“Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That”

Earlier this week I stopped by for a studio visit with Mitchell Confer, who was is the midst of preparing for this weekend’s Hunters Point Spring Open Studios.  Since he was working on one the pieces for a new series that he will be showing, I thought that it would be a good time to talk about “process”, and also to talk about some of the debates that swirl around the use of digital technology in art.

 confer-cityscapeMitchell attended college in Fullerton where he received a degree in Printing.  He then went on to formally study art at the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena.  For the past 20 years, he has worked as a commercial illustrator, photographer, artist and teacher.  The marriage of art and technology in his work is no accident.  It was almost pre-destined.  His mother was an artist.  His father was an engineer.  He is the resolution of his left and right brain mixed heritage. 

 Mitchell approaches his work, as he puts it, “as a long running experiment, of sorts”.  We discussed some of the controversy surrounding the use of technology in art.  As he points out, most of the artists who utilize digitalconfer-wall-walking technology are not very transparent about it.  They seem to feel a little bit guilty that it was not all created with traditional drawing and painting techniques.  He is, on the other hand, unapologetic.  He fully embraces digital technology, which he combines much of the time with drawing, painting and photography.  For him, it is about “solving the problem”.  He talks about “happy accidents” – starting with an idea, exploring that idea, but also allowing “process” to take him in unexpected directions.  Because he has both an art and a technical background, he is constantly forging new ground in what is possible, particularly with his innovative printing techniques.  Watching him print multiple layers on a wood veneer is a really eye-opening experience.

 In the end, however, it is about artistic vision.  Picasso (or perhaps it was Matisse) said of Paul Cezanne that “he is the father of us all”.  Certainly there is a case to be made that much of modern art is taking the vocabulary thconfer-abstractat Cezanne gave us and finding new ways to use that vocabulary.  Cezanne intensely studied his subjects, more often than not landscapes.  He deconstructed the subjects and then reassembled them into planes of color.  You cannot help but to see that continuing conversation in Confer’s work.  He has a real sense of design, combined with a truly deft touch with an unconstrained color palette.  And, with almost missionary zeal, he is embracing modern technology and incorporating that into the conversation, as well. 

Mitchell Confer’s studio is at the Hunters Point Shipyard.  Don’t miss Spring Open Studios at the Shipyard and at Islais Creek, this weekend.  And, if you go to the Shipyard, be sure to visit Studio 2114 in Building 101.

Art at the Base Canteen

For many visitors to the Hunters Point Shipyard, their open studios experience begins and ends in the main complex, Building 101.  There are, however, seven buildings housing artists at the converted shipyard.  And, one of the most impressive studio complexes of all is shared by brother/sister artists: Robin and Monica Denevan in Building 116.  Both are very accomplished artists and both have enjoyed professional success.  Robin produces luminescent landscapes that are quiet, mysterious and yet strangely inviting.  Monica’s transcendent images of the landscapes and people of Burma are like prayers for harmony in the world.


I was curious to learn how their current success was reached.  In speaking with both of them, the quote from the Roman philosopher, Seneca, came to mind:  “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Both Robin and Monica are professionally trained artists.  Robin, a painter, graduated from California College of Arts in Oakland.  Monica, a photographer, graduated from San Francisco State University.  Their artist careers intersected at San Francisco Open Studios about ten years ago when they began exhibiting together in the hallways of 101.  Both love to travel and they began to travel together.  It was those travels, particularly in Burma, that helped provide new directions for both of them in their work. 

rio-tuichi-g1For Robin, painting has always been a part of his life.   Like most artists, he worked in a variety of jobs after college that allowed him to continue to paint.  He attributes a lot of his current success to his participation in Open Studios.  That is where he had his first real success selling his work to the general public. That is where his work was discovered, leading to early representation at galleries in Palo Alto.   And, that is where he continues to show and sell his paintings even now.   He has focused on his encaustic landscapes for the past ten years, creating a highly identifiable, unmistakable style.  When opportunity knocked, he was ready.  His commitment to his craft was palpable.

Robin Denevan is represented by Addinton Gallery in Chicago where he will have a solo show opening on June 5th.  He is also represented by Julie Nestor Gallery in Park City, Utah where there will be a solo show opening on July 31st.




For Monica, the path to success has been a little bit different.  She also worked multiple jobs, jobs that allowed her to pursue her passion for photography.  However, even though she too credits Open Studios with a lot of her success – Open Studios success has been mostly in direct sales.  For gallery representation, chance has definitely played a part.  Certainly it was fortunate that one of her clients, who saw her work in Black & White magazine, championed that work to a gallery owner in Los Angeles.  And, it was fortunate that Henry Rasmussen (founder of B&W Magazine) was ill when he was supposed to critique her work – which led to a follow-up critique at his home – which led to a profile in B&W magazine.   And, it was fortunate that a colleague showing with her in a group show in Cambodia forwarded a postcard of her work to his gallery in Hong Kong, leading to representation there.  But in the final analysis, quinn-and-ashleydiscovery, leading to gallery representation came from taking every opportunity to exhibit in group shows; participate in artistic critiques, and join professional organizations.

