When you grow up with the work of a particular artist around your house, their art becomes a part of you. In my case, that person was the Northern California painter, sculptor, and printmaker Nathan Oliveira. Wherever we lived, the lithograph White Woman hung above our fireplace. The piece had significance to my family, as is was suspected to be a depiction of my mother, a San Francisco stage actress in 1960s San Francisco who was a founding member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Perhaps Oliveira had seen her in a performance? Regardless, the mystery of how this lithograph so resembled my mother was always of great intrigue. Later, when I went to college at Stanford University, Oliveira was a Professor in the Art Department and I’d go visit his shows. I felt a personal stake in his work; his work shaped my eyes from an early age.
Oliveira’s lithographs and other prints are superb (he was a member of San Francisco’s Crown Point Press) but his paintings are marvelous too. I love his command of color and the human form. And his references to shadows in his figures. He was lauded in his lifetime, having over 100 solo exhibitions, but I am surprised that he was not more famous. I adore his work for it’s subtle and quiet quality. His 2010 obituary included this statement form him, that made sense to me: “I’m not part of the avant-garde. I’m part of the garde that comes afterward, assimilates, consolidates, refines.” I agree with the last part especially: exceptionally refined.