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2 Artists to Offer Gorbachev Visions of Peace : Culture: Paintings from the Bay Area picture swirls of color and dolphins kissing over the Earth.

June 03, 1990|JIM HERRON ZAMORA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Two Bay Area artists who will present their works to Mikhail S. Gorbachev at Stanford University on Monday have wanted to meet the Soviet president for years, but neither dreamed they would get the opportunity only a few miles from home.

"I wanted personally to shake Gorbachev's hand. . . . I figured I would have to go to Moscow in order to do it," said Sausalito painter George Sumner, whose oil work "The Peacemakers" will be given to the Soviet leader.

"It's an honor and a privilege to give him this," said Cathy Schuman of Hillsborough, whose abstract painting "Creation of Peace"--an enamel on wood with swirls of black, orange and blue--will also be presented to Gorbachev. Schuman said she had dreamed of visiting the Soviet Union one day to try to give her painting to Gorbachev. "I never thought it would turn out like this."

The two artists are scheduled to present their works to Gorbachev during a short ceremony Monday after he tours the Stanford University Art Museum.

Both artists are well-known in the Bay Area--not only for their art but also for their political activism.

Many of Sumner's paintings have been turned into posters promoting environmental groups and causes, including "The Peacemakers," which was the official Earth Day poster in San Francisco this year. Schuman, who is active in Democratic politics, has painted some prominent Democratic figures, including presidential candidates Jesse Jackson, Walter F. Mondale and Gary Hart.

Sumner said "The Peacemakers," which has two dolphins kissing above the planet Earth, was inspired by Gorbachev's 1987 visit to the United States, which the artist says marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. In a string of letters over the past several years, the 49-year-old Sumner had been lobbying Soviet officials for a chance to personally present his painting to Gorbachev.

"During our generation, I think he has more impact than any other single person," Sumner said. "I don't want it to sound too gooey, but I felt he won the hearts of Americans. I just want to thank him. . . . That's exactly why I painted it--I wanted to enhance my chances of meeting him."

Sumner, who uses recycled baby diapers instead of brushes, mainly paints whales set against backgrounds of bright bluish swirling mists. He has also recently begun to incorporate dolphins into his work.

Sumner's painting of the Golden Gate Bridge became the official poster of the bridge's 50th anniversary celebration in 1987. And "Sweet Liberty," his painting of the Statue of Liberty, was chosen for permanent display at the monument.

Schuman, 48, is mainly known for her portraits of well-known Bay Area corporate and political leaders. Her paintings of the three Democratic presidential candidates were displayed at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

A Stanford alumna, Schuman worked for many years designing women's clothing. But she had always wanted to be an artist, and in the early 1970s she began painting well-known Bay Area figures, such as clothier Cyril Magnin and Ben Swig, owner of the Fairmont Hotel.

Although successful, she said she eventually tired of portraits. In 1986, Schuman began experimenting on more abstract projects, developing a technique that is anything but traditional.

Instead of using brushes, Schuman drops globs of enamel paint on a wooden panel, then moves the panel around until the paint settles. She sets the panel in the sun for several hours to change the texture, then adds more paint and color and repeats the process until the work has the "right texture."

"My art is very tactile. It's mandatory to touch it. It needs to be touched," she said, leading a tour of her studio.

After spending several years experimenting with the new technique, Schuman finally created "a breakthrough" painting in 1989. Inspired by political changes in Eastern Europe, she dedicated her painting to Gorbachev and christened it "Creation of Peace."

"He is dealing with breakthroughs on a global scale, while this painting represents a personal breakthrough for me," Schuman said.

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