In honor of Greg Colson and Jeff Colson’s induction to CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame 2016, California State University, Bakersfield Office of Alumni Engagement asked me to share my thoughts and experiences on growing up with the Colsons, two internationally recognized artists and good ole’ boys from Oildale. I was happy to oblige. The following links and narrative commemorate the fête.
CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame 2016 Video Montage ©2016 Eye Street Productions – Credits: Produced by: Eye Street Productions, Bakersfield, California; Editor: Monte C. Wilson; Courtesy Jim Tripeny, Creative Services Manager
I first met Greg and Jeff at North High School in Bakersfield. Greg and I graduated the same year in 1974. Jeff was a year behind in ’75, followed by their younger brother Doug in ‘76 who was also an artist at the time. The Colson Brothers and I were in Bill Ryan’s Advanced Art class throughout high school. I remember Greg and Jeff’s innate talent, their figurative renderings, and use of color and perspective in their paintings.
Bill shared his experiences and connections with artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and Mel Ramos, and unveiled a provocative ad of Post-minimalist Lynda Benglis that appeared in Artforum. He challenged our views of art and pushed us to greater inquiry. It was our first exposure to art on that level and we were fortunate to be encouraged and recognized for our various approaches early on.
The personal and professional experiences I’ve shared with Greg and Jeff are many. Our lives and careers have connected, reconnected, and intertwined over the past 45 years. Following high school, we were part of the art program at Cal State Bakersfield where Greg and I graduated in 1978 and Jeff in ’79, receiving our Bachelors. I returned for a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies graduating in 2004. At various points, we each studied at Claremont Graduate University where Greg received his MFA in 1980, and I, my doctorate in 2011. Over the years, I have followed their careers attending openings and solo shows in Los Angeles at Ace Gallery for Jeff, and Griffin Contemporary and Patrick Painter Gallery for Greg. I also saw Greg’s show at Sperone Westwater in New York in 2001.
From 1994-2009, I owned the gallery at the Fox Theater in Bakersfield. Greg and Jeff were kind to show their work in the intimate space even as their careers were taking off toward broader venues. The gallery also exhibited CSUB Art Professors George Ketterl, Ted Kerzie, Mike Heivly, Joyce Kohl, and Margaret Nowling along with Horse Robinson, and North High Art Instructor Bill Ryan, and on many occasions Greg and Jeff would make the trek up from LA for the openings.
In 2009, Greg, Jeff, and I were part of a group show entitled “Oildale,” at L2kontemporary Gallery in Chinatown that included gallerist Ed Lightner, the late Deanna Thompson, and Thomas Trivitt. [Ed Lightner and Kiet Mai established the Mai-Lightner Endowment Fund to benefit CSUB Arts.]
The Bakersfield Californian wrote of the exhibition:
Each of the six artists in the show got their first taste of contemporary art from Bill Ryan, who taught at North High for 38 years. And every one of them went on to study art at Cal State Bakersfield before pursuing graduate degrees elsewhere.
“We’ve all kept in touch, more or less, but we’ve never been able to put a show together until now,” Lightner said. “Everybody thought it would be cool to do.” The exhibit opened Saturday at the gallery, in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles. Ryan was among those who attended. “I’m very proud of all these guys, and I’m not surprised at how well they’ve done,” Ryan said. “I had a group of outstanding students during those years. They were amazed that someone would come to Oildale and introduce them to Picasso, Franz Kline, Rauschenberg — and all those people.”
CSUB art professor Ted Kerzie clearly remembers the six exhibiting artists. “I knew that whenever I got students from North High, they were all well-trained in the basics,” Kerzie said. “And they all were dealing in abstract thought when they came to Cal State — they were already thinking about Contemporary Art.”
Since then, the Oildale artists have gone on to make their own mark in the world of art. For example, Greg Colson’s artwork is held in such places as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Panza Collection in Switzerland, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Jeff Colson also has shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. [Jeff’s work is included in the Panza collection that was exhibited at MOCA. He also exhibited his work at Leo Castelli with Ed Ruscha and Bob Therrien.]
Later in 2009, Greg, Jeff, and I were invited to be part of “Protégé,” a CSUB Faculty and Alumni exhibit at Todd Madigan Gallery. In 2010, sadly, Professor George Ketterl passed on and we all came together one last time to honor him in a memorial at the university gallery.
In 2011, Greg was one of 30 artists, critics, and contributors that I interviewed in my doctoral dissertation, “Artist Emergence in Contemporary Culture: A Dialectic of Social and Material Conditions of Southern California Artists.” A quantitative and qualitative analysis revealed that a small percentage of artists supported themselves solely from their work. Greg was in that statistic along with Chuck Arnoldi and Bill Viola, who were also part of my study.
