Wanxin Zhang: Artist Whistling

Wanxin Banner.2013 artist at his studio in San Francisco.

In 1976, for a young, aspiring artist from Northern China, a crack appeared in everything and the light began to seep in.  During the previous decade, the Cultural Revolution had imposed a communist orthodox hegemony.  Mao had called on Chinese youth to purge “impure” elements from society and revive the revolutionary spirit. Not only was access to Western culture blocked, so was access to thousands of years of Chinese culture.  It did not bode well for artistic freedom of expression.   Then, Mao Zedong died.  And, with his death, most of the final vestiges of the Cultural Revolution were discarded.

This was the political backdrop of Wanxin Zhang’s student days at Lu Xun Academy of Art.  Possibilities for freedom of artistic expression were2000, Made in China,Fired clay with pigment 12x14x42'' essentially non-existent just before he started his studies. Then, the rigid control began to crack.  Catalogs from contemporary Western exhibitions began to circulate at Lu Xun.  The light of possibilities began to brighten.  In 1985, Robert Rauschenberg had an exhibit in China.  Abstract expressionism had arrived.  And, around the same time, Wanxin made a field trip with his school to the burial tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang which had opened at Xiàn where 7500 terra cotta warriors and horses had been unearthed from four excavation pits. He made endless drawings.  Two of the three key elements of vocabulary that would inform Wanxin’s art over the next 30 years were now in place.  The terra cotta warriors provided the ostensible subject matter of his signature series of work:  Pit # 5; and, abstract expressionism gave him the freedom to use the subject improvisationally to explore a broad range of cross-cultural  observations.

Zhang_Warrior with Color Face-2009_Press
In 1992, after establishing himself as a successful artist in China, Wanxin got the opportunity to study in the MFA program at Academy of Art in San Francisco.  Here the third element of vocabulary would fall into place.  After completing his studies at Lu Xun, Wanxin started working in metal sculpture.  However, in San Francisco, he had the opportunity to revisit his roots in clay.  He was able to work briefly at the Foundry in Berkeley as an artist assistant to Peter Voulkous and he became acquainted with the work of Robert Arnesan.  Both of these artists would greatly influence his subsequent work:  the use of heavy slabs of clay, Voulkous; and the use of humor, Arnesan.

I recently interviewed Wanxin about his upcoming exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery, Totem, and about his journey from his early student days in China to his homeZhang_Boxer-2014_Press here in San Francisco. We talked about the defining events of our youth – for me the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War in the late 60’s and early 70’s; for him, the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in the 70’s and the gradual opening of a window on the West.   We also talked about cultural assumptions.  We are all victims of propaganda.  In Wanxin’s case, the propaganda in China during the Cultural Revolution was overt and ideas were rigidly controlled.  In my case, growing up in New England, it was more subtle.  I went to Japan in my early 20’s, and it soon became apparent to me that the things we “know” to be universally true are not.  Many of the underlying assumptions that form our world view are culturally specific, not universal.  In Wanxin’s journey to the United States, the culture shock was much more extreme.  He started to question everything – something he continues to do with his art even now.

Zhang_Special Ambassador-2011_PressWanxin noted that his work is about questions, not answers.  In his signature series:  Pit # 5, the terra cotta warriors are a surrogate for the Chinese subordination of the individual to the needs of society as whole.  The addition of humorous, anachronistic elements to his versions of the warriors allows him to comment on society.  One might make the assumption that he is criticizing the historical lack of individual freedom in China and lauding the individual freedom here in America.  That would be a mistake.  He noted in an earlier interview with Richard Whittaker in 2012:  “Yes, there is great freedom here.  The artist can do anything.  The question is what?”.  I imagine that there was a twinkle in his eye when he said that.  Humor draws you into his work.  It is easy access.  Then, gradually it becomes disconcerting and it makes you question what you know.

The current exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery gives you a look at a broad range of Wanxin’s work.  It is not just a continuation of the Pit #5 series.  One gets a real sense of the importance of medium.  I asked Wanxin about what drew himZhang_Melting Landscape-2009-13_Press back to clay.  It is the physicality of the medium.  There is a direct, physical connection between the artist and the art.  Emotions are directly transferred through the hands of the artist into the clay. If you could run your hands over the surface of one of his sculptures, the electricity would be palpable.

The exhibition itself is stunning.  Catharine Clark has laid out her spacious gallery sparely.  The lighting is beautiful.  The works have room to breathe.  I will focus here on just two of the works.

Zhang_Pink Warrior-2013_Press“Pink Warrior” is displayed together with some of Wanxin’s “Bricks”.  It is an interesting juxtaposition by the gallerist.  The bricks are strewn behind the pink figure.  Each has a story of its own.  Some are broken pieces of the Great Wall.  Some are pieces of the wall with western graffiti.  There is a price tag that comes with freedom.  It is not all good.  And, then there is the warrior, himself.  The emotion is raw; the coloring incongruous.  The calligraphy is deeply personal.  Wanxin’s mother-in-law is a poet.  When Wanxin first arrived in America and was struggling, he began to question whether he should be pursing art at all.  Her poem reminds him how strong his voice his and how important his art is as a medium for that voice to be heard.  It was a poem that allowed him to continue as an artist.

