Keeping Score
keeping score
Paintings 2015-2017
paintings 2015-2017
Recent Waterworks (2017)
recent waterworks 2017
The Long Summer
long summer
Paintings 2013-2014
paintings 2013-2014
The Black & White Ball
A New Year in Paint
Skating on Thin Ice
A New Decade in Paint
Dancing Through Life
No Naked Nudes
no naked nudes
Body Language
new york
Tribute to Rotonde
A New Century in Paint
Freshly Dug Up: 1970's
early work
In London: Diverse RCA
New in Berlin
In San Francisco: Boxers
In New York: Surfers
From Cleveland: "Drawn In"
"The Babies V"
Babies 5
From Berlin: "Medusa"

Jan Wurm's Blog

Extension of the Artist’s Hand

Posted on November 27th, 2015 by Jan Wurm
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wurmsundaydessertsmall wurm - keeping score - 06 copyThis is a time for thinking about gifts and giving. I have just spent weeks calling friends- artists, gallerists, collectors— and asking them to donate artwork to an art auction fundraiser. This year it is to benefit the Richmond Art Center. But I have called upon the same marvelous people in the past to support other art auction fundraisers. And these individuals, members of a small community, have all said yes. Every single one of them. It is a level of giving unimaginable in any other population. But artists support each other and the art culture which nourishes us all.

Artists give. They are asked on every occasion and they make a generous gift of that which they produce, that over which they have labored, that to which they have devoted their time, energies, and material financial investment.

At the opening of the exhibition, Closely Considered: Diebenkorn in Berkeley, a woman came up to me and said, “ I have Diebenkorn drawings.” One might imagine my eyes lighting up with interest, my brow rising with curiosity, my torso leaning toward this stranger. “ Oh ?!?!” Yes, Diebenkorn and his drawing group had engaged her father as a reader, reading poetry, or plays, as they drew. And at the end of the evening the drawings were spread on the floor and her father could choose a drawing for himself. Models will relate similar tales of art gifts.

Joe Slusky, a long-time friend of Elmer Bischoff, was invited by Bischoff’s widow, Adelie, to make a selection from a pile of drawings. Joe used these for years in teaching his own students. John Seed has written of the gift made to him by Lydia Park, the widow of David Park.

We love to make gifts and we begin with delight when we hand a painting to a parent, present a drawing of a hot rod to a friend, exchange a figure study with our cohorts in art school, or unveil a portrait to a lover. We are bound by these connections. Especially the exchange between artists carries a deep degree of sympathy and identification.

The joy of receiving such gifts is often followed by the torment of a later dilemma. Often the recipient of a gift of art is faced with the question of selling the painting or drawing or object for much needed financial benefit. John Seed sold his Park drawings, the recipient of a Diebenkorn cigar box sold his precious object, family members have sold paintings which seemed the embodiment of the artist himself. The transformation from gift to asset can strike hurt or anger in the donor. Anselm Kiefer was duly upset to have an old classmate ask him to sign a gift from student days, thus enhancing the market value.

It is an historical dilemma. When we read the letters of Camille Pissarro to his son, Lucien, we read of the ever present pull to sell a work given him by Degas. With a large family and in despair over money and lack of sales of his own work, Pissarro felt torn between having his beautiful Degas artwork and needing money for the maintenance of his family. Certainly the fact that the sale of an artwork can provide a struggling artist with a studio, the means of developing his own work, or the freedom from debt should only be met by delight by an artist who has had the historical good fortune to realize economic reward through his art.

Institutions may face similar choices. When the Royal College of Art put their Francis Bacon painting to auction, they were making a calculated assessment of what would be of greater benefit to their students: the painting on the college wall where it could be regarded in long contemplation, or the monetary compensation which could provide studio space for their students’ own artistic development. These questions appear to be of a different texture because they concern gifts, not a purchase converted to a different instrument, but a turning away from the nature of a gift and the relationship for which it stands.

For the most part we might be able to divine that an artist, as Bacon, would relish whatever a painting might fetch in exchange, even if only relief from a gambling debt. For the most part, artists are pleased that the painting or drawing or print or sculpture or photograph they donate can help an artist who is ill or has left a struggling widow — we remain connected to Degas and his friends who organized the exhibition of work to be sold to help the family left behind— we follow in a tradition of supporting those who live and breath the same cavernous spaces or solvent soaked air.

Ultimately it falls to our small community to support the teaching, the art making, the sustenance of the artist and the maintenance of the art. What strikes me in these days of winter as we gather together in support of the Richmond Art Center, an institution with eighty years of history exhibiting artists and nurturing their development, what stands out for me in bold black and white, what shouts out in vibrant color, is the humor maintained by our artists, the faith maintained by our gallerists, and the grace with which all is given.

Which is to say, it is awesome.

