San Francisco Chronicle
by Kenneth Baker
St. John divined: In the past couple of years, as he approaches 80, Terry St. John has wrung from his painting a gravity and intensity long implicit in it, but long tempered, perhaps, by the sense that plenty of time to go for broke creatively might yet remain.
The work at Dolby Chadwick seems to stake everything on each creative foray, in a spirit of exuberance, not of desperation.
A picture such as "Thai Woman With Cup" (2012) exhibits St. John's habit of packing a canvas edge to edge so thickly and even-handedly that the central figure nearly submerges in a pattern of ragged polygons.
Yet figure and setting provide the armatures for improvisation. St. John needs them to stage contests between his observation of a subject and of the painted object as it materializes and takes precedence.
Is the rectangle of red at the bottom edge of "Thai Woman ..." the "cup"? Did a cup even enter into the modeling sessions that generated this painting?
We know only that the whole composition in its present state seems to have bloomed from that bright detail, barely noticed at first.
An engrossing suite of ink and wash life drawings here attests to St. John's excellence at patterning light and dark to make us relish the postponement of a subject's ultimate emergence.
But color and paint matter give flesh with equal force to figures and voids, shadow and mass. Just enough self-doubt invades St. John's paintings to bolster their mute assertion that knowledge of others and of ourselves - never mind how spiritual we deem it - must pass through matter.
Terry St. John: Paintings and drawings. Through Aug. 30. (Closed Aug.12-Aug. 18.)Dolby Chadwick Gallery, 210 Post St., S.F. (415) 956-3560,www.dolbychadwickgallery.com.