Raymond Saunders: Carnegie Museum of Art/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Article excerpt

In 1953, at the age of 19, Raymond Saunders had his first solo exhibition in Pittsburgh; several years later he left his native city and began showing widely in the Bay Area. The recent exhibition of Saunders' work at the Carnegie displayed nine new paintings, while the Center for the Arts exhibited a wide selection of images on paper, as well as two large mixed-media pieces on plate glass.

Saunders' delicate works on paper combine elements such as pages from children's books, cartoons, domestic and foreign stamps, beautifully painted flowers, and even, in one piece, a de Kooning-esque drawing of a woman. In these collages ready-made images are often effectively decentered; Saunders also understands how to use brushwork or grids to unify pictures containing disparate elements. Seen as a group these pictures can become cloying, but taken in isolation most reveal the hallmarks of a true generosity and elegance. When Saunders focuses on creating clean compositions, he can produce paintings that are genuinely impressive, such as Things Were Never $1.50, 1995. But when these painted panels are supplemented with drawing, and placed on the walls and floor, along with assemblages of framed photographs, dolls, or flowers, the additional elements contribute little to his narratives.

Linking Saunders' work to jazz and the art of Romare Bearden, the handouts that were provided focused on the artist's interest in African-American history, which was revealed in elements of his collages. …