Story and photos by Murray Schneider
On April 8, curator Jack Whittington mounted his third exhibition at Gallery Ex Libris, Bird & Beckett’s postage-size art gallery, tucked in the rear of Glen Park’s independent bookstore.
Whittington is showcasing Greg Adams and Tom Baxter, both Glen Park artists. Their show, “Presence and Memory – Drawings and Assemblages,” continues through the first week in May.
Adams and Baxter, commonly seen relaxing at Chenery Street’s Higher Grounds, attended the seven o’clock debut. Guests wandered to the rear of the bookstore and milled around the entrance to the gallery, which until recently had served as a storage closet. One or two patrons sandwiched themselves into the tiny space. Bookseller Eric Whittington had earlier placed a tray of cheese and cold cuts by its door.
Adams sampled a slice and then moved toward the Lilliputian gallery.
“This is not hit and miss,” he said, pointing to “Legends and Speculation” (2010), a compendium of discarded materials he’d fashioned into a three dimensional collage in his Foerster Street garage.
“I’ve combined different objects to achieve harmony,” said Adams. “I’m successful when I know it.”
By the looks of his diorama, composed from what appeared weathered wood, seemingly rescued after an Ocean Beach low tide, he won’t have trouble fining a collector interested in purchasing what he calls an “assemblage.”
Adams, a native San Franciscan, attended Sunnyside Elementary, Aptos Middle School and Balboa High School. After spending 25 years splicing Cable Car cable for Muni and 10 years in the merchant marine, he’s retired now. He occupies his time, when not volunteering at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, crafting pieces such as “Missing Parts” (2011), which stood only a foot or two from “Legends and Speculation.”
It was the latter, though, that caught one’s eye. Squeezed into a rectangular wooden fame, a bird, one might see darting along the beach or using its beak to pepper Great Highway dunes in search of a meal, stretched its legs, its bill stabbing a rolled-up and rubber-banded cylinder of sheet music.
“It’s culled from lots of different discarded materials,” said Adams.
Tom Baxter joined him. Baxter’s drawings are, by comparison, simple, one dimensional and hung on the opposite wall. Baxter lives on Rousseau Street and like Adams frequents the neighborhood coffee shops.
Early in the morning Baxter gathers with friends at Higher Grounds, nurses a cup of coffee and dissects the events of the day. Adams, in turn, can be seen sitting alone, reading a book or simply peering through a window. Behind him hang photos that owner Manhal Jweinat rotates in on out of his coffee shop. Both Adams and Higher Grounds give off a vibe when neighborhood rents were cheaper and working class diversity was commonplace, when Islias Creek ran through blue collar Dogpatch and emptied into the bay near where AT&T witnessed its third World Series Championship in five years.
Chenery Street will never be Grant Avenue in its halcyon days, but Higher Grounds, Bird and Beckett and now Gallery Ex Libris give it a slight aroma of bohemian airiness. Adams himself could pass for proletarian philosopher Eric Hoffer, who once frequented North Beach bookstores and art galleries, but as far as anyone knows was never sighted in Glen Park.
At his opening, Adams greeted Gallery Ex Libris visitors and took a moment to reflect about his two pieces of art.
“My hero was Bruce Conner,” he said about the late Sussex Street artist who passed away in 2008, and who, with his wife Jean, has a show “Yes! Glue: A Half-Century of Collages – by Bruce and Jean Conner” at the American University Museum in Washington, DC from April 4-May 25.
Bruce Conner came to California from Kansas in the mid-1950s and soon attached himself to the Beat art scene around Grant and Columbus Avenues, which included the likes of visual artists Wallace Berman, George Herms and Jay De Feo and poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure.
Bruce Conner is credited with fashioning “assemblages,” too.
“Conner was impressive,” said Adams, who glues together his concoctions in his basement, which doubles as a studio. “He worked in lots of different mediums and was versatile.”
Bruce Conner was an internationally admired artist whose work still garners critical attention in major galleries around the world. Greg Adams, for now, will have to be content to exhibit in Glen Park’s Gallery Ex Libris.
Surveying the minuscule room, a metaphor for today’s downscaling, he said:
“This space is such a good idea. It’s a commentary on our time.”
Both Whittingtons, Jack and Eric, might not have a bone to pick with him. If they did, it might very well go into one of Greg Adams’ “assemblages.”