ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Rustic perfection! “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life” at Oakland Museum through September 9, 2018

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The Oakland Museum’s summer exhibit J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life, celebrates a creative life many of us fantasize about—small secluded cabin, surrounded by nature, living authentically off the land, all time is dedicated to creative pursuits.  If ever there were a model for this, it is artist James Blain Blunk (1926-2002) who lived and created in Inverness from the late 1950’s until his death in 2002.

Blunk’s work, his home and the poetic appeal of his extraordinary counterculture life are all explored in this survey show curated by OMCA Curator of Art, Carin Adams.  Well worth the trip to Oakland, the exhibit includes 80 of Blunk’s important artworks—large wood and stone works, bronze sculptures, ceramics, works on panel and board, and handmade buttons, belts and jewelry—as well as personal photos from his life in Japan and Marin.  A special video, too, was commissioned that includes intimate interviews with Blunk’s family, friends and colleagues who speak to the seamless integration of his life and creative process.

“This idea of an artist who is completely intertwining art and nature and his life is a very California concept, especially the integration of art and landscape” said OMCA director Lori Fogarty.  “He created the most iconic, memorable and beloved element in our building, “The Planet,” which is really the center of our museum.  Right now, we are so pleased to have Blunk on three levels of the museum: “The Planet” is on first level; another piece is in a natural setting in the alcove outside the History Gallery, and the exhibit on the second floor galleries.”

Blunk’s Life = Art

Bunk’s artistic career began in Japan.  Right after finishing college at UCLA in 1949, where he studied ceramics under Laura Andreson, he was drafted into the Korean war and served in the army.  In 1951, he was able to finagle a discharge to Japan where, fortuitously, he met Isamu Noguchi who was instrumental in steeping him in Japan’s rich ceramic tradition and guiding him to apprenticeships with legendary potters Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883–1959) and Bizen style master Toyo Keneshige (1896–1967).

When Blunk returned to CA in 1954, he worked as potter creating stoneware with a strong Japanese influence.  The show includes a few of these ceramics as well as his later paintings, often done on wood that he went over with a chainsaw and then painted in neutral shades, accentuating the wood’s grain and creating a textured surface that referred back to his beginnings as a ceramicist.

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After a few years in CA, Blunk took on work as a carpenter to support himself.  Noguchi arranged another fortuitous introduction, to the British surrealist painter Gordon Onslow Ford, then living in Inverness on 250+ forested acres overlooking Tomales Bay.  After Blunk built a complex roof for Onslow Ford’s new home (designed by Warren Callister), Onslow Ford asked him to stay on in Inverness and offered him an acre of his land.  Reportedly, Blunk climbed trees on the idyllic property searching for the perfect place to situate his home.  This was at the beginning of the West Marin’s handmade house era that flourished in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Blunk chose a forested ridge facing the gorgeous Tomales Bay and, from 1958 to 1962,  he and his first wife Nancy Waite (daughter of Howard Waite), designed and hand-built their home and studio from lumber and logs foraged near the beach at Inverness.  The Blunk House, considered Blunk’s seminal artwork, has evolved over years from its original 600 square feet to about double that.  Simple, it suits the land perfectly and the land suits it.  It includes a ceramic and woodcutting studio and has become iconic in design circles, touted by the NYT Style Magazine in 2016 as “the perfect meeting of California Craft and Japanese Minimalism”.

Interior Sculpture

Detail, interior of J.B. Blunk’s home. Everything in the house—the sculptures, furniture, floors, wall panels, plates, bowls, even the bathroom sink were made by the artist. Photo: OMCA

It was not only the home, but the way Blunk lived in it with his family that mattered.  He fired cups, plates and bowls he fashioned from clay he dug on his land.  He built his own brick and clay kiln. He hunted or grew most of his food. He made his furniture—a combo of sturdy but elegant stools, chairs, and functional slabs such as his famous bathroom sink of hand hewn cypress with its chiseled bowl— and put his artwork everywhere.  All of this was illuminated by sunlight streaming in from windows overlooking a view of paradise.

