One of the primary reasons that I started SF Art News is a feeling that the mainstream San Francisco art business world largely overlooks outstanding local artists. There is simply not a lot of risk-taking (ground-breaking shows featuring local talent) at the majority of the downtown galleries.
San Francisco does have some cutting-edge galleries: White Walls, Fecal Face, Varnish and 111 Minna to name just a few. But, even these galleries all have a somewhat similar sensibility. There are literally hundreds of very talented San Francisco-Bay Area artists, who do not fit either the traditional or the current avant-garde mold; and they get little opportunity to exhibit in a gallery setting. Now, however, with the internet and social networking venues like Facebook, My Space and Twitter, it is possible to sidestep traditional galleries altogether and put together well-attended exhibitions in alternative venues. In the past two weeks, I have attended openings that I would like to highlight, with four different alternative approaches.
Secession Art & Design
Secession is a more recent addition to the crop of alternative venues that has been emerging. Eden Stein started producing trunk shows in a small architecture office in the Outer Mission. When the architecture firm re-located, they asked if Ms. Stein would like to take over the space. After gathering an eclectic group of artists and designers, the answer was yes. The vision for this “gallery, boutique, workshop” is loosely organized around recurring themes of a design sensibility that is informed by architectural design; along with the use of recycled and vintage materials – reassembled in interesting ways.
This is not a traditional gallery setting. It feels more like an artist co-op, with jewelry and clothing designers working side-by-side in small design work stations with studio artists. I attended the opening for the current group show that features Bay Area artists: Ivy Jacobsen and Peter Andrea. It was the work of Ms. Jacobsen that had me trekking to the Outer Mission.
I first encountered Ivy Jacobsen’s art at San Francisco Fall Open Studios several years ago, and I have been a fan ever since. There is a decorative quality to much of her art that she exhibits, which tracks back directly to the Japanese decorative painters of the 17th century, most famously Korin. It was his painting and lacquer-ware that inspired the woodblock artists of the later-Edo period, the decorative arts movement in Vienna and subsequently the global Art Deco movement. Like Korin, Ms. Jacobsen’s painting is deeply rooted in nature. Her palette is restricted; her designs are simplified, almost abstract; and yet a complete naturalism is achieved. Technically, the process she utilizes to obtain an almost lacquer-like quality to her work is very complex. She describes it on her website:
I use oil paint, bronzing powder, earth pigments, acrylic paint, resin, and other mixed media on canvas and birch panel in creating my paintings. I start each painting with a solid gold background using bronzing powder. The rich gold has a reflective quality, which allows an iridescence to shine thru the foreground layers. Once I have the luminous bronze under-painting I apply layers of thin glazes, oil paint, and sometimes two-part epoxy resin. By painting the trees and plant forms in between the layers of glazes the forms begin to occupy various spaces in the foreground and background. The thin glazes expand the color and the forms fade into silhouette.
The show at Secession Art & Design runs through May 30th.
Kalart began its existence as a traditional gallery in the late 90’s. It was founded by San Francisco architect, Arvind Iyer. With the dot.com bust in 2001, Mr. Iyer decided to focus his efforts on his core architectural business. He rented out the space to another gallery. With the recent re-location of that gallery, Kalart Gallery has, in the best Indian tradition, been resurrected. Currently it is not truly a commercial gallery. Rather it is devoted to projects and artists that appeal to Mr. Iyer.
Salma Arastu, a Bay Area artist by way of Rajasthan, India, approached Mr. Iyer about an exhibition of her paintings to coincide with the launch of her new book, “The Lyrical Line”. The exhibition, which included her painting, her book launch, a lecture and Sufi music at the opening, was just the sort of project that Mr. Iyer embraces.
Much of Salma’s work is influenced by Indian folk art, Mogul miniatures and Arabic calligraphy. She has combined these traditional influences with many of the western techniques that she has embraced in over thirty years as a professional artist (see also site banner). The result is lyrical work that can often approach abstraction, where her deep spirituality is always present.
Really putting the “Alt” in Alternative Spaces, 31 Rausch is the home of San Francisco artist Chris McCaw. For the past fifteen years he has resided in SOMA. For the first ten of those years, his walls and hallways were decorated tastefully with a collection of black velvet paintings. Thankfully, four years ago the attraction of black velvet , or at least black velvet paintings, wore out. He bought a large supply of Black Velvet whiskey and threw a party. Everyone who attended had to take a painting home with them. It was cathartic, but it also left a lot of blank walls. One of his friends (and a Black Velvet party alum), Chris Koperski, asked if he could mount an exhibition using the now blank walls – and thus started “art in a hallway”, with the first exhibition in September 2005.
Since 2005, 31 Rausch has mounted twenty shows. The shows are unique. Artists who exhibit must price their work at no more than $200. The goal is to price work that fellow artists can afford. Also, the artists retain 100% of the sales proceeds. The “gallery” is underwritten by a modest grant from Southern Exposure and the Andy Warhol Foundation that supports alternative venues.
What brought me out was the current exhibition of Paz de la Calzada’s work. A native of Madrid, Paz studied fine arts in both Spain and Madrid. She came to the Bay Area as an artist-in-residence at Djerrasi in 2003. This was follwed by an artist-in-residency at Kala in Berkeley in 2004. I met her at San Francisco Open Studios a couple of years ago and one of her graphite paintings of woven hair proudly adorns my entryway. She best describes her work:
My three-dimensional and two-dimensional work compliment and complete each other. I create a variety of forms inspired by the complexity and playfulness of labyrinths. Knots, tangles, woven shapes and patterns of hair feature prominently in my work. I am interested in exploring the tension between order and chaos. I combine unexpected materials and colors to change the appearance of real objects. I often work with contradictory ideas, shaping natural forms from artificial materials. Sometimes, I apply the order of a formal plaid pattern to a chaotic form. In other projects I work with objects from daily life, like old shoes or beauty masks, and present them transformed with unnatural colors and in new context.
The current show at 31 Rausch features small, colorful prints of her hair knots. It is open by appointment.
Art in the Alley
The opening for the 9th year of Art in the Alley event was at the notable North Beach watering hole, Vesuvio, located next to the landmark bookstore, City Lights – beacon of the Beat generation. It is truly a neighborhood event, celebrating the creativity that has been the hallmark of North Beach since the 1950’s.
This long-running event is truly a grassroots effort. It is organized by North Beach artist, Elizabeth Ashcroft. Elizabeth is a multi-faceted artist, creating mixed-media collages and vibrant acrylic paintings. However, the works that perhaps best define her as an artist who resides at a certain place are her graphite pencil drawings. These drawings, created over the last twelve years, depict the unique architecture of San Francisco’s historical Italian neighborhood where she lives.
The preview for the group show, featuring more than 30 artists, continues from April 15-30 inside the Vesuvio. It culminates with a full afternoon of art and jazz in the cobblestoned Kerouac Alley. Mark your calendars for Sunday May 3rd from noon-6.
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