Exhibition

Squeak Carnwath: Painting Is No Ordinary Object

This presentation of Carnwath’s work—

the first organized by a major West Coast museum—includes more than 40 paintings not seen collectively since the artist’s last major exhibition, in 1994.

The 20-year professional association between artist Squeak Carnwath and Karen Tsujimoto, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California, culminates in Squeak Carnwath: Painting Is No Ordinary Object. The exhibition is on view April 25 through August 23, 2009.

“An in-depth examination of Squeak Carnwath’s work is timely, if not overdue,” says museum director Lori Fogarty. “This show confirms Carnwath’s groundbreaking artistry and stature as one of California’s leading contemporary artists.”

As the title indicates, a painting is “no ordinary object” for Carnwath (American, b. 1947). Her recurring motifs—among them numbers, rabbits, and lists—reflect personal and universal themes; each meticulously applied layer of paint carries meaning and inquiry.

“Painting is a philosophical enterprise,” Carnwath says, “a kind of alchemy . . . inert material becomes something else—a document of being, a repository of the human spirit.”

An Oakland resident since 1970, Carnwath received her MFA from the California College of the Arts in 1977, with high distinction in ceramics. Within a few years she decided not to work in clay, due in part to the chauvinistic attitude within the medium at the time.

“Painting then became Carnwath’s primary means of expression,” curator Tsujimoto observes, “a talismanic device to explore themes of loss, loneliness, and the search for happiness and knowledge.”

A tenured professor of art practice at UC Berkeley, Carnwath also taught at UC Davis (1983-1998). She has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Carnwath has influenced hundreds of young artists in her three decades of teaching and art making.

The exhibition’s companion book, Painting Is No Ordinary Object, is a 160-page retrospective of Carnwath’s career. It features more than 80 color reproductions and essays by Tsujimoto and art critic and poet John Yau (co-published by Pomegranate, 2009).