Blunk, carved bench, front view, OMCA

A redwood stool, circa 1965, has a distinct Asian flair. Its curved chisel-carved seat communicated with art hanging on the walls and the walls themselves. J.B. Blunk, Stool #1, 28x21x12 inches. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Blunk, shirt, belt, buckle, OMCA

During his early days in Inverness, Blunk hunted deer to feed himself and his family. His deerskin shirt in the background (circa 1955), that he wore often, was most likely made by his first wife, Nancy. He made and wore the belt and buckle (circa 1960’s), in the foreground. Courtesy Rufus Blunk. Photo: Geneva Anderson

During this period, Blunk developed a deep love of wood.  He was attuned to the trees surrounding him and collected the burls that washed up on the beach.  He began creating wood furniture from redwood and cypress which he carved out with a chain saw and finished with an angular grinder and chisel.  His first major wood commission was in 1965 for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin who requested an entire room of furniture.  Blunk responded with benches, chairs and a low table that seem to grow organically out of the walls and floor.

With Halprin’s initial help, Blunk went on to obtain several commissions for large-scale sculptural seating projects:  (1968 UC Santa Cruz plaza seating, 1969 OMCA “The Planet,” 1969 “The Ark”).  These massive sculptures were unique in that they were made to be touched and sat on.  He was included in many craft exhibitions.  His beloved “Greens” installation from 1979—a three ton redwood monolith and a group of chairs and tables cut from a single 22-foot diameter redwood stump of redwood—still serves as the sculptural centerpiece and spiritual anchor for Greens restaurant at Fort Mason Center.

Around the time of the Greens project, Blunk became less interested in furniture and more interested in pure sculpture.  He realized that the huge blocks of wood he had standing around his yard waiting to be cut up into firewood were so beautiful that he couldn’t just cut them up and he was inspired to create monumental forms.

Blunk Mage OMCA

J.B. Blunk, “Mage,” 1983, carved redwood. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In the 1980’s, Blunk moved on to tall twisting wood sculptures created with a chainsaw and to stone carvings. His majestic two-legged redwood “Mage” from 1983 is one the show’s highlights. With its poetic natural gnarls and ripples left intact, Blunk’s transformation of the material is minimal, just enough release the inherent beauty in the material he worked with.  “I am in awe of his wisdom about what to highlight in its natural state and what to dig into and transform,” said curator Carin Adams.  “That’s his genius. It wasn’t always what he decided to do with things but what he decided to let stand on its own.”

Blunk’s friendship with Noguchi deepened over the years.  “I’ve heard stories from his family members and from his long-time assistants about Noguchi’s regular visits and how they would walk through the fields adjacent to J.B.’s studio and home and just look at assembled materials, not really talking, just nodding occasionally and looking,”  said Adams.  “I think they had a long-term, active, vital exchange that was important for each of them.”

Don’t miss Blunk’s “The Planet” in OMCA’s lobby

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In 2019, OMCA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of its historic landmarked building. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Kevin Roche, this jewel is one of California’s most stunning examples of examples of mid-century modernism. The building actually had to be constructed around Blunk’s majestic two-ton, 13-feet-diameter work “The Planet,” carved from the base of a single redwood tree.  The magnificent sprawling piece was commissioned in 1969 and is situated at the heart of the museum on the first level at the entrance to the Gallery of California Natural Sciences. Sadly, the piece’s installation precedes all of the museum’s current employees so no one was able to relate in person the story of this piece’s installation but the exhibit does include several photos.

Free informative Exhibition Tours | J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life:

Saturday, August 18, 2018, 12–12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

Saturday, September, 1, 2018, 12-12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

More resources J.B. Blunk:

The wall texts are informative but Blunk is an artist who cries out for a book that can be poured over and treasured. His daughter, Mariah Nielson, who works with the Blunk estate and founded the company Permanent Collection (it sells re-casted originals of her dad’s works, such as Blunk Cups) has just finished digitizing his entire archive and is collaborating on a forthcoming book.