“Spring Whistling” is perhaps my favorite work in the exhibition.  It has the basic elements that we have come to expect in Wanxin’s work:  the traditional Chinese figure with its anachronistic Western sunglasses.  Humorously, the crotch of the figure bulges inappropriately.  It isZhang_Spring Whistling-2014_Press a reference to a Chinese joke about what goes on under a monk’s robes. Then, there are also decals of traditional Chinese landscape and poetry that have been added to that surface in a third firing. And, the surface treatment of the sculpture itself is compelling on a purely abstract level.  The raw, emotional treatment of the clay is undisguised.  The work is not just about one thing.  It does not have a single point of view.  It is serious.  It is humorous.  It is anti-establishment.  It celebrates cultural legacy.  It is figurative.  It is abstact. It is, for me, the best of what Wanxin has to offer.

Totem will be on display at through January 3rd, 2015.  The opening reception is on Saturday, November 8th from 4-6pm.

Catherine Clark Gallery

248 Utah St.

San Francisco CA 94103

All exhibition photographs are courtesy of the gallery.  Thanks to Leonard Cohen for the cracks allowing the light in.


Kristina Quinones – Emotional Sojourns

KristinaQ_Portrait_byBryanSunWEBMark Rothko wrote “I am not an abstractionist … I am not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. … I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions ― tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on”.  The work of Kristina Quinones falls squarely into this tradition of the so-called “color-field” painters – painters such as Rothko, Clifford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and Morris Louis, among many others.  What was revolutionary about their work at the time was that it aggressively and specifically separated itself from any reference to objective context and sought, instead, to convey emotional complexity solely with the paint itself, both with color choice but also with technique – how it was applied.Justice_WEB

When I recently met with Kristina for this interview, we danced around the question of what the work was about.  When someone visits your studio, I asked her, do they want to know what the work is about or do they want to know how it was made?  In a somewhat resigned manner, she said that most of the time they wanted to know only about process.  As I have thought about this for a while, I realize that I asked the wrong question.  The question implied that the process of making her work and the context of her work were two entirely separate things.  And, in the case of Kristina’s paintings, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the continuing evolution of color field painting, paths are forged with new and innovative ways of using paint itself.  The work is very much about the materiality of the medium.  New paths can also be forged more subtly in context – the way that emotional states are described sub-consciously in the work.  Kristina’s work breaks new ground in both of these areas.

Relic_WEBThe process itself is innovative.  Acrylic mediums are poured over a wood panel and gently mixed by rocking the panel, creating the swirling effect.  The movement itself is almost a dance.  No brushes are ever used.  Kristina describes entering an almost meditative state, but not in the classic at peace kind of way.  Rather “meditation” allows whatever emotional state she is in at the moment to be translated directly into the movement of the paint and the choice of the colors. Her work consists of multiple layers.  Each layer must be allowed to dry completely before another layer is applied.  The layers vary in opacity – some are more transparent, some more mysterious.  There are typically 10-12 layers; each layer interrupted by 3-4 days.  There is a constant battle between control and uncertainty.  And, each time a layer is applied the emotional state that is transcribed can be different.  The range of emotions in any given work can be narrow or wide.Breed_WEB

What would meditation look like if it was visually represented?  What if the meditation did not dampen emotion, but rather created an efficient conduit?  What if the journey that was described was not simply a reflection of emotional state, but also a reflection of emotional direction, not strictly a transcription, but also aspirational?  Kristina’s work is a complex emotional sojourn memorialized.  Process and content are inextricably interwoven.

Forgiveness_WEBI first met Kristina shortly after she graduated from San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied printmaking.  She was already transitioning to painting.  Although, even when she was printmaking, her process was non-traditional – eschewing the traditional implements of the printmaker in favor of more direct applications of ink fields.  The paintings were a natural extension of those studies.

Since 2010, Kristina has been widely exhibited, with exhibitions in that year at Nieto Fine Art and Mina Dresden Gallery.  I invited Kristina to be part of the inaugural “FourSquared” exhibition at Arc Gallery in 2010, where she was one of 16 artists who created 16 micro-exhibitions.  In 2011, her work was featured in “Shine” at the Berkeley Art Center. She had a prestigious residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts and was in their Affliate Artist program from 2010-2012.  Then, in 2012 she began working with Joan McLoughlin who has since featured her work in her 2012 exhibition: “Who’s Afraid of Color”;  and exhibited her work in art fairs in San Francisco, Miami and Houston.  Her second exhibition at The McLoughlin Gallery  “Sugar High” will open this Friday, November 22nd in San Francisco.


To arrange a studio visit or to see additional work, please contact The McLoughlin Gallery here.

Meditation: The Art of Ada Sadler

Her paintings are meditations. All of Ada Sadler‘s recent works are oil paintings. All are painted on panels, either 6″ x 6″ or 9″ x 9″. The subjects are all ordinary objects. More often than not, she paints chairs. The settings are exceedingly quiet. The works are repetitive, almost like a Buddhist chant. And, in a similar way, they allow for focus – both for the viewer, and even more importantly, for the artist.

