Jul 172017
 

Painter, sculptor and print-maker James Steg, who was Professor of Art at Newcomb College, Tulane University, in New Orleans for more than forty years, worked in Ajijic during the summer of 1958.

James Louis Steg (“Jim”) was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1922 and died in New Orleans in 2001. He gained his M.A. degree in Fine Arts degree from the State University of Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army during the second world war and was in a camouflage unit during the D-Day landings.

James Steg. The Picninc Scene. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg. “The Picnic Scene”. Etching and aquatint. Undated.

James Steg was art professor at Newcomb College for 43 years. Among his students in an etching class was Frances Swigart, who later became his wife.

Throughout his career, Steg was constantly exploring new printmaking techniques and he developed many innovative methods such as altering Xeerox prints with paint and chemicals. According to Doug MacCash, art critic for The Times-Picayune, age did nothing to diminish Steg’s boundless creativity or artistic output.

Steg spent the summer of 1958 in Ajijic, as evidenced by this brief entry in The Times-Picayune drawing readers’ attention to the opening of his latest art show in New Orleans:

“James Steg recently sold an etching “Bird of Prey” to the New York Public Library collection. This is the 23rd public institution to have purchased one of the artist’s works. Steg is back at the Newcomb art school after a summer stay in Ajijic.”

By lucky coincidence, one of his rare works from this time came up for auction in 2015. The etching, a studio print from the estate of artist and educator George C. Wolfe of New Orleans, is titled “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”.

James Steg. "The Goat Herder (Mexico)". Etching. 1958.

James Steg. “The Goat Herder (Mexico)”. Etching. 1958.

In addition to participating in dozens of group shows, Steg held many solo exhibitions. In New Orleans, these included shows at the IH Gallery at International House, the H. Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University, World’s Fair Expo ’84, and at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts Gallery. He also had one-person shows in New York (the Weyhe Gallery; Associated American Artists), Philadelphia (Philadelphia Art Alliance), Dalls (Dallas Museum of Art; Cushing Gallery), Columbus (Ohio State University), Coral Gables (University of South Florida) and Oxford (University of Mississippi). His only recorded international solo show was at the USIA Exhibition in Ankara, Turkey.

James Steg. The work of five men. Etching. Undated.

James Steg. “The work of five men”. Etching. Undated.

A retrospective exhibition of his work, entitled “Thirty Years of J. L. Steg: 1948-78”, was held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1978.

Among the many awards he received for his art were the Charles Lea Prize from Philadelphia Print Club, and an award from Lugano, Switzerland. Steg was named a Printmaker Emeritus by the Southern Graphic Arts Council.Steg’s works can be found in the permanent collections of numerous venerable institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the New Orleans Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum in New York, Dallas Museum of Art. Minnesota Museum of American Art and the Seattle Museum, as well as in 30 university collections and many private collections in the New Orleans area. Overseas, pieces by Steg are in the Museum of Modem Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem.

Sources:

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Sep 152016
 

Artist William (“Bill”) Gentes (1917-2000), who specialized in lithographs and linocuts, lived and worked at Lake Chapala for thirty years.

William George Gentes was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 June 1917 and died in Chapala on 26 July 2000. Gentes graduated from Hobart College in 1938 and then studied at the Art Students League of New York. He later gained masters degrees from New York State University and from the University of Guanajuato.

Williaml Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

William Gentes. Estrella azul. Undated.

He worked for a time as editor of the Suffolk-Nassau Labor News, and began a lengthy career as a sign painter and an art teacher. With time, he became a sensitive and accomplished printmaker (lithographer) who found in Mexico and its working people the perfect subjects through which to express his exceptionally warm and affectionate outlook.

Gentes first visited Mexico in the summer of 1966 when he drove overland with his wife Adele and their two children (Gaye and Bill Jr.) from New York to Mérida and back. In 1968, the artist took a sabbatical year. The family lived in San Miguel de Allende and Gentes studied at the Instituto San Miguel.

In 1970, at the age of 55, Gentes retired after thirty years teaching in New York and two months after he had been injured while cycling to work. The family moved to Mexico the following year and settled in Colonia Seattle, Guadalajara, where the children went to local schools, while Gentes devoted himself to his art, taking regular trips to unlikely places on the extensive network of local buses to sketch and find inspiration for his drawings, paintings, woodblocks and (later) linoprints.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

William Gentes. Posada Ajijic. 1982.

Gentes’ links to Lake Chapala started at this time. From about 1974, the family spent most summers in San Pedro Soyutlán on the south side of the lake.

In 1979, with both children now studying in the U.S., Gentes and his wife sold the family home in Guadalajara and moved to Lake Chapala. They lived near the former railway station in Chapala for about four years, then moved to a house overlooking Ajijic and later to Calle Manglar in Las Redes. With each move, Gentes acquired bigger and better presses, allowing him to make larger print runs without sacrificing quality, and enabling him to employ up to eight colors in his work.

Gentes’ genre art was regularly included in group exhibits in Ajijic. His solo shows included an exhibit in February 1989 at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan. In the 1990s, Gentes was one of the founder members of the group of Ajijic artists who helped launch the Centro Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA).

