Reaching the Turning Point – The Art of Rebecca Fox

by Priscilla Otani

Rebecca FoxHow can one live as full-time artist? It’s a question many of us have, as we graduate from art school and seek opportunities that enable us to continue to create art. Many of us end up working full-time jobs and after a few years, it’s daunting to venture beyond the safety net of steady income and benefits.  It is true that most artists will not become spectacularly wealthy or famous. Luckily, many do find a way, through drive and determination, to have deeply fulfilling lives.

Rebecca Fox got hooked on welding after taking a class at San Francisco City College. She continued to take the same class over and over so that she could weld and have space to store her growing pile of metal.Rebecca Fox_#180 To further satisfy her craving for fire and metal, she worked as a teaching assistant at City College and as a welder in a metal fabrication shop. After several years at City College, Fox moved initially to Hunter’s Point Shipyard and then, two years ago, relocated to Islais Creek Studios.  Nowadays she is a successful entrepreneur with a chandelier cleaning business.  It is a self-owned business that allows ample time in her studio.    

Many of Fox’s sculptures create interesting negative and positive spaces through the use of open circular shapes bisecting other circles or lines.  Her recent pieces incorporate surface textures and scratches that, especially under lighting, add an interesting dimension. 

Rebecca Fox_#189Fox does not sketch out her designs. She begins intuitively by pulling out scrap metal from her large collection, then arranging them on the floor or holding them up together. Once she is satisfied with her composition, she welds her sculpture, taking pride in hiding the welds so the attachments are not obvious to the viewer. She enjoys creating pieces that give the illusion of metal floating in air.  Once the pieces are put together, Fox decides how they will be finished – whether surfaces will be left plain, marked with patterns or patinaed. .   

Fox has shown her works at SFMOMA Artists’ Gallery. Her work is in numerous public and private collections. She was a featured artist in the most recent ArtSpan Tour des Artistes fundraiser.  You can currently see a great example of Rebecca Fox’s work at Mission Creek Park in San Francisco until early September where her “Heart” is on display (part of the SF General Hospital Heros and rebeccafox_4Hearts fundraiser).  Her work is also featured in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden‘s Sculpture Gallery through November.  And, Rebecca will be participating in the San Francisco Fall Open Studios.  Her studio at Islais Creek Studios will be open the weekend of October 24-25th, with an Opening Reception on Friday, October 23rd from 6 – 9 pm.

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Five Year Plan

DimitriKourouniotisWhen I met with Dimitri Kourounitis recently, we discussed how his original transition to becoming a professional artist started with a “five-year plan”.  It soon became evident; however, that it was not really a “five-year plan”.  It was always the plan.  Dimitri Kourouniotis grew up in Greece and in England.  His father was an artist.  And, while he studied math and statistics, he always assumed that he, too, would eventually make his living as an artist.  Everywhere that he formally attended school; there were subtle reminders that art was really the road he wanted to take.  It seemed that there were always art classes being taught across the street or around the corner – in Greece and then in England.  He took evening classes and weekend classes.  From an early age, he had demonstrated an ability to draw; and, for the most part, he continued to concentrate on drawing in those studies.

Charcoal on PaperWhen Dimitri moved to the Bay Area in the mid-90’s, he went to work for a large technology firm.  Once again, the ubiquitous drawing classes popped up across the street.  Once again, Dimitri took those classes.  He got an actual art studio in 1998 and participated in his first Open Studios that year.  In 2001, he re-located his studio to Hunters Point, where he maintains a studio today.  With some early success, Dimitri decided to craft a business plan – a five-year plan to transition full-time to being an artist.  He took workshops with Cay Lang, who founded Taking the Leap, a business school for artists.  He realized that, if he was going to successfully transition from a mainstream 9-5 job to self-employment, working as an artist, he needed to understand the business of being an artist:  curating shows, applying to galleries, marketing his art.  It was not enough to simply make art.  If he wanted to survive as an artist, then he needed to know how to sell his art.

AbstractCanyonAbout this time, Dimitri was thrown a curve.  It was 2001 and Dot.com busted.  Caught in the wake of that bust, Dimitri lost his technology job.  That was when he decided to turn his five-year plan into a one-year plan instead.  He began marketing his work to galleries, eventually showing his paintings in over 20 different galleries nationally.  He joined the Artists Guild of San Francisco and began exhibiting his work most weekends.  He explored alternative venues, working with McKinley Art Solutions, and exhibiting his work in restaurants, office buildings and cafes.  For the last six years, he has wintered in Arizona at Celebrate Art, a ten-week long annual  premium art exhibit with over 100 open studios.  And, of course, he participates in the Hunters Point Open Studios every Spring and in San Francisco Open Studios every Fall.  It is a wonder that he finds the time to actually make art.  However, a visit to his studio reveals a prolific artist.

