Thursday, October 09, 2008

Find The Vein: Disciples of Saul Bernstein

[ John Paul Thornton stands before his installation of Missing Children portraits.]

It was my honor to curate a powerful exhibition at Katalyst Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, called "Find The Vein- Eight Artists Reunite With Their Mentor."

The "mentor" is American artist and educator Saul Bernstein.

The "Eight Artists" are:
Dan Caplan,
Dan Milnor Gonzales,
Ashley Laurence,
Paul Lasaine,
Steve Montiglio,
Laura Peisner,
Diane Nebolon Silver
and myself.

What impact, really, do our instructors have upon us?
Like a fiery-eyed old -testament prophet, Saul Bernstein not only preaches to his students, but over time laid the seeds that have made a vital impact on the art world. As a professor teaching at California State University at Northridge through the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, Bernstein’s classes were packed beyond capacity with two generations of kids who were desperately searching for “meaning” during eras of post-pop minimalism and Boom-time excesses. Bernstein is renowned today for his development of digital imagery as an art form, as well as for his relentless and mind-expanding research into the “secrets” of the old European masters of painting. Young artists who crossed paths with him seem to bare an indelible mark.

Katalyst Foundation presents some of Saul Bernstein’s newest oil Paintings and digital drawings, alongside select works created by former students, including five paintings created by myself. This is a bold display of bloodline; a grouping of eight prodigal sons and daughters who have had two decades to forge their own path, nourished by the teachings of their former mentor.

In the literature printed for the show, I wrote: “At night, laying in bed in the dark, a mountain Sherpa might be compelled to ask himself the most pressing question: Did he safely guide his party up to the top peak? Was the trail the right one? Did the expedition reach the summit?
For a teacher of painting, the question could be even more compelling, because there is no “right” trail. There is no true peak. Still, the results of a misguided expedition might result in legions of students marching off of a cliff, or worse, starving in the vastness, clinging to false maps, searching without purpose.
Saul Bernstein- Professor, Artist and Mentor, played a role as guide to the eight other painters in this exhibition, who each reunite here, after twenty years, to bare testament to the expedition they set out upon. Former students might lay in bed in the dark, and be compelled to ask the pressing question: What wisdom took root within us? Were we able to read the prized map? Did we find our own sure footing? Did we stay firmly on the trail, or forge our own?”

This is an exhibition that ponders questions about the essence of education. Saul Bernstein himself exclaimed upon viewing the show, “I did not indoctrinate!” Each artist in the show stands uniquely and individually free from “A School”. But the Vein is there, running through the art, manifesting most mightily in the solution of representational imagery, the use of human figure as a delivery system, and color, whether vibrant of delicate, as a device of seduction. Each artist shares recollections about their experiences with Bernstein, which appear to have made a deep impact.

A view of "Find The Vein" exhibition.

The stunning work by Dan Milnor Gonzales, who creates his surreal drawings directly onto traffic cones.

Each traffic cone features compelling references to mythology, biblical prophesy, and the human figure.

During the vibrant Downtown Los Angeles gallery row Art Walk, thousands of viewers and collectors make pilgrimages to the broad clusters of exhibition spaces.

Artist Dan Caplan , with his latest figurative paintings.

Each artist featured in the exhibition share a link: They all worked closely with Saul Bernstein.

["Orphan"copyright Steve Montiglio]

Artist Steve Montiglio is represented in the "Find The Vein" exhibition with his large work on aluminum panels, "Orphan". On either side hangs artworks by Saul Bernstein.

[Detail of "Lara", copyright by Saul Bernstein]

Saul Bernstein's artworks are simply gorgeous. His surfaces relate the visually entrancing light of Gothic-era stained glass to our own computer age. After decades of research and analysis, his true discoveries ring confidently and with a sense of joy.

As curator of the exhibition, there was a wonderful sense of discovery while putting this show together. Each artist maintained a real respect for their former teacher, while discovering their own voice. It was , for me, the chance to pass through a great door, to assess my own path, and to literally look across two decades of my life and reunite with friends.