Sonia Gechtoff, “Celestial Red” (1994), acrylic on canvas, 77 3/4 x 78 inches (photo by Guang Xu, image courtesy the artist and 55 Walker, New York)
Sonia Gechtoff was part of the Abstract Expressionist flowering that took place in the Bay Area between the late 1940s and late ’50s, along with Jay DeFeo and Deborah Remington. One of the centers of this convulsive outburst was Clyfford Still, who taught at the California School of the Arts (1946–50). Gechtoff, who moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia in 1951, was inspired by Still’s work to begin painting with a palette knife. Still’s solemn, moody abstractions enabled Gechtoff to shed her previous indebtedness to Ben Shahn’s socialist realist style and concerns.
While DeFeo has had major museum exhibitions, especially during the last 20 years, and Remington has recently started to receive the attention she deserves, Gechtoff remains under the radar. Her first solo museum show, at the de Young Museum in 1957, was also her last.