By Larry Clinton
Sausalito Historical Society
In the pantheon of legendary Sausalito artists, Serge Trubach holds a prominent position.
In his June 1979 obituary, this paper reported: “When Serge Trubach came to Sausalito in 1952, he brought with him a string of credentials attesting to his artistic ability.”
A native of the Ukraine, young Serge migrated to New York with his family before WWI and began his artistic career by drawing on sidewalks when he was eight years old. At age nineteen he won a Pulitzer Award and set sail for Europe to study.
While there he extensively toured Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels. When he returned home, American art critics claimed he had become too avant-garde. During those lean years, Serge struggled, supported by art projects for the depression-era Works Progress Administration.
In 1947 he found a degree of security on the teaching staff of the New England School of Art in Boston where he remained for five years.
As Serge’s daughter Gabrielle recalls, “In 1952, Serge and my mother, fellow artist Leonora Cetone, sold their remaining artwork and relocated to the Bay Area, specifically, Sausalito. I presume this was because they were interested in becoming part of ‘beatnik’ artists milieu that existed there.”
The godfather of that milieu, Jean Varda, found them a place in Sausalito, a flat at 631 Bridgeway that Serge lived and worked in for the rest of his life. He also became friendly with Sausalito bohemians such as Enid Foster, Val Bleeker, Maggie Hazell, Walter Kuhlman and others.
Serge also won his first award on the West Coast at the Art Festival of San Francisco in 1952. Then he spent the next five years teaching full-time for the San Francisco Art League. His work was sold in a number of local galleries, and he had exhibitions at the Sausalito Art Festival, the San Francisco Arts Festival, the Marin Art and Garden Show; the de Young Museum, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Oakland Museum, and the Golden Gate Exposition.
Prominent Bay Area collectors included Joseph Eichler, Herb Caen, Mortimer Fleishhacker and Mr. and Mrs. Peter Haas of the Levi Strauss family.
“He described himself primarily as a ‘non-objective’ painter,” says Gabrielle. “He was also interested in mysticism and symbolism. He was greatly influenced by the artists Andre L’Hote, Piet Mondrian, George Braque, Vassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.” Yet his creativity was quite eclectic, and he painted in a wide variety of artistic styles, media, and formats, including modern art, landscapes, still life subjects, commissioned portraits, life drawings, and cartoon caricatures; oil, charcoal, pencil paintings and drawings. He even created wood sculptures made with found objects.
Serge belonged to Artist’s Equity of Northern California; he was a charter member of American Abstract Artists; a board member of the Sausalito Art Festival; and a juror for the California State Fair.
However, by the end of the 1950s, Serge had become disillusioned with what he saw as lack of community support for local artists.
“People in Sausalito don’t buy any art,” he said in a 1978 oral history for the Historical Society. He added, “We never had the backing of the public in Sausalito. The artists did it all themselves.”
He felt that Sausalito had deserted its legendary art colony in favor of tourism and other commercial pursuits.
“I was walking down the street one day,” he recalled, “and came across a group of people who asked me ‘where is the art colony?’ I replied, ‘You’re looking right at it’.”
In 1960, Serge ran for city council — the first of 11 such attempts, all unsuccessful. A 1972 profile in this newspaper summed up his political agenda: “As he sees it, there should be children’s festivals, holiday celebrations, permanent outdoor sculpture shows, exhibits, renewal of the defunct Sausalito live theatre, and lots more going on here. He wants to see the people of Sausalito demand and give more commitment to their community. To feel family vitality in their environment, and not become a retirement community or a place for swingers.”
I wonder what he’d think of Sausalito today.
Gabrielle Trubach, now living in Sebastapol, would like to connect with people interested in her father’s art. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.