Gay Swan on Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum of California.

If only guilt-free zones weren’t so small: Good Luck, by Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum of Art. (Photos by Gay Swan.)

Squeak Carnwath’s paintings are too big to be shoplifted. Otherwise, I would happily “own” one or two of the idiosyncratic, icon-addled, blackboard-sized canvasses from her first solo museum show at the Oakland Museum of California — at the tender age of 62. As one of the leading California artists no one’s ever heard of (unlike her cohorts Viola Frey and Jay DeFeo), Carnwath fuses the personal symbology of a genius Waldorf preschooler with the flawed humanity of the psychotherapy couch. The result is pure Californication.

I couldn’t not love her recurring guilt-free zones (Everything(2)), or her collection of good luck symbols (Good Luck ), bunnies (Long Happy Life ) and record albums (Side One ) — the latter representing about the side-oneness of life. There’s a shameless appropriation of periodic table grids (Four Months), confession (Promise) and assorted visual elements that once led people to associate her work with outsider art. Each painting reads like a short story asking universal questions. Then on the video at the end of the show, there’s Squeak with all the answers. And you walk out feeling like you just had a great talk with your therapist.

Painting Is No Ordinary Object runs through Aug 23.

Side One.



The Story of Painting.

Trying Simply to Be Happy.

Think About It.


Right Now.

Trying to Know Lost.

Carnwath talks about her work, in a video at the end of the show.


  1. San-suzie

    Thank you Gay Swan! I’m actually going to try to get up to Oakland to see this show.

  2. Elizabeth Whipple

    Delightful review by Gay Swan. You got it just right! Squeak’s show has had a lot of coverage, but nothing this droll. I bet the artist will be amused.

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