Dean Larson and John Patrick Campbell

Dean Larson, Hallway Interior, 2003–05  Courtesy John Pence Gallery, San FranciscoIn May John Pence Gallery in San Francisco presented recent oil paintings by two talented realists who work in a variety of genres. Dean Larson (b. 1957), a recipient of the prestigious John and Anna Lee Stacey National Competition, paints with a vibrant palette. His landscapes and cityscapes, sumptuous Spanish Baroque-style still lifes and haunting interiors are all characterized by sensitive explorations of light. In Hallway Interior (2003–05) the reading figure glimpsed through a series of doorways has the introspective quality of someone in a German Romantic painting. Playing the saffron of walls and curtains against the warm wood of an old house, Larson lays down a path of light across the passageway’s worn floorboards. The effect of sunlight is equally striking in San Francisco Bay (2005), the sort of aerial urban view artist-travelers to Naples have been striving to capture for centuries. Roses at Mission Dolores (2005) nearly dissolves in midday brilliance and full-blown color, but Larson here—as in all his work—expertly maintains the illusion of spatial recession.

John Patrick Campbell (b. 1975), in contrast, tends to call attention to the flatness of the picture plane. This strategy is most obvious in Persona of a Civil War Soldier (2002), a tromp l’oeil painting in warm tones. Against the wooden background he arranges yellowed letters, a carte de visite of an awkward young man in uniform, keys, a chamois pouch and a gold watch. Campbell also paints edgy self-portraits and appealing store interiors, but his still lifes can be unexpected. Some are traditional, using a shallow-space stage to present plants in pots. Other are pop culture icons, such as helmets and sneakers encrusted in or surrounded by graphic-punchy logos and advertisements, as in Wipe Out II (2005). A streetscape, The Delivery (2005), has the underpopulated melancholy of Edward Hopper’s city sidewalks and storefronts.

Neither artist is a native Californian (Larson was born in Michigan, Campbell in New Orleans), but now based in the Bay Area, these artists are drawn to iconic San Francisco scenes. Campbell brings his flat-canvas aesthetic to View from Fort Point (2005), a cleverly cropped depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge, seen as a scaffold of vibrant red against the grey-green water and ocher hills. In 2004 Larson and Campbell were among the group of ten artists invited to stay in Old Battersea House, London, in a program sponsored by American Artist Magazine and Forbes, Inc. The work created during that visit was exhibited in 2005 in “The Next Generation of Realists” at the Forbes Galleries in New York City.  John Pence Gallery is located at 750 Post Street, San Francisco, California 94109. Telephone (415) 441-1138. On the web at

American Arts Quarterly, Summer 2005, Volume 22, Number 3