The Bay Area Figurative Movement (also known as the Bay Area Figurative School, Bay Area Figurative Art, Bay Area Figuration, and similar variations) was a mid-20th Century art movement made up of a group of artists in the San Francisco Bay Area who abandoned working in the prevailing style of Abstract Expressionism in favor of a return to figuration in painting during the 1950s and onward into the 1960s. Spanning two decades, this art movement is often broken down into three groups, or generations: the First Generation, the Bridge Generation, and the Second Generation.
Many of the "First Generation" artists in this movement were avid fans of Abstract Expressionism, and worked in that manner, until several of them abandoned non-objective painting in favor of working with the figure. Among these First Generation Bay Area Figurative School artists were: David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Rex Ashlock, Elmer Bischoff, Glenn Wessels, Wayne Thiebaud, Raimonds Staprans, and James Weeks.
The "Bridge Generation" included the artists: Henrietta Berk, Nathan Oliveira, Theophilus Brown, Paul Wonner, Roland Petersen, John Hultberg, and Frank Lobdell. 
Many "Second Generation" artists of this movement studied under the First Generation artists, or were late starters. Among these Second Generation artists were: Bruce McGaw, Henry Villierme, Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, and Robert Qualters.
Many Bay Area schools and institutions were important to the development and refinement of this art movement, including the San Francisco Art Institute, California College of Arts and Crafts, and the University of California, Berkeley.
David Park (1911-1960) was arguably the most important painter of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Park was an Abstract Expressionist painter, based in San Francisco, and one of the first to move towards the figurative style of painting. In the spring of 1951, Park won a prize for a figurative canvas that he submitted to a competitive exhibition. Park's turn to figurative style baffled some of his colleagues, as at the time, abstract painting was the only way to go for progressive artists. His courageous effort to move away from abstract paintings to figure prompted a rise in figurative art which would go on to be one of the most important postwar developments on the West Coast.
Rather than going through a slow transformation from abstract paintings to figures, it is believed that Park's abstractions disappeared instantly. An interview with Park's aunt suggested that Park drove his abstract paintings to a dump and released or ritually destroyed them. His colleagues did not even know about this transformation until the following year. 
In 2004, Hackett Freedman Gallery in San Francisco held an exhibition of 35 of David Park's works from 1953 to 1960. These were the works that marked the final years of his life and the exhibition was held to celebrate his life as well as his return to figure painting in 1950, which was instrumental in starting the Movement. Some of the earlier works in the exhibition suggest that Park responded to the art of Max Beckmann and his influence is particularly visible in "The Band" (1955). Over the years, Park's palette turned towards an ebullient chromaticism, but his carving approach to paint handling could be seen in his work throughout until finally he decided to give up oils in 1959.
Some of David Park's important works are "Mother in Law" (1954-1955)," Violin and Cello" (1939), "Torso" (1959), "Figure in Chair" (1960), etc. 
Elmer Bischoff (1916-1991), in his late thirties and forties, had an extensive phase of what he called "Picassoesque mouthings".  After returning from war in 1945, he felt impelled to challenge all the assumptions that he held about art as well as life. When asked about this in an interview, he said, “Until then art had been an external acquisition; [but now it] became more of a quest.” It was around this time that he was hired as a short-term replacement at the school of fine arts.
Just like his abstract work, Bischoff achieved great success with his early figurative works. Bischoff entered his painting "Figure and Red Wall" in the Fifth Annual Oil and Sculpture Exhibition at the Richmond Art Center and won the $200 first prize for it.  This feat earned him a solo show at the Paul Kantor Gallery in Los Angeles. However, it was a one-person show of paintings and drawings in January 1956 at the California School of Fine Arts gallery that Bischoff believed had the biggest impact on his future.
Some of Bischoff's important works are Figure at window with Boat (1964), Playground (1954), The River (1953), 
Out of all the First Generation artists, it was Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) who took the biggest risk by turning to figuration in 1955. Diebenkorn was nationally recognized for his abstract work. James Johnson Sweeney's exhibition "Younger American Painters",  resulted in his work was extensively shown by dealers in Los Angeles and Chicago. Along with his national reputation for his abstract work, Diebenkorn was also a beloved abstractionist among the locals in Sausalito.
After that he focused on figurative art but it was not until 1956 that he attempted complex figurative paintings. His earliest figurative works seemed to loosely be based on self-portraits. He returned to abstraction in the mid-1960s. 
Some of Richard Diebenkorn's important works are Cityscape 1 (1963), Interior with Doorway (1962), etc. 
Theophilus Brown (1919-2012) and Paul John Wonner (1920-2008) both felt strongly influenced by the more established artists' work. In 1955, both Brown and Wonner rented studio spaces within the same building which was also the building where Diebenkorn worked. Diebenkorn, Bischoff and Park joined Brown and Wonner to hold life-drawing sessions. They were occasionally joined by James Weeks and Nathan Oliviera.