-Jan Wurm
November 25, 2015
In preparation for the Richmond Art Center Holiday Arts Festival Auction on Saturday, December 5th supported by
Richard Ambrose, Jean Cacicedo, Enrique Chagoya, Judy Dater, Gene Erickson, Claire Falkenstein Foundation, Katie Hawkinson, Ellen Hauptli, Ana Lisa Hedstrom , Ray Holbert, John Hundt, Diana Krevsky, Carol Ladewig, Hung Liu, Malcolm Lubliner, Kara Maria, Juan Carlos Quintana, Hilda Robinson, Kay Sekimachi, Nancy Selvin, Richard Shaw, Joe Slusky, Livia Stein, Terry St.John, Inez Storer, John Wehrle, Heather Wilcoxon, Paulson Bott Press, the Jack Fischer Gallery, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, and Danny Aarons.

What the Postman Brought

Posted on November 27th, 2015 by Jan Wurm
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A call went out for Beasties, and the response slipped and slithered in: Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Slithery Serpents from under Black Rocks, Flying Winged Vultures swooping down from Black Skies.

There was a natural flow in the gathering of creatures. And there was quite a bit of laughter from the humor in some of the seemingly funny but actually not whimsical at all but rather unsettling in an off-kilter /disturbing aspect from which the humor deflected.

But what proved particularly interesting were the recurring themes. Images not simply of animals in fairy tales, but the repeated images of the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. Stripped bare and frankly sexually viewed, or diagrammed and analytically plotted, the ancient tale remains a viable vehicle for viewing men and women in society today.

Employing collage in a pristine void ultimately spoke more lucidly than the thrashing and bashing of most wild brushstrokes. Here the blade proved mightier than the pen in works which fractured for a vision more eloquent than cohesion.

And then, far darker than any imaginings or inner demons, there was the ecological messenger of mess: the jellyfish. Predators overfished from the oceans, multiplying with abandon in ever warmer waters, unruffled by acidity or dead zones, jellyfish bloom, clog and halt, interfere and proceed undeterred. They reflect our own environmental horrors and present us with endlessly distressing scenarios. Jellyfish, the new Creature of the Black Lagoon.

Like a song of call and response, the open exhibition frames and gives structure to the daily concerns and real life matters of the respondents. Across a wide range of media, the artists represented here have created works revealing the inner struggle, the daily conflict, the recurring nightmare.


Posted on January 25th, 2015 by Jan Wurm
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In responding to a friend’s question regarding outsider art and outlier art, my thoughts led me on this, perhaps circuitous route:

yes, outsider is commonly used to denote untrained and also, mentally ill, disabled —->

Which is distinct from outlier— the outliers not being part of the mainstream — which is tricky when the linear narrative is rewritten.

And of course all is relative as the Chicago guys were outliers to the New York guys but had quite a lot of support, recognition, critical acclaim and if one were coming up in Chicago as a young artist, it would not have been outlier in the sense that that was a very influential language; in fact, the currency of the day was Hairy WHo Jim Nutt was the Chicago canon.

The closest to de Forest whom I would label with outlier would be, perhaps W.C. Westerman — he truly was in his own head.

I am afraid I hesitate to label because people like Barry McGee are so savvy, in the system, and mainstream for the times.  And maybe that is it, one generation breaking ground and setting a path. Or it is just how time twists and turns the inside outside, forgetting artists who swam in the middle of mainstream and shifting to include those who had been peripheral figures.

I think the way artists of my generation acknowledged the influence of comics, both of the marvel and underground sort ( and the guston generation before us looking to  herriman/krazy kat ) so today’s xyzers have their street heroes. there is a lot of discussion of banksy but i don’t think much interest in materials— the image is sufficient— so I could not draw a line from de forest’s paint from the tube peaks of color to the smoothly sprayed graphics of millennials.

But it is always most interesting to view the unexpected in outlier artists who focus only on what engages them and eschew the dialogue of the work of the mainstream.

What also occurs to me is how much I miss the humor in work done off the chart.

Reflections Following Closely Considered : Diebenkorn in Berkeley

Posted on November 16th, 2014 by Jan Wurm
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As the exhibition, Closely Considered: Diebenkorn in Berkeley draws to a close, there seems to be a quiet moment – a pause between becoming/being and the finite has been.

It was several years ago that I sat in a student’s studio looking at her paintings, repeatedly turning to gaze over my shoulder at a Richard Diebenkorn lithograph she had hanging on her wall. Having Diebenkorn present every time we met to talk about painting or drawings from her drawing group added a degree of awareness to our sessions, a deeper mindfulness to the critiques.

Over the course of several years I attended monthly committee meetings in the home of another artist. Each arrival and departure was met by the Diebenkorn etching beside the door. Other committees, boards, and art activities brought me into artists’ and collector’s homes where the works of Richard Diebenkorn overlooked the dining table or rested in the bedroom. These works were not just a part of art collections, not just hung in a public arena. They were tucked into private spaces where a private dialogue persisted. An intimate exchange was happening with these artworks and the individuals who held them central to their daily lives.

