

In 1980, tired of dirty fingernails, and wondering what to be when he grew up, he quit the business world for good, deciding it was all nonsense. He saw that the county “was pregnant ready to pop, and become a full-fledged arts scene. There was not much happening in the arts locally, yet I knew there were many good artists living here. Some knew how to market their work elsewhere but most didnʼt.”

Jones had a vision to promote local art, he founded the Bookstore Gallery which displayed museum quality one-man shows in Rohnert Park, and volunteered to help the Sebastopol Library to upgrade their annual arts shows. He also volunteered his time at the CMA, eventually creating a paid staff position as director of the fledgeling museum.

Besides displaying the work of nearly 250 artists last year, the community museum served an estimated 14,000 people. A lot of foot traffic for an out-of-the-way museum that barely saw 2,500 souls (artists included) when Jones came aboard in ʼ86.

In 1991, the CMA featured internationally renown local artists Morri Camhi, Frank Schueler, Judy North, Bill Morehouse, Raymond Barnhart, Charles Churchill, and others. The Sonoma Fine Crafts exhibit featured 22 artists, The Celebrate Sonoma permanent collection represented 20 artists, and at the California Small Works show Jones displayed 229 works from 189 artists (out of 679 entries from across the state).

Jones persevered even when the museumʼs future looked pretty bleak.“Sometimes it was just me fighting for the arts, why? Because I decided I was going to devote my life to the arts. Itʼs a magic county we live in, in that there are a lot of fine artists here who are not recognized in their own back yard. Iʼm a salesman. I know about merchandising, organizing, and marketing from working in the business world. Itʼs easy to show art, I said to the disbelievers letʼs just do it, and make it look professional.” His proof of success? The long list of thriving art galleries (40+) in Sonoma County,

and the steady stream of collectors who come to arts events and galleries to purchase local art. Jones says the county has become more sophistocated. He uses the museum exhibits to educate people—to expose them to the arts, and to give local artists high calibre opportunities to show their work.

Jones also attributes the museumʼs success to the broad-based community support. He is an advocate for accessible, not elitist, or academic art: “A museum is a community, not just for artists, but for the general public to enjoy. California contemporary art is exciting, itʼs accessable; thereʼs a history that needs to be recorded.”

Speaking of history, Jones would be happier of some of his earliest attempts at sculpture would just quietly rest in pieces. Jones whoʼd rather be remembered by his biodegradable paper pieces, disparagingly quips as if the cowboys and Indians were gaining on him: “There are still a lot of my bronzes of mine out there. A beginning artist probably shouldn't make bronzes because they last forever.”

He doesn't quite know what to make of aesthetics of the thief who stole two of his western  pieces from the Christopher Queen Gallery display window one night. . . “You know, itʼs ironic, I hate horses. Give me a motorcycle any day; it doesnʼt bite or need to be rubbed down. You can ride it hard, put it away wet, and itʼs OK. ”

ca 1991, 1992—when?  May?

Friday, May 10, 1991

Teaching Stones to Speak 5/10/91

"The Stone Series"

Paintings of William Morehouse

William Morehouse in his Bodega studio. On the left is "Broadgar Energy," one of the works in "The Stone Series" on view at the California Museum of Art.


RECENTLY A BULGARIAN POET handed me a conundrum: a hollow river stone with a smaller stone trapped inside—a talking stone. This reminded me of my Irish grandmother, who told me stones could speak even on this side of the world. Steeped in the Celtic mysteries, she relied on the megalithic limestone outcropping at the crest of a nearby hill to note the solstices. I was encouraged to spend time listening to the rock, and to measure the speed of shadows, but I gathered inconclusive evidence as to the shape of time, and the translation of the mute attestation of stones.

I was faced with a similar conundrum upon viewing William Morehouse's "The Stone Series" at the California Museum of Art at the Luther Burbank Center. I found myself seeking a decoding process to solve the riddle, but what was the mystery?

A resident of Bodega, Morehouse is a mature, established artist with an impressive track record; his works are represented in over 20 public and private collections, including the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution 'in Washington, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His artistic career spans 42 years and hundreds of exhibitions. The 62-year-old San Francisco native studied at the California School of Fine Arts, the California College of Arts and Crafts, and the San Francisco Art Institute; he received his master's degree from San Francisco State University. He taught at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1958 to 1967, and since 1967, he's been at Sonoma State University, where he is a full professor.

The CMA exhibit—25 painted ceramic sculptures, oil paintings, and pastels—were thematically inspired by "the mystery of Celtic monuments" Morehouse visited during a 1985 trip to over 80 megalithic sites of Wales, northern Scotland, the Hebrides and the Orkney Isands, Morehouse says his journey to the megalithic stones began in Soho, New York, one hot August night in 1985 when the loft where he was staying was too hot to sleep and so, within 24 hours, he was headed for the London fog to cool his heels.

Morehouse made the obligatory pilgrimage to Stonehenge, but the thundering hordes and the fence surrounding the ancient monument were discouraging; the magic was gone. He stumbled upon more sites in Wales and Scotland, which he describes as a "delicious adventure" enhanced by "two bottles of single-malt whiskey in the boot of the car," and these burial cairns, cromlechs and dolmens seemed to speak more succinctly to Morehouse than did the incarcerated Stonehenge.

Morehouse says his "Stone Series" pieces, executed after returning to New York and California, are not based on precise visual presences of the stones as much as they are recollections of those experiences, both visual and sentient. He describes the central theme of the series as "the mysterious and unknown nature of these monuments . . . meditations on, and subjective responses to, the kind of energy, spirit, and evocative qualities I experienced while visiting the sites."

