Selected examples by historic California artists


James McCray (1912-1993)

Flotation, 1945


 Egg tempera on board, 16 x 20 in.


“Northern California, the land of little abstraction, did claim one Geometric Abstractionist in the 1940s – James McCray.  With a master’s degree from Berkeley and graduate work at the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania (1937-39), McCray was well versed in modern aesthetics.  By the mid 1940s, while teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, he developed a unique geometric style.  In many ways Flotation of 1945 is reminiscent of Mondrian’s work.  And, indeed Mondrian may have been its inspiration, since the Dutchman spent World War II in New York, where he updated his rigidly rectangular black-and-white paintings with ‘tesserae’ of bright colors.  McCray’s innovation is that he balances large, plain-colored rectangles with others that are textured or patterned with tiny grids.  And, while he generally adheres to Mondrian’s conventions of pure horizontals and verticals, he occasionally dares to insert diagonals and acute angles.  McCray regarded his arrangements as visual stimulation devoid of recognizable imagery.  His goal is precise visual organization of time and space.  McCray’s style is completely different from anything produced around him in the Bay Area at the time.  In the 1950s, while he succumbed to the vogue for painterly expression, as exemplified by Abstract Expressionism, he returned in the mid 1960s to the format that gave him the most personal satisfaction – abstract design.  The later works, however, have more of the feel of the then popular Post-Painterly Geometric Abstraction.” (from California Art: 450 Years, pp. 399-400.)

Provenance: Arroyo Galleries, Pasadena; Jan Holloway Fine Art, San Francisco, c. February 1997, who had it directly from Mrs. McCray; exhibited and reproduced in catalogue: Painting and Sculpture: The San Francisco Art Association, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952, no. 51; reproduced in color Nancy Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media, Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998, p. 400.


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