The impulse of this exhibition was to show work which influenced artists and to render the intimate quality of drawing which resonates with the individual collector living with the artist’s hand in shared quarters, shared thought, shared viewpoint, shared light and spirit.

The request to artists to lend their artworks was met with immediate affirmation. And the artist/art historian/collector living with works by Diebenkorn’s friends- Elmer Bischoff and David Park and Frank Lobdell and Nathan Oliveira- all were eager to lend to an exhibition which would reflect the close ties these artists all felt at that historical point. To ask the master printers Kathan Brown and Renee Bott who worked with Diebenkorn to share their prints and experiences was to receive profound views into the artist’s work process. And to ask Gretchen Grant, the artist’s daughter to speak was to be graced with the most generous support of this project.

In regard to the impact of this exhibition, it is striking to see the emotional response of viewers. They have been moved to spend time and then return for multiple viewings, musicians have wanted to bring their instruments and play in concert with the drawings and the Del Sol String Quartet has improvised in response to individual work, poetry has been written, and of course, artists have come to draw — even the model has been inspired to greater reaches. With a cup of coffee or glass of wine in hand, people have sat down to be with Richard Diebenkorn’s work. They have had the time and place to come to read his work in the Richmond Art Center.

This exhibition presents many objects which had never before been shown publicly. This artwork has rested with the family and friends of the artist, it has inspired the teaching and painting practices of the generations who have followed. And as this exhibition draws to a close, these drawings, both bold and delicate, will return to their homes and studios where they will continue to exude a quiet power and influence.


The View From the Other Side

Posted on August 7th, 2014 by Jan Wurm
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This beautiful and powerful drawing will be on view at the Richmond Art Center  in the exhibition, Closely Considered : Diebenkorn in Berkeley. It is done in ink and charcoal on paper and dates from 1964. copyright Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, all rights reserved

This beautiful and powerful drawing will be on view at the Richmond Art Center in the exhibition, Closely Considered : Diebenkorn in Berkeley. It is done in ink and charcoal on paper and dates from 1964. copyright Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, all rights reserved

It is always an awakening to take on someone’s job. We come to appreciate the labor which goes unrecorded. We come to appreciate the various considerations with which they approach their decisions.

When an artist takes on the role of curator, which artists have done at many different points in time, the artist does not conceal the trained eye, yet often must suspend judgment and prejudice. This may appear as the realm of conflict. It certainly is territory which is now being charted as more and more artists are curating, and without qualms, including their own work in these exhibitions. Often this is a by-product of the alternative exhibition environment: artist as organizer, promoter, and historian. And, not to forget, fundraiser.

A different set of issues comes to the fore when an artist sets out to establish or spotlight historical connections. Then the anticipation is that an understanding of impulse, intimacy with process, and sympathy with choice will illuminate the art with an insight wrought by the artist’s experience in the studio.

What is perhaps commonly understood, but perhaps not openly conceded, is the intense pleasure of the handling of art. The first time one opens a drawer of Goya prints, walks into a museum vault and picks up a Gauguin, or has an unframed Ensor etching in hand, one is marked. One is changed and utterly transfixed by the enormity of the art. To hold a little Cezanne pencil self- portrait in ones hands is to experience a connection which can sustain faith. This is fundamentally different from walking through a museum with a crowd on a timed ticket passing in front of a painting in twenty seconds.

This is one aspect of the drive to curate: to put together a group of artworks of extraordinary quality, in a visual unfolding of line, and space, and light, and to provide the opportunity to reflect, to come to a deeper understanding of the interests, pursuits, and considerations of the artwork.

Hopefully the visitor to the exhibition, Closely Considered – Diebenkorn in Berkeley being mounted at the Richmond Art Center in September, will move through the gallery in response to the rhythms of the drawings — languid lines, jutting forms, circling back brushstrokes, patterns pulsating across the surface. The mastery of space has captivated artists for the decades, the beauty and luminescence have held collector enraptured. This exhibition is an occasion to consider Diebenkorn’s work closely and quietly, without any measure but the internal pulse to limit the visual dialogue.

Travel of a Different Color

Posted on July 23rd, 2014 by Jan Wurm
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If you are heading out for parts unknown, a mini-trip through time will launch you at the San Francisco airport. SFO is exhibiting the collection of Warren Dotz: mini-monuments to our culture and consumer values as expressed in advertising icons of days past. Figurines and objects of desire: telephone, camera, or piggybank, all linked us to the brand and identity of the best and brightest of the moment. The ever-present cheerful smile and warm puppy friendliness of the era, definitely bygone, have for the most part been replaced by the power of sex, youth, and indeed power itself in current advertising. This exhibition reveals a different hold on the public in appealing to a cuddlier imagination of identity.