Today, Greg lives and works in Venice with his wife Dinah Kirgo, an artist and Emmy award-winning writer. Jeff, a Guggenheim and COLA award winner, lives and works in Pasadena with his wife Miyoshi Barosh, a Los Angeles-based conceptual artist. She is also a recipient of these awards. The Colsons’ work is exhibited and part of important collections throughout the United States and Europe. They continue to explore new perspectives and methodologies in their art.
What would I say has been their best achievement in their personal careers?
In a recent conversation, Greg noted that he forged ahead in developing his art for 35 years and has shown professionally since 1987. He is now expanding his work in the public art field. He reflected that at times when he began showing in Europe, he could have rushed along new ideas, but remained focused and did not settle in his approach. Jeff, the same, as each continues to produce distinctive and innovative work.
Greg and Jeff have not compromised their beliefs or commitment in producing work that is greatly respected in a highly competitive field. They embrace their humble beginnings in Bakersfield as they continue to receive international acclaim.
What characteristics best describe each of them?
I find both to be mindful and articulate in their views on art and life. Greg may appear introverted, yet his personality and keen insight come to the fore. Jeff is forthright and easy-going. Both are exceptionally gifted, sincere, and great conversationalists.
In December 2015, my brother Dennis Delrogh and I visited Greg and Dinah at their home in Venice, and Jeff joined us to catch up. It was as if no time passed. We talked of current events, our work, and shared memories of the past, as we tend to do each time we connect.
How do I think Jeff and Greg’s education at CSUB shaped the successful artists they are today?
In the CSUB Fine Arts program, we focused on critical issues in the contemporary discourse through Art History and studio classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Art Professors George Ketterl, Ted Kerzie, and Mike Heivly exposed students to Pop, Conceptual, and Studio, and paved the way in our cultural understanding and aesthetic appreciation.
Ted and George received MFAs from Claremont Graduate School and were subsequently hired at CSUB. They infused the CGU Art model of creative thought, engaged issues of Contemporary Art, and promoted open exchange into the conceptually based program. Students explored new methodologies and genres, learned of professional practice through the Visiting Artists Program, and experienced the art world first hand in field trips to Los Angeles galleries and artist studios.
At CSUB, we learned from and worked with visiting artists including Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, John McCracken, James Turrell, and Ed Moses. Other visiting artists and contributors who followed included Robert Irwin, James Hayward, Karl Benjamin, Peter Plagens, Lita Albuquerque, Walter Gabrielson, Laddie John Dill, and Dave Hickey.
The class trips to LA were memorable and surreal. We visited artist studios including Ed Ruscha and Laddie John Dill’s. We crashed an Andy Warhol reception of his “Great American Indian Series” at Bobbie Greenfield gallery in Venice. And, I recall one class trip in 1977 with Ted Kerzie. We were walking down a street in Venice visiting galleries when Ted greeted a man who turned out to be Sam Francis. He invited us to his studio and somehow we ended up at his house spending the afternoon in conversation as he talked to the students. Recently, Ted told me that Francis shared a studio with Richard Diebenkorn on Main Street in Santa Monica near James Turrell’s studio. He also mentioned that Turrell, a fellow pilot of Ted’s took the Colsons flying! I’m sure they remember that experience.
It was an extraordinary time to be in the program as we grew from our nascent understanding of the art world to embrace self-awareness and explore our relationship to the culture.
Often times we’ve heard about the “Colson Brothers” as a team of Art students who have both had similar and successful paths. What do I think it means for them to both be nominated into the CSUB Hall of Fame?
I am certain they are humbled by the accolades and grateful for the recognition. Throughout their accomplished careers they have never forgotten their roots.
Why do I believe that each deserves to be inducted?
Greg Colson and Jeff Colson continue to make valuable contributions through their respective work and professional acumen in the cultural discourse of Contemporary Art.
And, my parting words for them?
Greg and Jeff, your careers have taken a long journey from our early days. You remain two of the most accomplished individuals I know. Thank you for your talent, support, and inspiration throughout our lifelong friendship that means the world to me. Congratulations on your induction into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame 2016.
Audio Narrative ©2016 Jill Thayer, Ph.D.
Jill Thayer, Ph.D. is an artist, educator, and curatorial archivist. She is faculty at Santa Monica College in Art History: Global Visual Culture, and Post University, Malcolm Baldrige School of Business MBA program in Marketing Management and Integrative Strategies. Her post-doctoral research, “In Their Own Words: Oral Histories of CGU Art,” featured CGU Art Professors Emeritus and alumni including Karl Benjamin, Roland Reiss, Michael Brewster, Ted Kerzie, Connie Zehr, Mowry Baden, and John Frame. The project and artists’ works were exhibited in both CGU galleries curated by Dr. Thayer with digital media and narrative transcripts included in Archives of American Art at The Smithsonian Institution.