Terry St. John’s paintings exhibit many of the hallmarks of both the Bay Area Figurative Movement – he was a student of James Weeks in the 1960s – as well as the Californian Society of Six plein-air tradition. In his recent paintings of nude women lounging in various degrees of repose, strong geometric forms articulate limbs, torsos, breasts and faces. St. John’s backgrounds also make use of these reductive shapes, though here he lays them down in a sunburst of oblique, parallel and perpendicular directions that work to either softly subsume the model or boldly serve her up for our gaze. Within these shapes, adjacent patches of colors in complimentary tones of light and dark describe the effect of a strong, low light pervasive throughout many of St. John’s paintings, as if he regularly chose to paint his subjects with the setting sun. These alternating relationships of tone and brushwork are also evident in St John’s paintings of the Bay Area landscape. With the absence of a discernable model however, the landscapes exist in the liminal space between representation and abstraction.
St. John explains that a compulsion motivates him to paint his subject matter – certain people, places and things, for example, instill in him a need that can only be fulfilled by capturing them in paint. “I paint directly from what I am looking at,” the artist elaborates. “After I work directly from a subject, I work away from it to strengthen the composition, color and drawing, eliminating extraneous details, shapes and colors to make a more solid image. This working directly and away from the motif continues until the painting is finished.”
Terry St. John was born in Sacramento in 1934. He received his BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1958 followed by an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1966. From 1970 until 1990, St. John was curator of modern painting at the Oakland Museum of California, after which he served for eight years as the chairperson of the art department at the Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, CA. His art can be found in the permanent collections of the Oakland Museum of California, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA.