March 30, 2005 (Wednesday) – I brought my friend Dale along on my last interview, with Stevan Shapona, and that was such a success, that I jumped at Dale’s suggestion that I interview his friend, Charlie. We stopped at the J&E Cafe to pick up some Chinese takeout and then headed over to Charlie’s place on one of those killer hills in the Bernal Heights section of San Francisco. When we got there, we each filled a plate with food and then sat around Charlie’s kitchen table to talk while we ate.
From his chair at kitchen table, Charlie has almost everything he needs within reach. A box of pencils and papers is under the table, and a small bookcase holding his journals and notebooks is sitting on the right side of the table. Portfolio cases are stacked on the floor around his chair. Cans of spray paint, tubes of oil, jars of glue, stencils, scissors, papers and other art making materials are covering every available surface. He works on writing and artmaking every day and every room of his house is filled with his work. I started out asking him about his early life.
Writing and painting are the excellent talent many persons have with them. Writing is something innovative and it should be grammatical error free and the vocabulary can be improved when a person starts thinking and write on his own. Painting in computer system is a type of game for the children of this century who are born with the technology. There are many softwares developed for playing, writing and earning money by trading. Qprofit system is an example for this. Many people invest their money in this software and start trading to achieve profits.
Charles M. Ware was born in 1921, in Santa Rosa, California. He grew up there, on the family ranch, Ladera Verdes. “We did a lot of hard physical labor in those days,” Charlie remembers. He said the 580 acre ranch had, “300 head of sheep, 100 head of Angora goats, 3 or 4 thousand chickens, 7 milk cows, a couple of draft horses… we had a whole pile of stuff. We even had Peacocks!” But Charlie wanted to be an artist, not a farmer. “My dad wanted me to be a farmer, of course. But he very graciously helped me to go to school and he was overcome when I won that scholarship (to the California School of Fine Art , now known as the SF Art Institute.) I remember he took a little jump in the air when I told him. But I think it hurt his feelings, too. Because there went the dream of the ranch.” His father sold the ranch and livestock for $40,000 while Charlie was in Europe during World War II.
Charlie wasn’t well suited for military service, and spent some time in the stockade for drinking and going AWOL. He says his sister had browbeaten him into leaving art school and enlisting in the Army, because she said, “You’re no better than anybody else.” When he returned to California after his military service, he was a changed man.
A: What did you do when you came out of the service?
C: I went back to school briefly. My mother had to really light into me. I didn’t want to go back. There was a change of faculty. I only lasted about a month and a half. The day I was quitting, Bruce Balfour was quitting the same day and I went over and met his wife and family. He told me about this bar… Bruce was a fantastic artist. He’s still alive, he’s in his eighties, about my age. He used to be in show business, a tap dancer, he had a whole act…
D: See, what happened was, after the war, Clifford Still and Mark Rothko came into the Art Institute and basically that’s where the conflict came in, and Charlie quit.
A: What made you want to quit?
C: I didn’t care for the philosophy in regards to life drawing and things… they sloughed over the drafting end of it, and a lot of them were lousy draftsmen. It requires a hell of a lot of discipline.
A: Where did you go after you left school?
G: We hung around the “Artists Club.” It was a bar. A real dive, I’m telling you. It was in North Beach, on lower Pacific. In those days the “International Settlement” was still there. Don Eldred had quite a few artists that were bringing stuff in there, so I moved in, and I lived there, in a tiny room above the bar. Bruce was there too, for a while. The Hell’s Angels used to ride their motorcyles right into the place. I used to do a lot of portraits in those days, to try to make a few bucks. It was mostly by candlelight. They had these crazy setups with these tables made from large barrels and they used small barrels for the chairs. They had paintings all over the place… this was about 1949.
D: Charlie did a lot of sign painting then, too.
C: Yeah, here’s some of my stuff (shows me his photo album of North Beach signage from the late 40’s & early 50’s.) I did a lot of stuff for Big Al, including 22 portraits of Italian singers. Those places are all gone now, including the Hippo and the Black Cat…
Charlie spent some time in New York in the 50s, married a woman named Marjorie, continued sign painting, portrait work, and making his own work, which he describes as, “Mostly subjective things, romantic pieces.” Eventually, he split up with Marjorie and came back to the Bay Area.
A: What happened when you got back here?
C: My mom met me at the airport. They were living in Cupertino at the time. I got a job working for a sign painter. They didn’t know I had a drinking problem, but I was really in full swing then. I finally bought a car for $75. But I got into a wreck in San Jose – I was drunk. Got thrown in the can for several months. That jail in San Jose, is a very tough jail, let me tell you. About a month after getting out of jail, Harry Anastos called and he wanted to open an art gallery. He was always very enthusiastic about my work. We ran the Elysian Gallery for a couple of years. It was on upper Grant, near Green, next to a ravioli factory.