Monica Denevan is represented in San Francisco by Scott Nichols Gallery.  She is represented in Hong Kong by Tao Evolution.  And, she is represented in London by Capital Culture.

Be sure to visit the Denevan studios at Hunter’s Point for Spring Open Studios.  Their Preview Party will be on Friday, May 1st, from 6-9.  Open Studios is on May 2nd & 3rd, from 11-6.  Monica will be showing a new, exciting series of ballet dancers, in addition to her signature Burma photographs.  Robin will be showing some of his painting on metal for the first time, in addition to his encaustic works.

The Prince of Artaud

Perhaps as much as any of the artists at Project Artaud, Pico Sanchez embodies the spirit of the storied San Francisco artists’ commune.  The original live-work artist space in San Francisco has been around since the early 70’s.  When you enter the building from Alabama Street and walk past pico-sanchez-mission-district-murals-san-francisco-2007-06-08-121the Building Manager’s office (appropriately enough, that would be Pico, who is also the ten-time President of Artaud), your senses are immediately assaulted by a joyous cacophony of color and shape.  The courtyard is Pico’s playground.  Pico has been a fixture here for twenty-five years; moving here from Wisconsin and living in the parking lot for three years while waiting for a studio to open. It was and is the place where he was always meant to be.

I asked Pico to describe his art.  He said it was sophisticated and naïve.  It is his goal to be as naïve as possible, but it is a constant battle because of his years of training as a professional artist, or as he put it “contamination”.  pico-sanchez-mission-district-murals-san-francisco-2007-06-08-54From as far back as he can remember, Pico has always been mesmerized by the colors, shapes and shadows surrounding him.  He grew up in Mexico City and many from his mother’s side of the family were artists in one way or another.  There were constant gatherings filled with music and art.  There were also a few oil paintings hanging on the wall in his house that had been purchased in Europe.  As Pico described them, it was almost as if he was looking at them at that moment:  sunset in the coliseum in Rome; a caravan of camels in the desert – these were the original images that captured his imagination. 

As a young man, he went on to study art formally at the Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City.  He was also a “Muralista Mexicano”, an experience that we are all beneficiaries of when we walk in the Mission around 19th Street, where many of the buildings have been painted by him.  For years, Pico has been talking the shop owners of “his part of the Mission” into commissioning him to beautify their buildings.  The photos in this article are a sample of those murals. pico-sanchez-mission-district-murals-san-francisco-2007-06-08-126

 After graduating the Academy of Fine Art, Pico attended the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.  As he noted, he moved from the tropics to the tundra.  He studied art there and stayed for thirteen years, finally moving to San Francisco in 1984.  Interestingly, for one of the January internships, Pico returned to Mexico on a field trip to the Yucatan.  It was his first real encounter with Mayan art.  He was the only Spanish-speaking member of the group and this lead to him guiding that tour for eleven years, an experience that has greatly informed his art.  He loves the way objects are simplified and abstracted in Mayan art; the way that their meaning morphs depending on context.  His folk art is filled with ritual and illusion.  If you take the time to really look, there is a world to be discovered. 

pico-sanchez-mission-district-murals-san-francisco-2007-06-08-101Project Artaud is open Saturday & Sunday, 4/25-26, as part of the Mission Spring Studio Stroll.  Come and celebrate Spring Open Studios.  And, be sure to pause in the courtyard among Pico’s creations- it was Pico’s birthday on the 24th.  Feliz cumpleaños!

Alternatives in Alternative Spaces

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.

ivyjacobsen3 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 Gallery 

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.


salma3Much 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.



 31 Rausch

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.

pazWhat 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.

vescitylwebThis 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.

Judy North at Electric Works

Beast of Burden

The Judy North solo exhibition, “Why Not Say It?” at Electric Works closes on this Saturday, April 18th.  It is a wonderful show.  If you have the opportunity to go before it closes, I encourage everyone to do so.




It is, in many ways, really a retrospective for this remarkable Bay Area artist and educator.  It covers a broad range of her work from 1982 to the present.  Stylistically, the work is in the Romantic tradition that reaches back through the Symbolists, to the French Romanticist, Eugene Delacroix and beyond.  There is a bold expressionist use of color and line that echoes those works.  Like those painters, much of Ms. North’s work has a distinctly narrative quality to it.  But the paintings can also be very current, with titles like “Desert Storm” and “Coercive Tactics”; as well as spiritual with titles like “I Give You A Golden Thread” and “It Furthers One to Cross the Great Waters”.   


