A New SMCMoA Exhibition Contextualizes Oakland Artist Louis Siegriest's Paintings From the Ground Up

by Saint Mary's College Museum of Art | February 9, 2023

MORAGA, California –– An exhibition at Saint Mary's College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) unearths and contextualizes over fifty years of landscape paintings by the Oakland artist Louis Siegriest (1899-1980). From his early plein-air depictions and associations with the Society of Six, to his late sculpted abstractions with asphalt and gypsum, Siegriest approached landscapes as a raw and unpolished expression grappling with how place shapes identity and memory. On display from February 15 through June 18, 2023, the exhibition features 22 works that place Siegriest's influences and growth through oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, collages, and earth materials. 

Born in Oakland, California, Siegriest studied at California College of Arts and Crafts under Perham Nahl and at California School of Fine Arts under Frank Van Sloan. Through connections, he joined a group of established Bay Area artists practicing avant-garde approaches to painting. Known as the Society of Six, the group was led by Selden Gile and included members William Clapp, August Gay, Maurice Logan, and Bernard von Eichman. Also known as "The Six", the group exhibited together through the 1920s. The Six approached their paintings with bold and bright colors captured in the outdoor daylight. This new practice reflected the impact of the Modern European art movements but spoke to the specific subject of California's outdoor terrain. 

"Often Siegriest is understood and heavily associated with his early role in the Society of Six, but it's important to remember he was only a teenager then. He continued to paint well into the 1980s, and unlike other group members, his paintings reflect a distinct divisional growth." states curator Britt Royer. "This exhibition contextualizes Siegriest's exploration of landscape, honing into the meaning of place and how as an artist Siegriest refines his practice."

Siegriest's transition is marked through the artist’s shift in perspective. During WWII, Siegriest worked as a camouflage artist. In-flight from an aerial perspective, Siegriest would assess buildings, determining the necessary patterns and colors to conceal the structures in the surrounding landscape. This perspective came to greatly impact his depiction of land. "I saw things with a different view than I had before. I still don't paint abstractly, but I use an abstract pattern as a base in practically everything I do. I mean, I start that way, in more or less flat pattern, and then I work realistically into the pattern.”

As Siegriest's perspective shifted, so did his interest in materials. By the 1950s, Siegriest was bringing thin layers of gypsum to his paintings as he worked through the physical elements of the desert. Over time, his exploration of materials expanded. He began building, scraping, and layering his works with gypsum, asphalt, and plain dirt, choosing to reflect on a memory of a place as opposed to painting a specific time of day. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Edna Stoddart and the art practices of his son, Lundy Siegriest, Louis Siegriest refined his work to hone in on what shapes place through meaning and time. "From the Ground Up'' invites viewers to consider this artist's growth and application of materials as an exploration of place over time. An opening reception will be held on February 16 from 4 to 8 p.m. Visit the museum website for more information. 


About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) 

Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is a landmark for art in Northern California, with a permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Inspired by its founder, Brother Cornelius Braeg, the museum cares for the most comprehensive collection of William Keith paintings in the nation. The museum offers educational and programming opportunities with rotating exhibitions twice a year for the College and the surrounding community. SMCMoA is located across the street from the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA. Programs and admission are free for all. Public tours begin February, and are on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Please contact the Saint Mary's College Museum of Art at 925-631-4379 or via email at museum@stmarys-ca.edu for further inquiries. More information can be found at www.stmarys-ca.edu/museum