I’d gone to the Jean Turner Art Center with Harry. It was on Geary street – a little art community there… Jean Turner was a commercial artist, and she had some pretty outstanding people on her faculty. J. Paget-Fredericks, who was influenced by those early American pen & ink people, .. Louis J. Rogers, who was a western illustrator and Jim McDonald, who was a calligrapher. I’ll never forget J. Paget-Fredericks – he was a good teacher, but I disregarded him… I’d been through a lot at that point and just wouldn’t put up with much anymore.
The first time I ever saw Max Ernst’s work was there – they were giving him a one-man show. Come to think of it, that was before Jean Turner’s opened up, but it was in the same area. Was I ever impressed! Ernst has such imagination, he’s a wonderful painter.. the textural qualities, surface qualities… all of it. Fantastic mind. He’s one of the really great ones. Some of them were… lucky, in my opinion. There’s a lot of the surrealists that are psychotic. But he’s one of the great ones.
D: I told Anna that I associate your work more with the Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite movements than with the Surrealists. I think, like… Arnold Bocklin, Max Klinger, and John Henry Fuseli , those people…
C: Yeah, that’s right. I love Bocklin., And I like Ernst Fuchs, the Austrian. He’s a tremendous painter, and magnificent mind, you know. He was the head of the school of… magical realism?… what was the name of that movement? I have the catalog from his show around here someplace. I went and saw that show when I was about 45, and my eyesight was terrible then. It was before I started to wear glasses. When I saw that work it excited me, but at the same time it depressed me because I knew I couldn’t do it. Until I got glasses, and realized, I can do this after all.
A: At what point did you start painting the kind of work that you would consider your mature work?
C: Well I think I started doing my best work about the time I stopped drinking, in 1965. Marjorie had passed away on Thanksgiving day in 1964 and I was very upset by it. I stopped drinking then, but exactly one year later, on Thanksgiving day, I remember Floyd Patterson boxed Ingemar Johanson, for the second time and got knocked out that time. I was in Nevada, with my friend Al, doing paintings for a nightclub, imitating some popular artist who was selling like mad. I didn’t want to do it, but I did it. That was the last job I did drunk. During that boxing match, I got carried away, threw a few punches myself, and I ended up on the floor and I hit my head. I had a scab in the middle of my forehead that looked like a third eye. And that was my last drunk. Bruce Balfour started taking me to Alcoholics Anonymous. Once, when I went to sign in, my hands were shaking so bad, I had to hold the pencil with two hands.
D: So, AA helped you get off the booze?
C: Not very much, no. You know what those guys sounded like to me? They sounded like they were bragging… about their capacity for drinking and about their hallucinations, and stuff. I figured that they didn’t hold a candle to me for hallucinations. I had hallucinated so much and had conversations with beings and creatures that weren’t there, you know?
D: Did the drinking affect your fantasy writing and your art? Did any of that imagery stick with you?
C: Possibly – I think I had brain damage from it. I really do. My capacity for pictorial dreaming, and nightmares is very limited now, compared to what it had been.
D: Yeah, but your memory is perfect…
C: My mind rambles. I go from one subject to another, as you probably noticed.
D: Oh, everybody does that, I don’t know if you had any brain damage, or not.
A: Well, what happened after you stopped drinking? You’ve talked a lot about the time before that.
C: Well, I started to produce an awful lot of work. And I lived I the Stella Hotel at the time, in the 60’s. The Stella was loaded with derelicts and young people on dope. Arnold Roseval, who ran a silk screen studio on Clay Street, he told me about the Temple Hotel on Pine Street. He said it was peaceful, so I moved in there, but it was a neurotic place, too. Not as bad as the Stella. After I was into painting pictures, I took up sign painting too, because I wasn’t making nearly enough from the paintings. I had the rent to contend with all the time. Finally, I really started to do pretty good with the sign painting and I opened a place at the corner of Pine and Kearny. Right next door to Jim McDonald, the calligrapher. It was just a room, was all it was. It got so that I slept there, too. I moved out of the Temple. I think it bothered Jim – he could pick up on it, you know. They had a little tiny elevator there, just about enough for two people. Jim told a story about how he got stuck in that elevator with Benny Bufano, and they were there all night. He happened to have a bottle of wine on him, and they proceeded to get a little high from it. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with Benny Bufano. He was kinda snooty. I tried to talk to him several times, you know. He just pushed me aside. His work was interesting, yet I used to say, it reminds me of a piggy bank without the slot. He used to be pretty good with young classical heads, though.
D: Oh jeeze, you know, there’s one in the Oakland Museum of his mother. In clay, it’s not terra cotta, but it’s beautiful, and I don’t know why they don’t keep that out.