ONE OF THE MORE interesting elements of the CMA exhibit is to see Morehouse's stone theme executed in three difterent mediums: ceramic, oil, and pastel. At first glance, many of the raw, opaque paintings have an inaccessible quality similar to that of the megalithic stones they represent, while the three pastels retain a lyrical depth and quality that enhance the sense of mystery.

"Spirit and Sentinels—Caallanish" contains a wonderful spiraling energy. And the green ropes of "Spirit Dance and Stone" float in a darker mystery. The "Witches' Stone, Callanish: Study for Paintings" is phallic, but that shouldn't come as a surprise because that's what the stone represents to begin with." The diminutive megalithic sculptures in the center of the room are strangely comforting.

One of the largest paintings in the exhibit, the spermetic "Dark Cairn Metamorphosis," retains some of the fertile mystery of the pastel pieces. "Callanish: Isle of Lewis, Hebrides" has a nice juxtaposition of organic line and shape, as does. "Cairn—Wales: Spirals in the Burial Chamber." The contemporary painted red line becomes a rich punctuation mark against the magic ancient calligraphic spirals.

Another marking, or "thought gesture," most notably on "Energy Form Gesture II," looks almost Sanskrit in origin—recalling our Indo-European origins. However, the unsettling green palette of "Stenness" and the orange flame of "High Ambition" literally drove me from the room to seek escape from this two-dimensional reality of pyrotechnics. I cautiously reentered, shielding my eyes from these Plutonic wonders in order to spend some quality time with the more contemplative pieces.

My first reaction to the "Stone Series" was that Morehouse, while apparently trying to get closer to the mystery, had made it more opaque. This is a painter who is capable of throwing light into the meeting of mountains, but can he clear the stone place for a rough magic to form? Magic is a finicky muse. By naming it, one can destroy it. Since first impressions come too easy, after much deliberation, I came back to my primary conclusion: these paintings are filled with a mysterious raw kinetic energy—more Plutonic than Celtic.

But they feel new and unfinished; the composition is good, but for the most part, the palette is unsettling. Morehouse's thoughts rush toward full-blown combustion; there is little for the viewer to absorb and contemplate. I wish his works contained more of the sublime magic of the megalithic stones. Morehouse's paintings are filled with thought, perhaps too much so. And I think the art itself suffers for it, because the paintings, though bright, don't necessarily shed light.

A child's first marking—which may represent the beginnings of thought processes—are akin to Morehouse's symbolism, but a child's markings are transparent and tenative, there's the feel of paper (or the wall) beneath the mark, while Moorehouse's remain shrouded. Ironically, Morehouse says that in the "Stone Series" he was seeking a more lyrical, spiritual quality, moving towards less deliberate image-making, less control. He was seeking a sense of energy, calling his works essays of the spiritual language, subliminal thoughts, forms intuitively arrived at, symbols of power in a land steeped in legend.

During an artist's lecture at CMA, Morehouse presented slides of the paintings juxtaposed against the megalithic sites he documented, which was a real visual treat. Some of the pieces not in the show made more sense than the selected canvasses. Perhaps the show should have been expanded to include more paintings and pastels.

TECHNICALLY, THE DRYNESS of the painted surfaces in the "Stone Series"—akin to the creechy feeling of fingernails on chalkboard—had my skin crawling. Morehouse is an excellent draftsman and painter, and by comparison, his plein air paintings recently on view at the J. Noblett Gallery in Boyes Hot Springs, were juicy and luscious. (That exhibit, "Open Air Paintings," features, in addition to the recent work of Morehouse, and four other West County painters—Tony King, Wilder Bentley, William Wheeler, and John Stuppin—the "must see" exhibit recently moved to Dominican College in San Rafael.)

During my visit to the J. Noblett Gallery, two Morehouse paintings in particular stood out: "West from Poff Ranch" with its post-impressionistic cypress writhing in the wind, and his fluidly juicy "North from Armstrong Woods," an edible landscape redolent wiih succulent color. My faith in Morehouse's painterly ability restored, I was again faced with the dilemma of making sense of his "Stone Series."

Morehouse's palette makes sense out-of-doors. In this context. I thought fleetingly of Mark Rothhko's work, and wished the room, the paintings, or both, were much, much larger. As it turns out, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and abstract expressionism generally have had a major influence on Morehouse's work, but Rothko's paintings are sophisticated 20th century civilized interiors, sheets of colors that float above the surface of the canvas, while Morehouse has taken on the primitive pagan landscape. He's tried to contain it, and caged it like Stonehenge itself.

The Scottish "Stone Series" can be seen at the California Museum of Art at Luther Burbank Center through May 26. Regular museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, caII 527-0297.
Concurrent with the Morehouse exhibit, the CMA is featuring another show, "Guardians of Myths and Legends," comprised of 29 raku-fired ceramic helmets, shields and breastplates by Torrance artist Max Fuller. A great double barrel treat.

The Western Sonoma County Paper, ca. 5/10/1991

William Paul Morehouse
1929 - 1993

Note Bene: Bill Morehouse was one of my painting teachers at Sonoma State University, but at that time (late 1970s) there was no art department, not like today. The entire art department was crammed in the basement of Darwin Hall. We were literally below ground level. Our transom windows framed the ankles of passers-by. I had a ceramics class and a painting class in Darwin Hall—with no facilities, no potter's wheels, no kilns, no place to paint, no storage lockers—nothing. It was strictly whatever you could carry on your back. Needless to say, we got very little art done that year. It was a real bummer all the way around.