Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

14.6: San Francisco Bay Area Figurative

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)


    Native Country

    David Park

    United States

    Richard Diebenkorn

    United States

    Elmer Bischoff

    United States

    Wayne Thiebaud

    United States

    Nathan Oliveira

    United States

    Joan Brown

    United States

    Manuel Neri

    United States

    The San Francisco Bay Area Figurative movement started in the late 1940s until the 1970s. The movement moved from abstract expressionism to focusing on the figure and was divided into the first generation, the bridge generation and the second generation. The movement began when David Park, an art teacher in San Francisco, wanted to move from abstract art to figurative art, interesting others who joined him, and the movement began. The movement used many known artistic methods; form and shape came from Expressionism, geographical location drew from Regionalism, and color grew from the Fauvist period with bright colors in a wide range of the palette. Figuration was prioritized and became the defining characteristic of the movement, using concepts found in still life and landscape paintings focused on San Francisco Bay Area locations, as well as everyday objects. One method setting the movement apart is how it used a flattened perspective to achieve the style.

    Three artists were part of the first generation, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Elmer Bischoff. David Park (1911-1960) was a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute and interested in figurative art, exploring abstracted forms and relying on color to create an impact in the painting. Experimenting with shapes, color, and texture and using large brushes full of paint, Park painted what he saw outside in the streets.

    Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was an American painter whose work is associated with abstract expressionism. He attended Stanford, served as a Marine during the war, and moved back to San Francisco to enroll in the California School of Fine Arts. Using abstract expressionism as a way for self-expression, Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley during the Bay Area Figurative movement. Cityscape I (15.34) is a suburban city street in California; the grid-like abstract quality splits the painting into planes of color. Diebenkorn made 140 paintings of the area around Ocean Park, depicting aerial landscapes with sharp contrasts of color and form, including city streets, countryside, and abstracted ocean scenes.

    Cityscape I 360
    14.34 Cityscape I 360

    Elmer Bischoff (1916-1991) was an American visual artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up in Berkeley, he attended the University of California at Berkeley and served in World War II before returning home. The Yellow Lampshade (15.35) and the Orange Sweater (15.36) would have been everyday scenes from substantial living room windows standard in Berkeley, overlooking the city by the bay.

    Elmer Bischoff, Yellow Lampshade, 1969
    14.35 Yellow Lampshade
    Orange Sweater
    14.36 Orange Sweater

    Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920) is an American painter who was widely known by his colorful paintings of ordinary objects of cakes, pies, lipstick, ice cream, and landscapes. Thiebaud used oil paints as though he was frosting a cake; the heavy-handed paint applied with palette knives and brushes. Thiebaud’s first gallery opening completely sold out, and his career took off. He is still painting today, creating great paintings to make us laugh at the ordinary, everyday motifs. Cakes (15.37) is an example of an ordinary object turned into a whimsical painting.

    14.37 Cakes

    Nathan Oliveira, (1928-2010), an American artist, printmaker, and sculptor was one of the most prominent bridge generation members of Bay Area Figurative artists. Graduating from the California College of the Arts, Oliveira became a professor of studio art at Stanford. Although connected to the Bay Area Figurative artists, Oliveira's style of painting is also influenced by the Expressionist movement. Painting primarily isolated figures, in an improvisational style, his work was a vague reminder of the original scene, more of a sketch painting, almost unfinished, yet it is complete, and yet a recognizable image. Leaving part of the canvas in its original unpainted white became a trademark for Oliveira’s paintings.

    Oliveira was also an accomplished sculptor and created the Universal Woman (15.38) for a Research Center at Stanford University. The bronze sculpture reflects how Oliveira painted figures, abstractly, long-legged, and with just a hint of facial features. Abstracting his art allowed Oliveira to demonstrate the struggle between the universe and the eternal, moving the figure from literal to abstract, leaving the real world and creating a new one.

    Nathan Oliveira
    14.38 Universal Woman

    The Second Generation of Bay Area Figurative artists were Joan Brown (1938-1990) and Manuel Neri (born 1930). Joan Brown was one of the most exciting, accomplished, and independent painters of the times, going in her direction, she was a fearless painter who was innovative and created new methods to paint. Brown was very much a leader in the Women's Movement through her paintings, a trailblazer, who was influenced by Elmer Bischoff, her mentor in the abstract art. Brown gained recognition at an early age, and while installing an obelisk at the Sai Baba's Eternal Heritage Museum, she was killed in a construction accident. The world lost a great artist in the middle of her career but is living through her work.

    Manuel Neri is an American painter and sculptor who attended the California College of Arts and Crafts, studying under Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. Born to immigrant parents fleeing Mexico during the Mexican Revolution, Neri started with abstract expressionism then later turned to figurative art from the influence of his teachers. He was married to Joan Brown from 1962-1966. Neri’s sculptures (15.39) are made from plaster and considered gestural and painterly as he generally chips, sands or paints emphasizing the textures of the figures.

    15.85 Neri sculptures
    14.39 Neri sculptures

    This page titled 14.6: San Francisco Bay Area Figurative is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

    • Was this article helpful?