C: He was good with textures and mosaics and stuff like that. But he was a hell of a politician, and he pushed the hell out of Benny Bufano, you know?
Dale and Charlie talked a bit about other local artists who excel at self-promotion. Then Dale asked Charlie to talk about meeting his wife Linda and the photographer and printmaker, John Morita.
C: Well, I met Linda around 1969 or 70. She was working at the Bank of America. I was living at the Hanson Hotel then. And John Morita came out of the woodwork around then. He came over to photograph us. He was there until 2 in the morning one time. Took a picture of me in the bathtub…
D: Yeah, when he did that print of you in the bathtub, I was working at the Art Institute, in the print room, and he comes up and says, “why don’t you just put it on the plate four times?” So we printed four images, in different states, on the page.
C: That’s quite a remarkable process that he used, in making those plates. And he explained that whole thing to me, twice. And it just went in one ear and out the other.
D: Well, when he was at San Francisco State, photo imagery was in vogue. Robert Bechtle , John Ihle and Dennis Beal – they would take the photograph, they would put it on the plate, and they would hardly touch it once they photoengraved it. They would just print it like that. John would come in, he’d put the photograph on the plate, then come in with a scraper and burnisher and drypoint the hell out of it, and then scrape it…
C: Well he was given some good shows. That show he had at the SFMOMA, when it was at the War Memorial…
D: Yeah, he had a lot of collectors in Germany at that time, because of the darkness of his material.
A: Did John Morita get you into printmaking, or were you already doing it by then?
C: Oh, I was already into it by then. when I was in New York, I was fascinated by all of the graphics, the lithographs and etchings, and engraving processes – the whole thing. When I’d gone to California School of Fine Arts, before the war, I’d taken lithography from Ray Berkerns. But I could never print any of them myself. I made some of the drawings right on the stone, but the printing process… I couldn’t remember which came first. Somebody else had to print it for me. But the etching process interested me a lot, and relief printing. It’s more direct. What you see is what you get. Last month the California Society of Printmakers had this event, for the senior artists, and it was all the way over in Oakland. My neighbor had to drive me over there. I had to give a speech… oh, god I felt like a jackass. I felt like a rustic bum in the middle of an embroidery circle.
I asked Charlie to show us some of his work. He pulled out examples of relief prints, done with an electric engraver on masonite, many of them completed with in the last few months. He also started showing us ink drawings, pencil drawings, prints made from cardboard plates, etchings, woodcuts, plate rubbings, scratchboard, stencil paintings, collages and prints. Later we toured the house and he showed us his oil paintings, casein paintings, and mixed media works.
A: Can you tell me a little bit about the Christ imagery in a lot of your work?
C: I’m not a Christian any more, I believe more in reincarnation than transcendence. But it’s a marvelously powerful image. The crucifixion and all the rest of it. And of course, there’s enormous room for satire. (He shows us a couple of last supper images – one with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of the Christ and another with some Sprite.)
A: Some of these prints are fairly recent – where do you do them – is there a studio here in the house?
C: I do them right here (he points to the press sitting between the refrigerator and kitchen table) and there’s another press in the bedroom.
A: These round etchings are interesting…
C: I was lucky in my early days of printmaking and I got a whole bunch of these brass disks and I made plates out of them. Every one of those had a spot right in the center where they used the scribers, so I had to obliterate that with a little bit of aquatint.
D: Oh yeah, you can get rid of that, no problem. Brass is a hard thing to etch, though. It’s harder than zinc.
C: Well, yeah, it is, but it isn’t. It breaks down faster. I was amazed. It was my favorite metal. I used cold-rolled steel also.
D: Yeah? When Durer started etching, that’s what he used. The thing is, it corroded so fast – that’s the problem with steel.
… You need some more light in here, Charlie.
C: I need a new lease on life. There’s no audience for this, now. If you’re a ballplayer, you can make zillions. If you’re an artist, you can’t even pay the goddamn rent. These days, people keep talking about the beautiful galleries and the magnificent museums we have, but they’re completely gutless. About buying art. Absolutely gutless. I’ll tell you the gods-honest truth: even with all the drinking I did, I don’t blame myself as much as I blame people… I mean the attitude. I’m telling you, people are weird. They come over here, and you think you’re making a transaction, and then… nothing.
A: That happens to me, too. It happens to all of us, Charlie.
D: Yeah, they come over and make you haul out everything on the planet, and they look at it, and then they don’t buy anything.
We returned to the kitchen, where he showed us his notebook journals with daily entries written in pencil, and every few pages covered with a collage or spray-stencil painting. “I just make it up as I go along. I don’t try to relate the picture to the writing. It’s all me.”