Wonner's figurative works were displayed in an exhibition held at the California School of Fine Arts gallery late in 1956. From the very beginning Wonner was committed to conventions of representation, and identified line as a firm descriptive boundary and edge. His 1956 works have figures cut horizontally which show more aggression than his previous works such as Glider.
Some of Brown's important works are Male Nude Seated (1960), Sun and Moon (1960), etc. while Wonner's important works are Side of the house, Malibu (1965), Mountain Near Tucson (1963), etc. 
In the 1960s, Roland Petersen embarked on his highly acclaimed Picnic series. With their saturated colors, thick layered pigment, and geometric compositions. An active figure in the Bay Area art scene for over forty years, Petersen has taught generations of artists not only painting but also printmaking and photography. He lives in the Bay Area and continues to paint actively. Petersen's work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the country, and is represented in major museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010) had a youthful interest in music which slowly faded away as he grew older. On his trip to M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, he decided to become a portrait painter. He later went on to serve in the army where he managed to keep up with his art scene. He did not consider himself avant-garde or part of a specific movement. 
Oliveira's early figurative works tend to have more detail and color which can be seen in his Seated Man with Dog. His works completed in the San Leandro studio in 1959, in his own words, "became the very foundation of [his] whole identity as a painter in [his] country."
Some of Nathan's important works are Seated Man with Dog (1957), Man Walking (1958), Adolescent by the Bed (1959), etc.
Henrietta Berk (1919–1990) painted mostly in oil. Her work was noted for its strong colors and shapes. Berk developed her own unique approach to art with daring use of color and unique interpretation of shape and light. Her work is remarkable considering the challenging times for female artists in the 1960s and the glass ceiling she fought so hard to break.  Berk attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland from 1955 to 1959,   where she studied with Richard Diebenkorn and Harry Krell.  Some of Berk's most noted works are Me or Facade (1960), Picnic (1961), Golden Gate (1961), Three Figures (1962), Racing (1964), Leaning Figure (1967) Lagoon Valley Road (1968).
A retrospective exhibit of her work opened at The Hilbert Museum at Chapman University June 13, 2020 in conjunction with a book on the artist, "In Living Color, The Art & Life of Henrietta Berk" edited by Cindy Johnson and published by Cool Titles.
Bruce McGaw was born in 1935 and was the only artist from the second generation to be included in the 1957 Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting exhibition.[ citation needed ] He studied at California College of Arts and Crafts and took one of the first classes taught by Diebenkorn in 1955. McGaw had a close relationship with Diebenkorn,  who even met with McGaw's parents to show them his support for their son's works. McGaw also studied with Leon Goldin, where he worked with abstraction.[ citation needed ]
Figuration was not a furtive process for McGaw. Like other second-generation artists, he was not confined to any particular style and moved from one style to the other. One of McGaw's first mature figurative paintings clearly showed influences from Diebenkorn but McGaw also showed a lot of new features of his own. He liked working on a very small scale and broke the body into standard torso views or odd, synecdochal parts.[ citation needed ]
Some of McGaw's important works are "Abstraction" (1955), "Figure" (1957), "Patt's Feet" (1957), etc.
Joan Brown created colorful, expansive paintings depicting her life and experiences in San Francisco, where she lived and worked in for nearly all her life.  Her time as a figurative artist was intense and productive and provided some of the most important works of the Movement.  Brown earned a BFA and MFA from the California School of Fine Arts (which became the San Francisco Art Institute). It was there that she met a key mentor, artist Elmer Bischoff, and began gaining recognition for her paintings. In 1960, she was the youngest artist exhibited as part of Young America 1960 (Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Six) at the Whitney Museum of American Art. 
Some of Joan Brown's important works are Woman and Dog in Room with Chinese Rug (1975), Noel at the Table with a Large Bowl of Fruit (1963), etc. 
Manuel Neri was a sculptor. Neri explored abstraction during the early stages of his career, like all the younger Bay Area Figurative artists.[ citation needed ] It was only after he left school in 1959 that he took up figuration. It allowed him to synthesize his interests in color and form and to play with the ambiguities of content. It is the non-specificity of his figures and their abstract qualities that make his sculptures part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and not just any contemporary figurative sculpture in America.
Neri, only two years younger than Nathan Oliveira, had a similar childhood and like Oliveira had no interest in art as a kid. The only reason Neri took a course in ceramics in school was to lighten his load. His ceramics teacher was Roy Walker who encouraged him to pursue art further by taking advanced classes. Neri soon dropped his engineering classes and in 1951 started taking courses at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he officially enrolled in 1952.
Some of Neri's important works are Untitled Standing Figure (1956-1957), College Painting No. 1 (1958-59), etc. 
