Art review: Russ Solomon collection at Blue Line Arts
Soon to be 90, Russell Solomon, founder of Tower Records, which began in Sacramento and became an international chain, has decided to part with some of his formidable art collection.
The works in question once hung in his corporate headquarters and have been in storage since Tower closed in 2006. On view at Blue Line Arts in Roseville, the paintings by prominent Northern California artists give you a picture of Solomon’s personality. Like the collector, they are big, bold and intense.
Solomon began collecting early on and owns an early Wayne Thiebaud that presages his paintings of jukeboxes, pinball machines and gooey desserts. Though that work is not for sale and not on view, I mention it because it dates back to a time that Solomon reminisces about in an eight-minute video that accompanies the show.
As a budding collector in the 1950s, Solomon got to know Thiebaud and other Sacramento artists, who in 1958 started the Artists Cooperative Gallery (which became the Artists Contemporary Gallery a few years later). At a meeting to found the gallery, a question arose as to who would take financial responsibility for the gallery run by its artist-members. Solomon stepped up, and the gallery, which ran for 44 years, mostly under the direction of Betty Mast, was listed in his name for the duration.
The Blue Line show is kind of a trip through memory lane. Many of the works on view are by artists who showed at ACG over the years, among them Darrell Forney, Gary Pruner, Jack Ogden, Jerald Silva and Ken Waterstreet. A pair of Ogden paintings demand your attention as you walk into the show. These large oils from Ogden’s Philip Guston period are among his best works.
“Artist’s Studio” is a raw and reckless painting that just about jumps off the wall. In it are homages to Guston and Picasso, with one-eyed figures, painting paraphernalia and a Guston trademark: a bare light bulb. “Paint Cans” is a vibrant painting of cans dripping paint and coated brushes that crowd the canvas with bold gestures and radiant color. They provide an apt introduction to the show. (A series of new sculptures by Odgen is up now at b. sakata garo.)
On the other side of the panel on which they hang is Forney’s “Greetings From ACG,” a seminal example of his large-letter postcard paintings and a tribute to the gallery he served as artist-curator for many years. Forney, at one time, was “Mr. Sacramento Art,” spearheading inventive exhibitions such as “The Ladder Show” and “The Crow Show.” He coined the term “Sacratomato” and produced intriguing films as well as paintings that seemed to sum up his humorous, surrealist stance. (Isn’t it time for a revival of Forney’s work?)
Waterstreet is represented by a photorealist painting of a Pollock-like abstraction and an homage to Picasso’s “Three Musicians” with his trademark figure taken from a child’s drawing in the background. Steven Fleming’s “Der Broom (Mystery of the Dog)” changes the tone of the show with an image of baroque ceiling figures falling. It’s a memorable painting that was shown at the Michael Himovitz Gallery.
Pruner was one of Solomon’s favorite artists, and this show includes a number of his large paintings of flowers, confections and animals that symbolize beauty and desire. “Confection” pits luscious candy apples with a white goose and colorful fish. A triptych of quince blossoms is a quintessential Pruner, and a painting of a flower under a woman’s luscious mouth is sensuously appealing.
Silva, one of the area’s finest figurative artists, offers a large watercolor of a nude wearing glasses in a collage-like interior with the Sunday comics and cutout fragments of paintings hung like a mobile. It’s a stunning painting, as is an image of a nude, covered with studio detritus, whose torso is bared.
John Battenburg, a Bay Area artist of note, gives us a portrait of Solomon in front of a Tower sign and a wonderful bronze sculpture of World War I French soldiers’ uniforms emptied of their bodies. It’s a moving and elegiac piece.
This is a show that pays tribute to the many strong artists who have worked in our region, and you won’t want to miss it. And if you should happen to buy one, you couldn’t ask for a better provenance.
Roy de Forest