Figure Telling: Contemporary Bay Area Figuration now opening at di Rosa

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Figure Telling: Contemporary Bay Area Figuration now opening at di Rosa
Heather Wilcoxon, Family, 2023. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist.

NAPA, CA.- Figure Telling, on display at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art from June 3 - September 17, 2023, highlights an intergenerational group of Bay Area artists using the human figure to produce works grounded in narrative, storytelling, and personal memory. Northern California artists have once again embraced the figure – but contemporary Bay Area figuration has a radically different feel.

In the last decade, figuration has roared onto the local art scene, with human figures inundating Bay Area galleries and art fairs. This exhibition highlights six local artists – Sydney Cain, Craig Calderwood, John Goodman, Afsoon Razavi and Heather Wilcoxon – who use the figure to tell stories that are distinctly personal and honest. Working in a variety of media from graphite and paint to textile, pen and ink, they use figuration to evoke individual, family, and community histories.

“These artists use visual storytelling to convey their unique identities, stories, concerns, and compassions,” states curator Kate Eilertsen. “In a world that is so often complex, they use human forms to tell stories – sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful, always honest.”

Figure Telling explores how contemporary artists have borrowed from, and progressed, the tradition of the Bay Area Figurative movement. Widely regarded as the first significant North American art movement to be based on the West Coast, Bay Area figuration began in the mid-20th century as a counterpoint to the then-dominant Abstract Expressionist style. Key figures of this movement within the di Rosa collection include David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Manuel Neri, Joan Brown and Nathan Oliviera.

“di Rosa hosts a leading collection of works associated with the Bay Area Figurative movement,” according to Eilertsen. “This exhibition examines the legacy of the movement, asking: how do contemporary works borrow from our rich regional tradition of figurative painting? How are they different?”

An Opening Reception will be held Saturday, June 3, 5:30-7pm. This event is free for members and $10 for general public. Guests will mingle with artists and enjoy an intimate performance by UPside Dance Company. Tickets are available for purchase at


Sydney “Sage” Cain is a visual artist born and raised in San Francisco, CA. Through large scale and intimate works, Cain honors those who have passed on and provides them with sacred sites to be reborn and reimagined. Current works with printmaking, powdered metals and sculpture mine personal archives, their family’s genealogy, and the intersections of urban renewal and displacement on the psychic, spiritual, emotion and physical wellbeing of marginalized communities. Cain, currently in graduate school at Yale University, is represented by Rena Bransten Gallery, and has exhibited at SOMArts, and the Oakland Museum of California, among others.

Craig Calderwood, a self-taught artist, uses low-end materials like found fabrics, polymer clay and fiber tip pens to create intricate and decorative works rendered through a personal vernacular of symbols and patterns. Recalling the private languages that underground communities of queer and trans people used for safety for decades, and developed from research into history, personal narratives and pop cultural moments. these symbols and patterns are arranged into constellations that tell stories both personal and fantasized. Calderwood’s work has been shown at the Oakland Museum of California, Mills College Art Museum, and the Museum of Craft and Design, among others.

John Goodman, a self-taught artist who draws inspiration from the Bay Area Figurative painters, came to painting after a long and successful career as a playwright. His storytelling skill is central to his being and career. His images are consistently figurative, yet each exhibits a strong pull towards abstraction. His understated minimalism, signature impasto brushwork and reductive use of color speak of isolation and eternity. He is represented by Kim Eagles-Smith Gallery.

Afsoon Razavi’s work responds to the recent murder of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iranian morality police, for violating a mandatory hijab law. Razavi’s charcoal drawings of a woman’s hair blowing in the wind evoke the violence of Amini’s murder; and the joy of rebellion. A designer and photographer, Razavi lives and works in Napa, CA.

Josephine Taylor’s mysterious drawings leave us searching for the sources of her history. Using delicate colors with meticulous details, Josephine explores the traumas and joys of contemporary womanhood. A 2004 recipient of the SFMOMA SECA Award, she teaches at Stanford University and the San Francisco Art Institute. Taylor lives and works in San Francisco, CA, and is Catharine Clark Gallery.

Heather Wilcoxon’s figures explore human stories related to environmental and reproductive justice. Having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, she lives and works in Sausalito, CA. She has received fellowships including two from the Pollack/Krasner Foundation, and recently received the Distinguished Women in the Arts Award from the Fresno Art Museum.

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