San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) was a private college of contemporary art in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1871, SFAI was one of the oldest art schools in the United States and the oldest west of the Mississippi River. Approximately 220 undergraduates and 112 graduate students were enrolled in 2021. The institution was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and was a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). The school closed permanently in July 2022.
Richard Diebenkorn was an American painter and printmaker. His early work is associated with abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1960s he began his extensive series of geometric, lyrical abstract paintings. Known as the Ocean Park paintings, these paintings were instrumental to his achievement of worldwide acclaim.
David Park was an American painter and a pioneer of the Bay Area Figurative Movement in painting during the 1950s.
Elmer Nelson Bischoff was a visual artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bischoff, along with Richard Diebenkorn and David Park, was part of the post-World War II generation of artists who started as abstract painters and found their way back to figurative art.
Joan Brown was an American figurative painter who lived and worked in Northern California. She was a member of the "second generation" of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
Manuel John Neri Jr. was an American sculptor who is recognized for his life-size figurative sculptures in plaster, bronze, and marble. In Neri's work with the figure, he conveys an emotional inner state that is revealed through body language and gesture. Since 1965 his studio was in Benicia, California; in 1981 he purchased a studio in Carrara, Italy, for working in marble. Over four decades, beginning in the early 1970s, Neri worked primarily with the same model, Mary Julia Klimenko, creating drawings and sculptures that merge contemporary concerns with Modernist sculptural forms.
Henry Pierre Villierme was an American Californian painter associated with abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Villierme was considered one of the "Second Generation" members of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Villierme first rose to prominence with a series of successful exhibitions in the late 1950s. From the 1960s to the 1980s Villierme continued to paint and sculpt in his studio, and in the late 1980s returned to public exhibitions.
William Theophilus Brown was an American artist. He became prominent as a member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
American Figurative Expressionism is a 20th-century visual art style or movement that first took hold in Boston, and later spread throughout the United States. Critics dating back to the origins of Expressionism have often found it hard to define. One description, however, classifies it as a Humanist philosophy, since it's human-centered and rationalist. Its formal approach to the handling of paint and space is often considered a defining feature, too, as is its radical, rather than reactionary, commitment to the figure.
Edward Corbett was an American Abstract Expressionist artist.
Frank Lobdell was an American painter, often associated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement and Bay Area Abstract Expressionism.
Roland Conrad Petersen is a Danish-born American painter, printmaker, and professor. His career spans over 50 years, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and is perhaps best-known for his "Picnic series" beginning in 1959 to today. He is part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
Dennis Hare is a Californian artist, known mainly for his figurative work, and a former beach volleyball player and athlete. Hare's career spans 35 years. Today he is both a figurative and abstract assemblage artist with over 55 solo shows. He is also a member of the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame. Hare wrote the first book on the subject of beach volleyball, The Art of Beach Volleyball.
Hassel Smith was an American painter.
Fred Thomas Martin was an American artist, writer and arts administrator and educator who was active in the San Francisco Bay Area art scene since the late 1940s. He was a driving force of the Bay Area art scene from the mid 1950s until his retirement from the San Francisco Art Institute. In addition to his artistic practice, Martin was widely known for his work as a longtime administrator and Professor Emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI).
Eva Joseph Goldsheid was a German-born American artist and educator, known as painter, and printmaker.
June Felter, was an American painter and illustrator from the Bay Area. Her paintings are in museum collections including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Oakland Museum of California, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, National Gallery of Art, and the Berkeley Art Museum.
Adelie Landis Bischoff was an American artist, and wife of artist Elmer Bischoff.
Bruce McGaw is a Bay Area Figurative Movement artist and professor emeritus of the San Francisco Art Institute. He was born in Berkeley, California in 1935 and studied at the California College of the Arts with Richard Diebenkorn and others in the 1950's.
Susan Landauer (1958–2020) was an American art historian, author, and curator of modern and contemporary art based in California. She worked for three decades, both independently and as chief curator of the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) and co-founder of the San Francisco Center for the Book. Landauer was known for championing movements and idioms of California art, overlooked artists of the past, women artists, and artists of color. She organized exhibitions that gained national attention; among the best known are: "The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism", "Visual Politics: The Art of Engagement", and retrospectives of Elmer Bischoff, Roy De Forest, and Franklin Williams. Her work was recognized with awards and grants from the International Association of Art Critics, National Endowment for the Arts and Henry Luce Foundation, among others. Critics, including Roberta Smith and Christopher Knight, praised her scholarship on San Francisco Abstract Expressionism, De Forest, Richard Diebenkorn, and Bernice Bing, among others, as pioneering. In 2021, Art in America editor and curator Michael Duncan said that "no other scholar has contributed as much to the study of California art." Landauer died of lung cancer at age 62 in Oakland on December 19, 2020.