Paintings and Works on Paper
June 3-July 8, 2023
Casemore Gallery is pleased to present Paintings and Works on Paper, a new exhibition by Oakland-based artist Raymond Saunders. This is the gallery’s second exhibition of Saunders’ works, having presented Raymond Saunders: Oakland/Paris in collaboration with Andrew Kreps gallery in 2021.
Paintings and Works on Paper includes epic examples of Saunders’ inimitable practice, in which he uses humble materials in transformative ways. Weathered doors, shipping palettes, abandoned construction materials, found signage, newspapers, and various ephemera ground his paintings and assemblage constructions. Saunders uses what is at hand in his studio, even the tools of painting itself—wet paint brushes, pencils, and painter’s tape. Materials from the distant past coexist with recent discoveries from his daily neighborhood walks. A crushed paper towel dabbed with paint becomes a flower, and drawings from his childhood complete contemporary works.
Saunders adds swathes of improvisational marks in paint and oil crayon, and layers in his own visual language of symbols, hearts, domestic references, and paint drips, carefully applied to create texture and comingle with Saunders’ white pencil drawings on his signature black-painted backgrounds. A constant element in his work throughout the decades, these backgrounds often reference classroom blackboards, reflecting his memories as a student and his passion for educating, with white pencil and oil crayon mimicking the more ephemeral markings made by a teacher’s hand in chalk before being washed away at the end of a school lesson.
Works on paper round out the show, both collage works from the past and recent sketches of simple flower blossoms and still-life elements rendered in watercolor with collage elements. In both his paintings and drawings, Saunders approach activates materials to create powerful contrasts—past and present, improvisation and precision, personal symbolism and drawing from other artists and cultures, permanence and the ephemeral.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, Saunders was encouraged from a young age to dedicate himself as an artist and pursue the highest opportunities in education to develop his innate talents. He was mentored by Joseph Fitzpatrick, a teacher in the Pittsburgh public school system who also taught Andy Warhol. After attending Pennsylvania Academy and Carnegie, Saunders received his MFA in 1961 from California College of the Arts (then California College of Arts and Crafts) in Oakland. Saunders made a home in Oakland soon after. In 1967, he published his seminal essay “Black is a Color,” which reflected his challenges to identity-based categorizations in art movements. He began his teaching career in 1968, joining the staff of California State University Hayward, where he remains professor emeritus. Saunders continues to make his home and center his artistic practice in Oakland, while throughout his career he has traveled the world, taking additional studios in Paris, France, and Venice, California.
Raymond Saunders was awarded a Rome Prize Fellowship in 1964, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976, and is a two-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Awards (1977, 1984). His work was recently featured in the exhibition Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces at MoMA, New York, the traveling exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in The Age of Black Power, 1963 – 1983, organized by London’s Tate Modern, and the traveling exhibition Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960 – 1980, organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
Saunders works are included in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Museum Brandhorst, Munich, Howard University in Washington, DC, Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, SFMOMA in San Francisco, Oakland Museum of California in Oakland, and the Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, among others.