For now, the most complete information on Blunk comes straight from the horse’s mouth—a wonderful 3 hour and 34 minute oral interview Blunk did in 2002 in Inverness with Glenn Adamson for the Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America. Click here to be directed to the interview.

To read more about how J.B. Blunk influenced CA’s fine wood tradition, read ARThound’s  “Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

 

Details: “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life” is on display at OMCA through September 9, 2018.  General Admission tickets include this exhibit: $15.95, $10.95 seniors, $6.95 Youth 9-17 and free for children 8 and under and OMCA members. As part of Friday Nights at OMCA, on Fridays 5 to 10 p.m., enjoy half price admission for adults and free admission for 18 and under.  Get your groove on with wine, beer, music, featured artists, Off the Grid food trucks and more.

Coming this fall to OMCA “The World of Ray and Charles Eames” October 13, 2018- February 17, 2019.  (This exhibit originated at the Barbican London, 21 October 2015 – 14 February, 2016)

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August 10, 2018 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

rockin’ artifacts— The OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) is grooving with “Vinyl,” its homage to pressed gems, ending on July 27

“Pearl,” the second solo album by Janis Joplin, is just one of dozens of lp’s that can be seen, touched and played at “Vinyl,” the Oakland Museum of California’s homage to listening to, collecting, and sharing records.  “Pearl” was released posthumously on Columbia Records in January 1971 and was the last album that had Joplin’s direct participation.  Its recording sessions ended with Joplin’s death on October 7, 1970.  Soon after its release, it hit  #1 on the Billboard 200 and held the spot for nine weeks and was certified “quadruple platinum” by the Recording Industry Association of America. “Pearl” is the only Joplin album recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, her final touring unit.  The album cover, photographed by Barry Feinstein in Los Angeles shows Joplin reclining on her Victorian era loveseat with a drink in her hand.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

“Pearl,” the second solo album by Janis Joplin, is just one of dozens of lp’s that can be seen, touched and played at “Vinyl,” the Oakland Museum of California’s homage to listening to, collecting, and sharing records. “Pearl” was released posthumously on Columbia Records in January 1971 and was the last album that had Joplin’s direct participation. Its recording sessions ended with Joplin’s death on October 7, 1970. Soon after its release, it hit #1 on the Billboard 200 and held the spot for nine weeks and was certified “quadruple platinum” by the Recording Industry Association of America. “Pearl” is the only Joplin album recorded with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, her final touring unit. Photo: Geneva Anderson

If you haven’t visited OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) lately, July is a great month to do it.  Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records closes Sunday, July 27th, and is a fascinating interactive show with a gallery of guest-curated crates of lp’s set up in listening stations that will delight, inform as they take you way down memory lane.

I was eleven when Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” was released, so seeing feather-haired Janis on the album cover sitting there on that velvet love seat, drink in hand, immediately brought back that 5th grade summer that we played  “Me and Bobby McGee” over and over trying to understand as children what it all meant —”Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

I reunited with “Pearl” by cruising through rock historian Sylvie Simmons’ curated “girl crate” featuring female rebels, like the Shirelles in the 1960’s (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) through the singer-songwriters of the 1970’s to Punk divas of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Yeh, ARThound isn’t only an opera lover…as a toddler, I cut my teeth on Peter, Paul and Mary and “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and proudly scrawled my initials all over both my and my brother’s albums and would sing it, at the top of my lungs, to whoever would listen.  Vinyl is the kind of the show that brings all of that to the surface, so do  bring a friend along to share it all with.

OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman has done a superb job of pulling together some very rare lp’s too.  I grew up loving “Star Trek” but had no idea that Leonard Nimoy had actually cut several lp’s and that he sang (and pretty decently) on some of them.  Guzman is particularly proud that he was able to find some rare Nimoy lp’s in Europe and bring to Oakland for the show.

OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman holds a rare copy of Nimoy’s hit lp “Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy,” (Dot Records, 1967)  that features tracks —“Highly Illogical,” “Spock Thoughts,” “Follow Your Star,” “Once I Smiled.”   Listening to Ninoy talk/sing is a thoroughly eyebrow raising listening experience, courtesy of “Vinyl” at OMCA through July 27, 2014.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman holds a rare copy of Nimoy’s hit lp “Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy,” (Dot Records, 1967) requested by best-selling Pulitzer author, Michael Chabon, for his “Discography of a Nerd” lp crate. The album features tracks —“Highly Illogical,” “Spock Thoughts,” “Follow Your Star,” “Once I Smiled.” Listening to Nimoy talk/sing is a thoroughly eyebrow raising listening experience, courtesy of “Vinyl” at OMCA through July 27, 2014. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Final “Talk and Play”:  On Saturday, July 26th,  from 1-2:30 p.m., OMCA will host the last installment of its weekly “Talk and Play” sessions which have accompanied its 3 month long tribute to vinyl.   The series, which is different every week, features guest participants from DJs to music journalists, record collectors to experimental musicians.  The focus is always vinyl—from pressing it, to its history, it remarkable resurgence and its collectability—and  listening to specially-curated music sets.

The final session, “Every Record Has a Story,” features David Katznelson (record producer, president, Birdman Recording Group), Steven Baker (former president, Warner Brothers Records), Britt Govea (founder, Folk Yeah Productions) and Josh Rosenthal (founder, owner, and president, Tompkins Square Records).   You can be sure this group of talent will share some mind-blowing stories from their own collections as well as divulge some of the biggest secrets behind some of the greatest albums of our time.

Click here to listen to David Katznelson’s (record producer, president, Birdman Recording Group) curated playlist on Spotify.

Also ending soon (July 27) is SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot, OMCA’s smart nod to arts visionary Eric Nakamura, whom in 1994, founded Giant Robot, Los Angeles’ Little Osaka based store, magazine, art gallery that became an uber-destination for Asian and Asian American popular culture and art.   Nakamura and OMCA associate curator Carin Adams have thoughtfully curated this joyful blast of multimedia art from 15 contemporary artists who were early and contributors to this edgy scene.

Mural Magic!  So-Cal husband and wife duo, “kozyndan,” love oceans, nature, bursts of bright color and working together.  "An Ode To California" is 17 feet tall and 36 feet wide, and covers the floor of the space where it is has been lovingly installed.  The mural is part of OMCA’s “SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot” which explores recent works by California and international artists affiliated with “Giant Robot,” the influential magazine that brought Asian, trans-Pacific culture to the masses.  Artworks in the exhibition represent a range of mediums, including mural art, sculpture, illustration, portraiture, large-scale installations, graphic novels, photography, and more.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Mural Magic! So-Cal husband and wife duo, “kozyndan,” love oceans, nature, bursts of bright color and working together. “An Ode To California” is 17 feet tall and 36 feet wide, and also covers the floor of the nook where it is has been lovingly installed. The mural is part of OMCA’s “SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot” which explores recent works by California and international artists affiliated with “Giant Robot,” the influential magazine that brought Asian, trans-Pacific culture to the masses. Artworks in the exhibition represent a range of mediums, including mural art, sculpture, illustration, portraiture, large-scale installations, graphic novels, photography, and more. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Details:  OMCA, the Oakland Museum of California, is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland.  Detailed directions are available on OMCA’s Directions page.   Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Fridays when the museum is open until 9 p.m. Admission:  $12 general, $9 seniors and students with valid ID.  Parking: Enter the Museum Garage on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets.  Parking is just $1/hour with Museum validation.  Parking without validation is $2.50/hour.  After 5 p.m., there is a flat $5 fee. (Bring your ticket to the Ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation.)

 

 

July 22, 2014 Posted by | Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment