What makes a college art department good, even great? The answer may start and stop with the faculty, whether they are working artists who teach or just art educators.
“The History of the Sacramento City College Art Department Faculty,” now on view at Archival Framing/Archival Gallery, showcases the work of the college’s full-time faculty from 1920 to the present. This show is one of three celebrating the first 100 years of the city college, and its art department, which was founded four years later.
While university art departments commonly get most of the credit for the education of their distinguished alumni, many of those same artists first learned the serious practice of art in a community college classroom. Don Reich, Ken Waterstreet, Jerald Silva, Lillian Seto, Nathan Lewis, Annie Murphy Robinson and Mark Emerson studied first at Sacramento City College before going on to become recognized artists in their own right.
The work of this faculty spanning nearly a century is a revealing snapshot of the trends, schools and movements of 20th- and early 21st-century art. It’s all here: late impressionism, modernist abstraction, arte povera, pop art, figurative representation and conceptualism. This has been and is a faculty of serious working artists who teach, rather than non-practicing educators who merely instruct. That’s the abiding strength of the college’s respected art department, and devoted students instinctively know the difference, and thrive on it.
The work is not installed in strict chronological order. A signature Darrell Forney postcard painting, “Greetings from the Land of the Sky,” (Sacramento City College faculty 1966-2000) appropriately “greets” the visitor to the gallery with its realist enlargement of vintage tourist postcards from the early to mid-20th century. Skillful and smart, the painting remains fresh, positing as it does our mediated experience of nature.
Across from the Forney is the late-impressionist oil painting “South of Laguna,” from the 1950s by John B. Mathew (SCC faculty 1926-60). Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mathew was the initial moving force of the department when he came to what was then Sacramento Junior College in 1926. He founded the first art gallery at the college and the Art Students’ League in 1927.
A delightful discovery is “None (Birds)” a sprightly watercolor and gouache painting of barnyard chickens that humorously asserts itself. Painted between 1940 and 1950 by Amalia Fischbacher (SCC faculty 1927-62), it’s a charming and fearless riot of raucous color and deft brushwork, a perfect depiction of the graphic tropes of the time. Another surprise is the arte povera metal sculpture by William David Curry (SCC faculty 1956-83). Mounted on the wall, ordinary as an oilcan, and suggesting both a shield and a sun, the large pitted and battered metal disc is an elegant statement of welded simplicity and restraint.
Robert Leach (SCC faculty 1969-2003), Fred Dalkey (SCC faculty 1971-2009) and Gioia Fonda (SCC faculty 2008-present) present three different but equally expressive approaches to drawing. Leach’s “At Last My Keeper” is a tumbled ode to the energy of line and expressionist space. Rapidly drawn pencil hatchings and cross-hatchings coalesce into abstract forms that appear blown and wind-tossed like leaves down a street.
Dalkey’s silverpoint drawing “Self Portrait” is a soft gray cloud of scratching done with a loosely held silver stylus dragged across a gesso-coated surface. Delicate and nuanced, Dalkey’s features emerge from a closely observed blizzard of tender markings. Over time the silver will tarnish to a warm bronze-y patina, rendering the portrait less ethereal and more richly earthbound.
Where Leach and Dalkey flutter, Fonda plows. Fonda’s charcoal drawing, “Pile with Gnats,” is exactly that – emphatically drawn abstract forms heaped into a pile smack in the drawing’s center. In contrast to Leach and Dalkey, Fonda’s line appears to rigorously dig into the paper. For all the drawing’s dark sootiness and graphic aggression, there’s a subtle element of cartoonish humor.
Also worthy of note are a painting by Chris Daubert, prints by Emily Wilson and Wayne Thiebaud, and sculpture by Terry Peterson, Mitra Fabian, and George Esquibel. Unfortunately other gallery artwork and gift items are arranged too closely to the show, confusing what is otherwise a historic gem from one of the region’s most lauded art departments.
The History of the Sacramento City College Art Department Faculty
Where: Archival Framing/Archival Gallery, 3223 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento
Information: 916-923-6204; www.archivalframe.com
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 pm through Oct. 1