Overture: The Art of Steve French
November 12, 2017 – February 4, 2018
In the spirit of the musical term to which the title refers, Overture provides a brief but formidable introduction to the work and life of Steve French (1934-2014).
French was a noted visual artist, scholar, teacher and tenacious advocate for the arts in San Jose until his death. He influenced generations of artists who studied with him at San Jose State University and often benefitted from his mentoring well beyond the conclusion of their formal studies.
Overture includes more than 50 years of prolific art making: from French’s early MFA portfolio in the 1950’s; to groundbreaking shaped prints in the late 1960’s; to large-scale, brightly colored paintings from the 1970’s; to his bronze assemblages in the 2000’s; and his most recent paintings inspired by his backyard garden that he lovingly tended with his wife Wanda Waldera. In addition, the exhibition includes a selection of sketchbooks documenting his process, and other ephemera from his career.
French was an incredibly inquisitive artist and was keen on documenting the subtle nuances of the everyday. He observed life from its most minute, depicted here in his graphite work from the Microfield series, and in his very last paintings that illustrate the beautiful details of the deep blue gentian flowers from his garden. At the macroscopic level, he illustrates the ethos of the seasons, as in his Winter Journey series where he reflects on the end of the year as a time for healing and reconciliation. He developed his own peculiar language of symbols – dashes, lines, phalluses and archways – that reoccur throughout his work. French often pondered the passage of time and the cyclical nature of the seasons – beginnings, evolutions, and endings — a theme that is clearly evident throughout his paintings and sculptures.
In addition to his studio practice, French was a dedicated and committed member of the San Jose arts community. He served on the Board of Trustees and the Acquisitions Committee of the San Jose Museum of Art, was a former San Jose Arts Commissioner, and a long-time loyal supporter of the ICA, Works/San Jose, San Jose Jazz and Opera San Jose.
Overture presents an intimate introduction to an artist who was passionately dedicated to the practice of seeing, sharing, and teaching. French describes his practice with this short poem, written in his mid-thirties, that rings true for his work today:
It is a question not of cognition
But of recognition
It is a question not of appreciation
But of apprehension
It is a question not of insight
But of sight
It is a question…