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'Beauty Fierce as Stars*, Groundbreaking Women Painters' at Mythos Gallery

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From the sidewalk, Mythos Gallery looks like just another non-descript storefront off busy Shadduck Avenue in Berkeley. But if the viewer takes a second look, he (or she) will see one of the most powerful – if smallest – exhibitions of women artists from the 1950’s through today. The exhibition at Mythos Gallery is the first of two to showcase women painters who arose out of the Abstract Expressionist and Figurative artistic movements of the 1950's.

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Most aficionados of Bay Area painting are more than familiar with the names of the male artists, but few know that the Bay Area art scene was also full of wonderful women artists who never got their due because of their gender.

In an interview with John Seed (Huffington Post), co-curator Karen Zullo Sherr explained how the show came about. In a previous show about the Beat era, she was surprised at how few women were represented as the independent artists that they were. Women were seen as the “wives, girlfriends and helpers, but always behind the scenes.”

Sherr continued, “There were a lot of constraints on women because of the culture of the 50s.” Curators Sheer and Steel started looking around, contacting friends and colleagues and one thing led to another to another. Several artists were a given but there were some wonderful surprises along the way, including works by artists such as Lyn Brockway who stopped working to raise a family and a fuller appreciation of artists June Feiter and Adelie Landis Bischoff. They have collected so much work that a second show is planned in September.

Sue Steel adds, “We feel heartened to bring back together several generations of women painters, many of whom were colleagues at the San Francisco Art Institute, to celebrate their work and bring them more recognition for their wonderful creations and to encourage an interest in a fascinating explosive period of art, which continues to influence young painters today.”

Strictly speaking, not all of the work on display is figurative. A large abstract landscape by Ursula O’Farrell is in the window. Although the painting is ostensibly abstract, it is illuminated by her knowledge of both landscape and the figure. Other works show her distinctive brushwork and textured surface, built upon her knowledge of German Expressionism and Bay Area figurative painting.

Lin Fischer’s pieces are characterized by the emotional use of thick impasto – both her larger landscape pieces and several small, but perfect images of figures set within a landscape. Bernice Bing’s work is represented by two medium sized paintings - one abstract and the other a continuation of her “Mayacramas” landscapes. To walk into the gallery is to enter an Aladdin's cave of women painters, whose rich colors, both in landscape and figurative work is informed by an artistic sensibility that is only now becoming more widely recognized.

Featured painters in this first exhibition: Ariel, Bernice Bing, Adelie Landis Bischoff, Nell Blaine, Lyn Brockway, Lisa Esherick, Mary Fabilli, Lynn Faus, June Felter, Lilly Fenichel, Lin Fischer, Deanna Forbes, Jane Freilicher, Sonia Gechtoff, Ann Morency, Ursula O'Farrell, Mary Lovelace O'Neal, and Deborah Remington.

* title from author Jeremy Balfour

Events planned:

May 24. Poetry reading with Boadiba, a Haitian poet. 2 – 4 p.m

May 31: Filmaker Mary Kerr will be showing film clips and providing commentary and anecdotes on many of the painters in the exhibition and other women painters prominent at the time, including Bernice Bing, Jay DeFeo, Deborah Remington and Joan Brown. The presentation will be followed by questions and discussion. $5 at the door, 7:30 to 9 p.m.

June 14. Screening “The World of Bernice Bing” with commentary by Alexa Young, Leonor Chin and other members of the Asian American Women Artists collective. $5 at the door. Film starts at 7:30 p.m.

Through June 21. 1790 Shattuck Avenue. Berkeley, CA

Interview with John Seed: