Terry St. John’s paintings are studies in light, color, and form. This body of work shows the artist grappling with familiar questions about how these three fundamental elements interact to create, model, harmonize, and transmute. He situates nude female figures in intimate settings, often surrounded by a minimal array of objects—such as a piece of furniture, a cup, or a plant—with which their bodies enter into a visual dialogue. Light, color, and form echo and respond to one another, locking the abstracted compositions into often kaleidoscopic frameworks despite his loose, luscious brushwork. The rich impasto of the paintings’ surfaces heightens the corporeality of the human body while also weaving it deeper into its milieu, as St. John handles each painting’s component parts equally.
In several of these newer works, the primary dialogue is not between body and object but rather body and body, as in Two Lanna Women in Repose (2019). Here, a pair of seated women are strikingly arranged so that one looks directly out toward the viewer while the other faces her companion, the fleshy cello of her backside on full view. Light filters in from the left, etching dark shadows across the opposite sides of their bodies. There is an immediacy to this and other recent works that underscores the capricious relationship between light, color, and form, which is constantly shifting with the arc of the sun, the movement of the models, the passage of time.
Parallels can be drawn between St. John’s work and that of other California artists such as David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and James Weeks, under whom St. John studied prior to beginning his MFA studies at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Like St. John, these artists foregrounded an emphatic use of color to depict the world through an interlocking series of shapes—a hallmark of Bay Area Figuration. Despite his close ties to California, St. John has spent parts of recent years working in Thailand, where he finds he can focus on his work without distraction while exploring different qualities of light. His studio is an old ice cream factory, which is large enough to allow him to view his paintings from a great distance or lined up next to one another as he considers his next move.
Terry St. John was born in Sacramento, California, in 1934. He earned a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1958, and an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1966. From 1970 until 1990, he was curator of modern painting at the Oakland Museum of California and then served for six years as the chairperson of the art department at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. His art can be found in the permanent collections of the de Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Oakland Museum of California; San Jose Museum of Art; and Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento. This will be his fourth solo exhibition with the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.