I was fortunate to drop into Heavens Dog last night, the new venue by famed San Francisco restaurateur, Charles Phan, for a mixer organized by the gallerists, Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang.  It was a great opportunity to meet and speak with Ms. North.  It was also a great opportunity to see another side of her work.  Charles Phan has chosen to adorn his restaurant with some of Ms. North’s animal portraits for the indeterminate future.  Appropriately enough, most of the portraits are of dogs.  However, the work that most resonated with me was a trilogy of cows hanging over the bar.  Ms. North resides in rural Marin.  Apparently, bull thistle is a problem in the grazing pastures. Ranchers that she knows in Nicasio, not wanting to harm the environment with toxic weed killers, decided to train their cattle to eat the thistle.  They introduced the cattle to young thistle with molasses so that the cattle acquired a taste for the weed.  Then, they sprayed the thistle in the fields with molasses and the thistle problem was addressed.  It is so successful that the new generations of cattle no longer require the molasses.  Whimsically, the calf pictured in one of the paintings is named “Thistler” and the painting of the cow next to it is titled “Thistler’s Mother”. 


Whister's Mother

Heavens Dog is a short stroll from Electric Works, around the corner on Mission Street.

San Francisco Spring Open Studios

Spring is in the air and it is time for all of San Francisco to support your local artists.  Starting on the weekend of April 24th and continuing over three weekends, 100’s of artists will be opening their studios.  This is truly a grassroots event and it is one of the most fun art events every year.  I will be there every weekend.  Come and join me.

Links to the Spring Open Studios websites with maps, directions and complete listings of all of the artists who are participating are here on the SF Spring Open Studios page.

Jennybird’s Treacherous Gardens



Jennybird Alcantara’s art is a side trip into the back alleys of fairytale kingdoms.  You do not find her creations on a guided tour. They do not inhabit the Main Streets of fairytales, fables and mythology.  If you want to go where she goes, then you need to know a local.




The surrealistic influence on her art is apparent.  There is also a definite Juxtapoz sensibility to the work.  That, however, is just vocabulary.  Her work is uniquely her own and transcends that.  She fashions stories, stories that draw you in and make you want to know more. She uses a vocabulary of wide-eyed chimera – often dismembered and reassembled.  It is a personal doll hospital where a fully realized vision of creation, extinction and re-creation are all present.


The current show at Varnish Gallery runs through May 9th.  I recommend the Easton Zinfandel to accompany your visit:  “candied red fruit, white pepper and cloves – a nervy Zin” to compliment some nervy art.


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Time Lapse at Hang Annex

The current group show at Hang Art Annex features the works of Bay Area artists:   Lea Feinstein, Anthony May & Carolyn Meyer.  It is, however, in most respects primarily a showcase for the recent work of San Francisco-based artist, Phillip Hua.  The majority of the work in the show is his various images of trees, digitally painted; printed onto newspapers; painted again; then wrapped in packing tape and assembled together.  It is emphemeral work, designed to yellow and decompose over time.  It serves, as Mr. Hua states on his website, as “an extended metaphor for our relationship with nature”.  Art for thought.

Hang Art Gallery Opening


The Banner


I will be switching out the banner on this site with photos from the most recent SF artist profile. 

The current banner is from Tanya Wilkinson’s “Untitled” series.





The banner below from July 4 – July 8 is from Zannah Noe’s “Crows”.





The banner below from July 3- August 3 is from Stephen C. Wagner’s”Personification of the Modern Era” series. 





The banner below from June 24- July 2 is from Silvia Poloto’s “Release”.




 The banner below from June 4- June 23 is from Cynthia Tom’s “Bamboo Lady”.




 The banner below from May 15-June 3 is from Elisabeth Sunday’s Taureg Portfolios.


 The banner below from April 30-May 14 was from a visit to Mitchell Confer’s Hunters Point studio.


The banner below from April 23-29, is part of a mural in San Francisco’s Mission District, painted by Pico Sanchez.


The banner below from April 20-23, was from the opening for Salma Arastu at Kalart Gallery, which is on-going through the end of May.


 The banner below, from April 4-19, was from the opening for Jennybird Alcantara’s Solo Show, Treacherous Gardens at the Varnish Gallery.


The  banner below, for April 3,  was from a current Group Show, Time Lapse at the Hang Art Annex, featuring SF artist, Phillip Hua.


The  banner below, for April 1&2,was from a recent Solo Show for San Francisco artist, Aubrey Rhodes,  that I attended at SPACE Gallery on Polk Street.

Aubrey Rhodes Show at SPACE