Shadow It is interesting to track the development of Dimitri’s work over the past ten years.  His early works were, not surprisingly, mostly charcoal drawings.  This was, doubtless, a natural outgrowth of his formal training.  He was heavily influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci in general, and Da Vinci’s drawings in particular.  When he was living and studying in London, he had the opportunity to see a series of drawings of horses that Da VInci made as studies for statues.  These works had a profound and lasting impact.ClipperSt

 When Dimitri transitioned to painting in the late 90’s, the additional influence of works such as Theodore Gericault’s “Charging Light Cavalryman” and Jean-Antoine Gros’ “Battle of Aboukir” came into play.  He acknowledges a fascination with the large historical paintings of the Napoleonic wars.  The influence of their color palette, their energy, not to mention their use of horses, is evident in his early abstract works; and, then again, in the abstracted horses that emerged from those works.  For the past couple of years, Dimitri has been focusing more on semi-abstract landscapes which feature a bold interplay of light and shadow.

 Most recently Dimitri has begun to revisit his roots.  He is integrating his early work in drawing into his oil paintings.  In landscapes that he is currently working on, he uses drawing to actually document the decision-making process that occurs when you make a painting.  First there is the under-drawing; then, he lays in the landscapes in bold, colorful, almost abstract brush strokes; and finally, he draws back in a portion of the under-drawing, in charcoal over-laid on the oil paints.  It is a way to “pull back the curtain” to some degree.  I very much look forward to seeing a number of these works in the upcoming San Francisco Open Studios in late October.TheHeights-DrawingElements

 You can see Dimitri Kourouniotis’ painting at his studio by appointment.  He also continues to show relatively frequently in the Artist Guild of San Francisco shows. His studio at Hunters Point will be open for San Francisco Open Studios on October 31st & November 1st, with a preview party on October 30th.  You can also visit his studio by appointment.  In addition, he will be a featured artist on ArtSpan’s Tour des Artistes, a fundraiser for the Art for City Youth program, which I will be co-hosting, on Sunday, August 16th, with Alan Bamberger.

Illusion of Choice – The Art of Tanya Wilkinson

tanya-2The most recent works by Tanya Wilkinson are a series of half life-sized paper dolls collaged over layers of fashion magazine layouts.  They are inspired, in part, by the semi-destroyed temporary walls that you often see surrounding construction sites.  The walls are plastered with tattered posters making vague promises, partially peeled away; revealing fragments of older posters with more vague promises. I was really taken with one of these new works in particular.  Tanya was struggling with a title for that work and she threw out a few possibilities.  The potential title that immediately resonated was “Illusion of Choice”.  It was a title that, for me, tied together many of the threads running throughout her art.

 Tanya’s career as an artist was nearly stillborn.  She began formally studying art in college.  Ambient (window) lightHowever, in one of her first classes in painting, the professor was quite dismissive of her efforts.  For him, the only work that was “worthy” was abstract expressionism.  He characterized her piece, which incorporated quilt collage elements, as “very feminine”.  This was not a compliment.  The tone was sexist and derisive; and it led to a ten year hiatus from seriously making art.  Tanya’s immediate reaction was to seek out the only department with a tenured female professor. That department was the Psychology Department.  Thus began her professional career as a practicing clinical psychologist.  She is also on the faculty of California Institute of Integral Studies where she teaches Clinical Psychology. It was a serendipitous detour for her artistic career.  Her professional work combining feminism and Jungian theory/practice has deeply informed her art. 

Tanya Wilkinson  When cotton was King

After the decade long, self-imposed exile from art, Tanya’s initial artistic explorations were more about texture and less about context.  She, by her own account, “obsessed” with papermaking.  She made paper from every conceivable fiber possibility.  Stacks of handmade paper accumulated everywhere.  When a certain critical mass was achieved, she started to work with the paper in collages, eventually expanding her experiments into sculptural castings.  This direction in art was not really an accident.  Tanya was born without depth perception.  And, it is only natural that her artistic work would involve a physical exploration of space. 

About ten years ago, Tanya took an intensive workshop with renowned book artist, Julie Chen at Mills College.  Slowly content had begun to infuse her work.  The results were typically “one offs” that she exhibited in a series of feminist shows.  There she met artist and curator, Tricia Grame.  This “force of nature” strongly encouraged Tanya to focus on “the political, autobiographical and narrative elements of the Feminist Art Movement” that sharply define her work today.  

Artist BookThe exploration of the nature of the choices that women make is a recurring exploration in Tanya Wilkinson’s work.  In recent years, she has specifically investigated the place that women occupy in society.  Which of the choices that women make are fundamental? Which are illusionary?  In her “Female Personae” series, the focus was on women’s clothing.  In many cultures, clothing is specifically used to subjugate women:  bound feet and burqas.  However, even here and now, in this most “modern” of societies, women love their clothes, but their clothes do not love them back.  High heels injure.  Corsets and underwire injure.  Skin tight pants and dresses injure.  These are the obvious physical injuries.  Layers of more subtle psychological injury are reflected in the collaged mixed-media layers from which Tanya fashions her garments.  

Pieces like ‘Strap/Yoke/Halter/Hook’, which sports a skirt decorated with the names of menacing-sounding fashions or ‘GoodGood Mornin' Little Schoolgirl Mornin’ Little School Girl’, a sweet little sundress fabricated from escort and massage parlor ads, use rather blatant strategies to show the seductiveness of a persona that injures.

