A few years ago (was it really 18??), I lived in Europe for a few months, and when I came home, I found that my friend Thomas Reynolds had opened a little art gallery just off Fillmore Street. I knew he loved art — we’d gone to many galleries and museum shows together — but I had no idea he was interested in showing it. Nor had he, until the day he walked by a solo MFA-student show at the Academy of Art on Sutter Street, went in, and fell in love with the student’s work.
The graduating student was Veerakeat Tongpaiboon, from Thailand, and his eye-popping paintings displayed his fascination with San Francisco’s streets and vertiginous views in a palette of vibrant blues, jungle greens, blazing oranges, yellows and reds. Reynolds, who so loves his ‘hood that he also publishes the monthly New Fillmore newspaper, eventually leased a small space next door to Johnny Rockets for a six-week holiday season show he called “Painting the Neighborhood.” He had such a fine time being a gallery owner — and got such a good response to Veerakeat’s work — that he kept going.
At first, he showed the work of artists he knew, such as San Francisco’s Mark Ulriksen, who later got very busy creating cover art for The New Yorker, and the late James Stagg, and Francis Livingston, who moved to Sun Valley. When Reynolds began editing California Lawyer magazine (which is where we met), in 1987, Livingston painted the first cover. Reynolds exhibits about a dozen artists now. One of his most inspired ideas was asking them to paint the neighborhood’s Alta Plaza Park; the varied responses led to a highly enjoyable show.
Reynolds tends to favor non-abstract work. The 11 artists in his current show could hardly better convey the broad range of his notion of California realism, from the representational nudes of Stevan Shapona to the almost abstract landscapes of Sandy Ostrau.
The only non-American in the group is Daniel Levigoureux, whom Reynolds discovered when he went to Paris on his honeymoon, in 1990. As he purchased one of Levigoureux’s spare yet evocative Normandy-shore landscapes, Reynolds thought, “Everyone should have one of Daniel’s paintings.” He’s since produced two exhibitions of Levigoureux’s work.
“He’s not a California artist,” Reynolds acknowledges, “but he fits my broad definition of California realism: real but not too real; recognizable imagery with modern influences. With the variety of aesthetics or taste of these artists, this exhibition shows exactly what I’m interested in.”
“California Realism” continues through September 29 at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery, 2291 Pine Street (at Fillmore), San Francisco.