One exception was his entry on Sept. 11, 2001. He read that entry to us, and showed us the picture, of a statue-of-liberty figure, surrounded by flag stamps. That prompted me to ask him about the tattoo of an American flag on his left forearm. He said, “Well, I was drunk. I was in the army. I was down in Alexandria, Louisiana. The guy that did the tattoo work was a bouncer for the place, and he had to get up before he finished it and bounce somebody. I’ll tell you, he made a mistake… see, he put the red out here. I wanted him to put a ship on, but they didn’t have any more ships left.”
The notebooks are regular spiral bound student books, and the collages are made with spray paint and paste-ups of many materials, including newspapers. Charlie said, “The beauty of using newspaper is that you can let some of the text show through and create a sense of irony, or use the symbolism. I use bristol paper for the stencils and then I can incorporate them into a collage. I get wallpaper paste from the hardware store – it works beautifully.”
The books, even the older ones, seem well preserved. Maybe it’s all the paste and paint covering the paper, or may it’s because they’re stored out of the light. In any case, I found these books of Charlie’s to be more interesting, and more original than a lot of the artists’ books I’ve seen in the FAMSF Logan or Achenbach collections.
Charles Ware lives in San Francisco, is married to Linda Ware and has two children. His son Gabriel lives with him and his daughter Laura lives in New York. He does not currently have gallery representation, but he can be contacted by telephone at (415) 282-7153
Some other mentions of Charles M. Ware on the web:
from an article about William Wolf in the Journal of the California Printmaker, written by Louis Girling:
“Art Hazelwood, known to many in the San Francisco Bay Area for his paintings and relief prints boiling over with social criticism and post-modern intercultural synthesis of artistic ideas, has spent a good deal of his time working for Bill Wolff in his home and studio since 1996. Such intimacy between an older and a younger artist cannot fail to yield fruit. Steeped in Wolff’s imagery, in the fall of 2000, Art began a major public muralcommissioned by the Fetterly Gallery in Vallejo, California. Featuring a 110-foot-long tableau of figures in settings combining architectural elements of the Renaissance with the moving perspective of David Hockney, Art’s mural celebrates the arts from painting to music to architecture. Viewers may recognize California Society of Printmakers artists Dan Robeski and Charles Ware as the models for the figures of architecture and painting, respectively.”
about the California Society of Printmakers’ Senior Artists event:
“The invitees, skilled in hand-pulled printmaking techniques such as etching, relief prints, lithography, handmade books, monotype and mixed media, gathered at the large Oakland studio of artist and CSP board president, Benny Alba. San Francisco’s Charles Ware, 84, awesomely skilled at drawing, carried a notebook of fantastic, surreal colored pencil drawings.”
a mention by Dave Archer in his “memoir in progress”:
“Vic (Big Al) played off celebrity connections. The man knew everybody. My painter friend Charlie Ware, one of the founders of the San Francisco Visionary School — therefore always in need of rent — painted oils of the “Rat Pack” for the club. Sinatra, Dean Martin, plus others like Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Vic Damone and Tony Bennett. Each canvas hung in the club with a portrait light over it to impress the tourists.”
Clars Auction Gallery, has a listing for a Charles Ware hand tinted litho, “St. George and the Dragon”
Charles Ware is listed with San Francisco Online Arts, but there’s no link or images
Mystical Unicorn Gallery has an image of Ware’s “The Unicorn’s Glade”
Charles Ware is listed as illustrator for a Pomegranate Press book:
IN PURSUIT OF THE UNICORN, author: Bradley, Josephine, Publisher: Pomegranate Artbooks Corte Madera, CA 1980. unpaginated, maroon cloth covered boards w/stamped gilt lettering & deco, black slipcase w/stamped gilt deco, prev owner’s bookplate on ffep. A book w/art from various artists depicting unicorns. First unicorns appeared in written account in Greece. The art of the following artists are in the book: Dale Rutter, Kirwan, Jay Burch, Ascian, Sandy Stedronsky, Marjett Schille, Susan Seddonboulet, Charles Ware, Stewart Daniels, Irene McHugh Belknap, Erin Gamble, Vaclav Vaca, Jacquelyn Sage, Niki Broyles, Kristen Moeller, Wolfgang Grasse, & Sheila Rose. Special Edition No Jacket/Very Good Slipcase HB Very Good+ 4to (11-13 Inches tall)
GERALD SAUER FINE ART
Charles M. Ware,”Song of the Minotaur”, $300 – An etching with handtint signed in pencil lower right and dated 1976 in the plate. It is an artist’s proof and titled “Song of the Minotaur” In a gold wood frame with a silk mat and gold bezel.It measures 24″x17.5″ [image]; frame 38″x31″. In fine condition.