Women invest massive resources of time, energy and money making choices about their physical appearance.  These decisions create the illusion of choice.  Deeply ingrained cultural patterns obscure the real choices surrounding this need to create a public personae; this need for some sort of idealized presentation of self.  As Tanya points out:

Female personae are pretty things made of sinister materials. They are a feminine disguise that slowly and surely confuses both the wearer and the beholder as to the nature of the person within. Yet, the seductiveness of Feminine disguise remains largely impervious to this insight. That is the conundrum that my work explores.

 Tanya Wilkinson maintains a studio at the Noonan Building in San Francisco.  Her work consists of Mixed Media Paintings and Artist Books.  She will be participating in Fall Open Studios during October.  You can also visit her studio by appointment.  In addition, she will be a featured artist on ArtSpan’s Tour des Artistes, a fundraiser for the Art for City Youth program, which I will be co-hosting, next Sunday, August 16th, with Alan Bamberger.  Tanya is also a published author.  She is currently writing a book, entitled Joy in the Making:  Artist’s Dreams and the Recovery of Delight in Art-Making, to be published by Council Oak Books later this year.

“Why Birds?” The Art of Zannah Noe

NOE_FRTSan Francisco Open Studios kicks off every year with a celebratory party previewing many of the works that will be shown over the month of October and into November, as over 800 artists open their studios.  One of the recent traditions has been to have many of those artists paint wine glasses as gifts of appreciation for the fellow artists, art collectors and patrons who attend the Private Preview party.  For a number of years, my wife and I sought out the glasses painted by Zannah Noe, adorned with her distinctive images of crows and ravens.  It was, therefore, a minor tragedy when, at a recent party, someone knocked over the glass we had carefully sought out, and shattered it.  I shared our misery with Zannah. She generously offered to replace it; and the result was a wonderful set of painted champagne glasses.  I share this story because I have admired her work for years, strangely drawn to her images of the birds – sometimes solitary, more often in groups.  And yet, I had never really asked her about them. 

When we recently met over coffee for the interview for this profile, we chit-chatted briefly – then Zannah asked: “How are we going to do this?”  I hesitated briefly and responded: “So, why birds?”  Zannah pointed out that the Corvidae family of birds, which includes ravens, crows, magpies and jays – among others, are the most intelligent of birds.  Many have self-awareness and tool-making abilities.  As a result, man has from time immemorial been fascinated with them. They appear in the myths and legends of most cultures.  They are iconic.

In most Western cultures, as we have looked to religion to provide absolute answers, the raven has morphed into a singular symbol of ill-will or misfortune.  However, in virtually all pre-conversion, shamanistic cultures the Raven has been a more complex symbol.  They are about the Zannah_Noe_Portraitquest for knowledge – knowledge which can be both a boon, but also perilous.  They stand at the gateway between this world and the after-world; they are healer, but not entirely trust-worthy; they are creator and trickster.  It is that duality that has drawn Zannah to them.  One or two in a painting, and they are waiting and watching.  They are about possibilities.  Put them all in a line, and they are gatekeepers waiting to take you to the other side. They are about transformation.  Repeating these images into the picture frame is a way for Zannah to tell a story, but not in a linear way.  Why birds?  It is because, for Zannah, the ravens and crows tie together many avenues of exploration.

In addition to her painting, Zannah also embraces yet another of the Raven’s traits: assemblage.   The raven’s nests can be works of art, brightly incorporating man-made objects in their construction.  “Her new interest in assemblage stems from utilizing her collection of objects and images from solely functioning as inspiration into becoming the art itself.”  The latest works are more overtly conceptual in nature, with the collection of objects contained in each box conveying a message with a wide range of potential interpretations.

fish_and_bird_It is interesting to look at the work of some of the artists that she lists as influences. There is the brilliant graphic novelist Bill Sienkiewicz. His seminal work, Stray Toasters, is a crime thriller with a protagonist, “Magik” who is either a wrong-accused, unfairly incarcerated hero, or possibly an untrustworthy narrator – you be the judge. She pulled out a powerful image of “Woman with Dead Child” by Kathe Kollwitz.   This German illustrator/printmaker spent a lifetime chronicling injustice in the world around her.  She studied under Carrie Mae Weems, at the University of Massachusetts. The works in series by this distinguished photographer exploreTransAmerica_Pyramid racism and gender issues and bravely challenge the establishment. And then she throws in Bansky, the infamous graffiti artist, whose work is both politically-charged, but also tongue in cheek.  Clearly Zannah is a little bit complicated.  With the Crow, she seems to have found a perfect avatar.  I know that for me, drinking champagne from flutes encircled by crows on glass branches will always be a little more thought-provoking from now on.

Zannah Noe maintains a studio at Hunters Point.  She is a landscape artist (Birds on a Wire & Cityscapes) and an Assemblage artist.  You can see her work at both Spring and Fall Open Studios; or at her studio by appointment.  She will be a featured artist this month on ArtSpan’s Tour des Artistes, a fundraiser for the Art for City Youth program, which I will be co-hosting.