John Mottram

Theme/Style – California Modernism, California Regionalism

Media – Oils, pastels, watercolors, sculpture, lithographs

Artistic Focus – John Mottram’s early canvases, whether oils or pastels, showed a preference for Cezannesque portraits and still lifes in high key colors. Mottram was known for fresh, spontaneous compositions that depicted the people and places in his life. With his use of vibrant, even brilliant, colors, and a precisionist style, whether he was painting a still life, a city scene or a bucolic countryside view, he helped define the California Regionalist tradition. He also was recognized for his ability to create an imposing sense of scale, whether by juxtaposing a small individual in a vast forest, or by placing an imposing tunnel of trees before a city spread out in the background.

Career Highlights –

• He began his art education in 1924 at the California School of Arts and Crafts in Berkeley, where he studied for two years. He then became a drawing student of Perham Nahl at the University of California, Berkeley, and a sculpture student of Ralph Stackpole at the San Francisco Art Institute.
• His first sculptures were created as an apprentice to sculptor Pio Tognelli, with whom he created figures for the Life Sciences Building at UC Berkeley, and for the Shell Oil Building in San Francisco.
• His work first gained public notice in 1935, when the Courvoisier Gallery in San Francisco presented Mottram’s first one-man exhibition.
• Throughout his career, he was a much-loved art professor at San Jose State College.