At a time when Abstract Expressionism was at its zenith in the 1950s, a small group of Bay Area artists returned to representations of form in their work. Known today as the Bay Area Figurative artists, they retained the gestural movements, thickly applied paint, and vibrant colors characteristic of Abstract Expressionism, yet rejected its elimination of the figure. They claimed that the inclination to draw natural forms, especially the human figure, was instinctual. Their commitment to this notion represented a radical departure for the popular Abstract Expressionism movement; yet it speaks to the innovative spirit of the Bay Area, where artists have consistently blazed new paths and pioneered artistic trends.
Drawn from the de Saisset Museum's permanent collection and composed of works by Joan Brown, Theophilus Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, and Wayne Thiebaud, Figure Forward traces the evolution of figuration in these artists' works over the course of several decades. Though most of the pieces included in this exhibition were produced in the years following the end of the Bay Area Figurative Movement (1950-1965), the continuance of the figure—albeit more abstracted—speaks to their fascination with and commitment to the idea. The exhibition explores the progression of representation from clearly definable figures to more abstracted forms, as it manifests in the works included in the museum's collection. It also speaks to the significance and lasting influence of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
— Katie Cronin, Guest Curator (SCU Class of '12)