Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Late Afternoon of Time - San Francisco

by Gregg Chadwick

Gregg Chadwick
The Late Afternoon of Time - San Francisco
24"x20" oil on linen 2018

Cities, like people, grow and change. In this spirit, San Francisco continues to inform my paintings. Last weekend, at a friend's birthday gathering in Culver City, I recounted how one morning, when I lived in San Francisco, I spotted the artist Richard Diebenkorn leaning up against a BART entrance watching the cable car turnaround across Market Street. Diebenkorn was captivated by the movement of the conductors as they spun the cars around on a giant wooden turntable. I stopped, leaned up against a wall, and flipped through art writer Robert Hughes' book Nothing If Not Critical until I reached his essay on Diebenkorn. I read slowly, pausing often to gaze up at Diebenkorn as he gazed towards Powell Street. 
Eventually, I closed the book, walked over and thanked Richard Diebenkorn for his art and inspiration. He smiled and tears seemed to well up in his eyes, as he said "Thank you. I am glad that my work inspires you. Is your studio nearby?" I nodded and tried to say something "about the interplay between figuration and abstraction in his work." Diebenkorn was frail at this point and seemed to know that he didn't have much longer to live. I didn't want to take him away from his moment alone in the morning light on Market Street. I thanked him again and moved on. Richard Diebenkorn died soon after in 1993.
The late morning light, when it cuts through the fog in downtown San Francisco, opens the city up like an epiphany.  That morning was a revelation for me. Lawrence Ferlinghetti saw something similar in the City's light and wrote,"
                "And then the halcyon late mornings
                        after the fog burns off
                               and the sun paints white houses
                                    with the sea light of Greece
                      with sharp clean shadows 
                            making the town look like 
it had just been painted." 
I learned something profound that morning when I encountered Diebenkorn - my  heroes were mortal. And in turn, my family and friends also had a short time on earth. Life is fragile. I looked at the streets anew. Around us and beneath us memories dwelt.  A friend of mine who made his way from place to place along Market Street slid up to me one day at the corner of 6th and Market and showed me a horses skull in his battered shopping cart. "I was helping a man dig out his basement and I hit something hard", he said. "We found an entire skeleton buried there. Probably from the earthquake - from '07"
 Later I read that the cable cars were built because the horses kept breaking down on the steep San Francisco hills. The horses legs would snap under the weight. Maybe my friend's horse pulled a burden up Jones Street until collapse?  
 An immigrant from Scotland devised a system to carry cars and passengers up the steep slopes without animal power. Gary Kamiya writes in The Chronicle:
"At a little before midnight on Aug. 2, 1873, the men in the power plant fired up the boilers. The engines turned over and the cables tightened. The rope began to hum in the street, the first occasion of a sound that would become as familiar to San Franciscans as Bow Bells to a London cockney.
At 5 a.m., the team gathered atop Clay at Jones. Andrew Hallidie’s gripman, reportedly an old locomotive engineer, looked down the 16 percent grade into the fog and chickened out. But Halide, who had been hurled off scaffolding, buried in a tunnel and gone for a real-life Logger’s Revenge on roiling rapids, had confidence in his invention. He jumped into the dummy, took the grip, picked up the cable below and began to descend Clay Street. When the car reached the bottom, it was spun around on a turntable and pulled back up to the summit."
The turntable. Diebenkorn's gaze. The Changing Light. The Late Afternoon of Time.

Gregg Chadwick
The Changing Light - San Francisco
24"x18" oil on linen 2018

Gregg Chadwick's Palette
(Colors Used for  The Late Afternoon of Time and The Changing Light ) 

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