His impish sense of humor is evident in many of his linocuts, but Gentes also had an intensely serious side and used his art to engage with social and political injustices. Some of his strongest works feature characters he had encountered while traveling around western Mexico. It is always worthwhile to look carefully at the wording on a Gentes linocut. The one below translates literally to “The old woman who dances raises lots of dust”, meaning that people who do age-inappropriate things can make themselves look ridiculous.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

William Gentes. Untitled. 1982. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Each of the Gentes family homes in Mexico had a sauna, and it is no coincidence that many of Gentes’ prints depict nudes having a sauna. Having been excused military service during the second world war on account of his poor eyesight, the artist quickly put younger, attractive sauna guests to his home at Lake Chapala at ease by declaring he was so blind he couldn’t see anything. His Mexican-themed parties for fellow artists and art lovers were well-attended and legendary. Generous and fun-loving, Gentes lived life to the full. His son, Bill Jr, recalls that his father was especially delighted when he realized that his years enjoying retirement had exceeded the length of time he had worked in New York.

The 1980s was Gentes’ most prolific period as a printmaker. In 1992, the loss of his wife of 27 years was a severe blow, but Gentes eventually overcame his grief by producing a series of prints depicting his loneliness before restarting his long series of humorous prints. His local solo shows at Lake Chapala included one at the Art Studio Galeria in San Antonio Tlayacapan in March 1989.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Portrait of Bill Gentes. Reproduced by kind permission of Bill Gentes, Jr.

Gentes was especially generous to many fellow artists, not only in terms of encouragement, but also in conducting workshops and allowing them to use his printing presses. When painter Pat Apt first arrived in Ajijic in 1992, Gentes invited her to share his studio at Calle Independencia #5. Apt worked alongside him for six years and the two remained close friends thereafter.

Apt’s abiding impression of Gentes is how he refused to let his deteriorating eyesight prevent him from completing some of his finest work, work that was more colorful than earlier, with bolder, thicker lines. As his sight failed, Gentes relied on his extraordinary spatial memory to painstakingly draw pictures, one square inch at a time, despite being unable to see virtually anything of the piece he was creating.

Gentes’ work is in private collections all over the world. His children inherited more than 700 original artworks and several thousand lithographs. Several linocuts by Gentes were used as illustrations in Don Adams’s book, Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide (Trafford, 2003).

Acknowledgment

My sincere thanks to Bill Gentes Jr. for information about his parents’ life in Mexico and his father’s career, and to Pat Apt.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Mar 052015
 

Born 9 Nov 1906 in Richmond, Indiana, Charles Frederick Surendorf was an artist and printmaker, whose intricate linoleum block prints were often compared in quality to the much-acclaimed work of Thomas Hart Benton.

Surendorf studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, as well as two semesters at Ohio State University in the Fine Arts program, before moving to California in 1929, arriving in Los Angeles  “seated on an orange crate strapped to a Model T Ford chassis.”

He moved to San Francisco in 1935, where he studied at Mills College, was active in the local art scene, and was director of the first San Francisco Art Festival. By 1937 he had made his first painting excursion to Columbia, an evocative ghost town in the Sierra foothills of California, which appealed to his social realist leanings. He would eventually settle in this town with his second wife, Barbara Stoner, whom he married in May 1949.

Charles Frederick Surendorf: Ajijic (linocut)

Charles Frederick Surendorf: Ajijic (linocut)

During the 1940s, Surendorf traveled throughout the South Pacific, painting numerous watercolors and making woodcut views of places such as Bora Bora and Moorea.

After the family settled in Columbia, California, Surendorf made his living as an artist and lived in the town for the remaining thirty years of his life prior to his demise on 28 May 1979.

In 1956, Surendorf served as director of the short-lived Mother Lode Art School. In 1959, Art Digest called him one of the top twenty-five woodblock artists in the world.

Between 1934 and 1971, Surendorf produced more than 250 woodblock prints and linocuts. While best-known for his linocut images of Northern California, Surendorf also produced oils, watercolors, pastels and sculpture, in a variety of styles, ranging from naturalistic scenes to abstracts, surrealism and fantasy.

He traveled quite widely (including trips to New Zealand, Tahiti, New Orleans, Arizona and Mexico) and used sketches made during his travels to produce linocuts on his return home.

His daughter Cindy recalls that he took the family to Mexico in 1968, when she was ten years old. During their time in Ajijic, Surendorf made the preliminary block print sketches needed to carve his printing blocks back in California.

Surendorf has been described as “a rugged and opinionated character”, who “was known to have torn down his art exhibitions in the middle of previews (in one case at the prestigious Maxwell Gallery in San Francisco.)” He alienated many critics which may explain why his work was under-appreciated during his lifetime.

His work has been exhibited in many locations, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1936); the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition (1940); San Francisco Museum of Art (1936-46); the De Young Museum in San Francisco (1946); the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Academy of Design, New York.

His work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Monterey Museum of Art, California; Oakland Museum; Mills College Art Museum (Oakland); Frederick R Weisman Art Museum (The University of Minnesota); Print Club of Albany (Albany, New York); Richmond Art Museum (Richmond, Indiana); The Saint Louis Art Museum (Missouri); University of Michigan Museum of Art; Wichita Art Museum.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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