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Arthur Monroe

The Ancestors Are Humming

Malin Gallery

February 18 – April 10, 2021

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1980

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1980

Oil on canvas

96" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1983

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1983

Oil on canvas

96" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1980

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1980

Oil on canvas

72" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1983

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1983

Oil on canvas

96" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 2003

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 2003

Oil on canvas

77" x 96"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 2004

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 2004

Oil on canvas

77" x 96"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1980

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1980

Oil on canvas

72" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Super Market (Rush Hour), 2011

Arthur Monroe

Super Market (Rush Hour), 2011

Oil on canvas

72" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Rush Hour (I.R.T.), 2012

Arthur Monroe

Rush Hour (I.R.T.), 2012

Oil on canvas

72" x 84"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 2010

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 2010

Oil on canvas

36" x 36"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 2010

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 2010

Oil on canvas

21.5" x 19.75"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 2010

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 2010

Oil on canvas

20.5" x 19.75"

Arthur Monroe, Untitled, 1998

Arthur Monroe

Untitled, 1998

Oil board with gold leaf

17.5" x 24" x 3.90"

Press Release

If you are a painter, you have to start solving problems. What should the painting have?

Sometimes it’s a combination - a variety of things that you’ve experienced as a person. Other times, it’s quite different from anything you know.

How do you make a painting out of things you don’t know?

These are interesting questions, and you don’t always know what the outcome is going to be. So you are saddled with that horrendous undertaking…without having a conclusion about it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       -Arthur Monroe

 

Malin Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings by the late Oakland-based artist Arthur Monroe. The presentation includes nine large-scale paintings drawn from a three-decade span from 1980 to 2011. Monroe travelled within several of the major cultural milieu of the mid-century: the New York School of Abstract Expressionism; the literary scene of New York’s East Village; and modern Jazz and Beat circles in New York and the Bay Area. After resettling in Oakland, Monroe showed extensively with key contemporaries from the Bay Area, including Robert Colescott, Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Mike Henderson and Raymond Saunders. The Ancestors Are Humming is the first solo gallery exhibition of Monroe’s work in New York since 1966.

Born in Harlem in 1935, Monroe was educated at the renowned Boy’s High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was subsequently invited to study at the experimental Brooklyn Museum Art School (BMAS), where his classmates included Marisol and Robert Smithson, and his teachers included Max Beckmann, William Baziotes and Ben Shahn. Monroe also studied at the Art Students League and in the studio of Hans Hofmann, who became a key mentor and advocate.

Monroe immersed himself within the swirling and cross-cutting currents of the avant-garde of mid-century New York City, forming close friendships with key poets, musicians and artists of the period. Dividing his time between Harlem and the East Village, Monroe developed a circle including saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker; the poet LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka); drummer Max Roach; and pianist Thelonious Monk. He held court at the jazz club The Open Door and the downtown Cedar Tavern - the epicenter of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. Among the Abstract Expressionists, Monroe was particularly close to Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, whose studio was just across the hall from his own.

After a stint in the army during the Korean War, Monroe joined the Post-War wave of artists settling in Northern California - landing initially in Big Sur and subsequently migrating to the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Monroe became a key figure in the Beat and San Francisco Renaissance movements, befriending luminaries such as Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who became a life-long friend after mounting one of Monroe’s first shows of paintings at the seminal City Lights bookstore in 1962. One of Monroe’s key patrons during this period was Dr. Reidar Wennesland, a Norwegian-American physician who had previously treated Edvard Munch and became the leading collector of Bay Area art during the Beat era. Monroe is the most heavily represented artist in the Wennesland Collection, which remains on permanent display at the Agder District College and the Kristiansand Cathedral School in Norway.

During the post-war years, Monroe enjoyed an intermittently peripatetic lifestyle, with intervals spent in West Africa, Central America and South America. He lived for a period in Ajijic Village in Jalisco, where he was immersed in both the local indigenous culture and a community of expatriate artists, writers and musicians. The jazz pioneer Charles Lloyd lived next door and became a close friend for the remainder of Monroe’s life. In 1975, Monroe took over a historic industrial building in East Oakland, the Oakland Cannery, which he converted into a live/work facility for artists, musicians and community-based organizations. The Oakland Cannery became a hub of artistic activity and community activism in East Oakland for nearly four decades, and Monroe resided and maintained a studio in the building until the end of this life.

Monroe spent his later years pursuing his own artistic practice in an intensely personal fashion, while simultaneously working at the Oakland Museum of California, where he served as Chief Registrar for 30 years. Working in a highly deterministic (and largely private) mode, Monroe painstakingly traced his own artistic trajectory. While continuing to expand upon the visual idiom of Abstract Expressionism, Monroe developed a singular process that was highly-considered - almost empirical. Every painting began as rectilinear grid, which Monroe used as a register to formulate the color palette for his work. Stretching back to his tutelage under Hans Hofmann, Monroe’s approach to painting began as an inquiry into the relationships between a set of colors. Over long periods, line and form would emerge in a discursive, iterative process. Although Monroe intended each work to establish a visual context within which viewers could have their own contingent experiences, he also encoded a lifetime of his artistic experience and inquiry within the successive layers of paint - an animating quality which his friend Charles Lloyd characterized as a surpassing knowingness.

 

 

Arthur was a great painter, philosopher, sage, and seer. My last visit to his studio is indelibly etched in my memory bank: every corner, every surface of his studio held a layer of his consciousness.  In the pure white light of the…the East Bay, his “knowingness” was revealed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     -Charles Lloyd

                                                                                                                                                                                             

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