Marin Exhibits Go Inside and Outside

The gallery is bright, airy, modern, and historic at the Marin Community Foundation, a great place to wander past cubicles while viewing 'Exterior.' Photo by Dave Weinstein

Hamilton Field may no longer be an obscure corner of Marin County, now that residences have filled former military buildings and offices have taken over refurbished aircraft hangars at the former army airfield, which closed in 1973.

But nor is it on everyone's A-list for seeing art. Two exhibits currently on view are well worth a trek – especially if you have never been to this historic spot, which has filled with new housing even as sections retain the feeling of a ghost town.

Of immediate interest for those who love Joe Eichler’s homes, and other mid-century modern architecture, is the three-man exhibit ‘Exterior,’ at the Marin Community Foundation, curated by Micah LeBrun.

This is no small show in a small room off a lobby.

The foundation generously opens their work space to art and to visitors (but only during weekday office hours). It’s a fabulous architectural setting for an exhibit about architecture.

This striking image by Michael Murphy celebrates the work in San Francisco by architect Eric Mendelsohn. Courtesy of Micah LeBrun

You walk past employees' cubicles and into a conference room to view the art. The offices are in a new second floor just below the hangar’s steel trusses.

Michael Murphy, a San Francisco architect-turned-artist who specializes in modernist imagery and has done covers for CA-Modern magazine, shows marvelous prints varied both in subject and in the way he handles color, form, and texture.

You may think, OK, OK, we’ve seen images of these places before -- the LAX Theme Building with its flying saucer wings, architect Richard Neutra’s desert Kaufman house, a few Eichler homes, Eichler’s X-100.

But Murphy’s prints – which start at $230 -- aren’t pictures of the buildings. They are meditations on them, games with them, analyses of their structure, playing up what at the moment he loves best about them.

The images of the X-100, for example, turn that all-steel house into an abstraction of bright colors seen through the concrete screen fence, with a few red piers thrown in for visual rhythm. Flying overhead is a passenger jet, suggesting, as do many of his works, the heritage of the 1960s travel poster.

In some of his pictures, Murphy seems to choose elements that might be seen in mid-century modern buildings, then use them as components for more abstract compositions.

Terry Thompson's compositions as seen in 'Exterior' focus on signs, many of which have seen better days. This is 'Charlie Bell.' Courtesy of the artist

And neon signs. How many artists do paintings of neon signs? Lots. But San Francisco painter Terry Thompson wrings surprising emotion out of these signs. Many that he shows are relics of days past, not glittering stars on Broadway.

He’s got a painterly touch and his colors are subtle; he paints rust very well. These are paintings you have to see live, not in reproduction.

Nate Geare, who lives in El Cerrito, shows buildings that he suggests blend barns with Deconstructivism and the work of overheated starchitects. Some suggest Sea Ranch after the Apocalypse, Or Sea Ranch meets Fort Apache. These works are clearly more J.B. Blunk woodsy modern than sleek.

They grow on you, these barns. They are humorous and haunting.

‘Exterior’ runs to June 14.

Nate Geare's barns add to the architectural theme of the show, suggesting both the past and future of architeccture, and times that never existed. Courtesy of Micah LeBrun

A few hundred yards away, at a real museum, the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, the current show moves from outside in by focusing on self portraits and related work by Viola Frey (1933-2004), an Oakland artist best known for goofy, sometimes unsettling, and often life-sized or much larger, colorfully mottled ceramic figures.

In ‘Viola Frey: Her Self,” though we are seeing mostly paintings, works on paper, smaller sculptures, and large, wildly painted plates. Subjects include herself, of course, studio scenes, a gentleman friend in a sort of mid-century suit, objects in flight, objects upside down, flooding and falling, toys and figures that look like toys, Greco-Roman columns, and much more.

Frey was known for collecting little toys and ceramic figurines.

Two Viola Freys -- she stood five feet high -- attended opening night, thanks to her 1978 work 'Double Self.' Photo by Dave Weinstein

You pick up Picasso, Matisse, the Funk of Bob Arneson, the Bay Area Figurative tradition of Joan Brown and David Park.

But Frey’s art is immediately identifiable. Her works are startling when seen, singly, in a gallery or museum. Seen together they almost form a narrative, one not easy to make out. Why the huge hands? The boots? Check out Marin MOCA’s catalog to learn more.

The show shuts on April 21.

If you enjoy the exhibit consider a trip to the Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, where an even larger display of Frey’s work is underway -- and through December 29, so there is no excuse for missing it.

'Eichler NorCal' is one of several images of Eichler homes by Michael Murphy in 'Exterior.' Courtesy of Michael Murphy

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