I recently saw a movie about a renowned Japanese sushi chef: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. It is the story of Jiro Ono, widely considered to be one of the greatest sushi chefs in the world. The movie is a wonderful study of “character”. Not to over-simplify, but his entire life has been an exercise in repetition: reproducing the same thing again and again, but not in a mechanical way – rather in a way that has allowed for small, incremental changes in the pursuit of excellence. Counter-intuitively, by constraining his subject matter and maintaining an almost ritualistic daily routine, his creativity has been unleashed. This is what made me think of Ada Sadler’s work – the constrained subject matter, the attention to detail and the process of refinement, all sustained over a long period of time. Her precise renderings of chairs and bathtub toys are journeys of creative exploration, more meta-physical than physical.

The works that first caught my eye were a series of small works featuring wind-up bathtub toys. However, her better-known, larger body of work features chairs. In both of the series, there is nothing exceptional about the physical objects. They are specifically, even overtly, ordinary. They are quintessential examples of the modern evolution of still life. There will be an exhibition later this summer opening at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, entitled “Significant Objects: The Spell of Still Life”. The curator of that exhibition, Gloria Williams Sander, has done a wonderfully succinct job of organizing that exhibition (and the genre of still life, in general) from four perspectives: “Depiction & Desire” – the wonder and magic that collections of objects can inspire; “Virtuosity” – the technical mastery of medium that astonishes all of us; “Decoding the Still Life” – the symbolism imbedded in still life compositions; and “Still Life off the Table” – the more expansive definitions of what constitutes still life that have emerged in the last century. While Ada is not in that exhibition, all four of these perspectives apply to and inform her work.

In her two signature series of paintings: “Bathtubbie Collection” and “Chairs” (which include several different sub-series), Ada Sadler demonstrates virtuoso control of light and color. The objects themselves are rendered in exquisite detail; and, like some old master paintings, the hand of the artist is disguised. The works are not “painterly”. The unadorned objects are front and center – stars of the paintings. The Chairs are not collections in a classic sense; rather they are surrogates for collections of memories. The Bathtubbies, on the other hand, are specifically collectibles. Unlike classic still life, these are not arranged collections on a table top. Ada photographs her objects – sometimes arranged, sometime not; then, she transforms her photographs in the paintings. The paintings may superficially appear to be literal renditions, but they are not.

I met with Ada over coffee recently. We discussed her background – studying art at the University of Kansas; detouring into administrative work to make ends meet; then, re-emerging as an artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s with pastels. Initially she showed at alternative venues, such as The Right Spot Bar and SF Open Studios. Her work was discovered and championed by a local San Francisco gallerist, Joe Chowing (now retired). She was juried into ArtSpan’s prestigious “Selections” exhibitions in both 1997 and 1998. Along the way, she transitioned to oil painting. Works that had featured populated landscapes with palm trees and swimming pools, began to lose the people. The compositions became simpler and more focused. Eventually, they ended up with just chairs.

We discussed still life in general. We discussed how it is tempting to characterize her works as photo-realistic, but how they fall squarely into the classic tradition of still life. In line with that tradition, I asked if the objects in the paintings were symbolic. It was a loaded question and they are. In a sense, she pointed out, the works developed into obsessions: 30+ works of souvenir cups & saucers; nearly 100 works featuring collectible bathtubbies; and 200+ works featuring chairs. The works are explorations of loss, but not in an anguished way. She recalled listening on the radio to a song in which the writer had talked about loss and the need to let go. She disagreed. She does not need or want to let go. Her paintings are touch points: the cups and saucers – a conversation with her mother; the bathtubbies – a conversation with children that never were; and, the chairs – a conversation with her father whom she lost to Altzheimer’s. There is a reason why the paintings, which are devoid of people, have such a powerful sense of presence.

Ada Sadler’s new works will be in an exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery which opens this Thursday from 5:30-7:30 pm. The exhibition will continue through July 7th.  This is Ada’s seventh solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, who has represented her for the past 14 years.  Inquiries should directed to the gallery.

Night Eyes

While fully half of our life passes in the night, still it remains in many ways foreign to us. We take for granted that what we are seeing in the daytime is what is there. At night, however, that same place can be completely transformed. There is a sense of something just out of view, lurking. We become hyper-aware as we stretch our sensory muscles. Edward Hopper in an interview about his iconic painting “Nighthawks” said that the painting had more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness. And, it is that sense of possibilities that night photography seeks to explore.

For photographers, Manu and Greta Schnetzler the night is an adventure. Not all places are equally transformed by the night. It takes night eyes to see the potential for magic and mystery in a place that seems quite mundane in the daytime. So, when a candidate is discovered, re-visiting the place at night is a must. Photography is uniquely qualified as an art form to capture the emotion that the qualities of night evoke. We always feel that there is something unseen just outside of our perception; and, the camera actually captures a piece of that. Michael Kenna observed that the photography at night “has an unpredictable character – our eyes cannot see cumulatively, like film. So what is being photographed is often impossible for us to see. Certainly it’s a good antidote for pre-visualization”.

Manu and Greta have both been photographing since childhood. Their paths crossed paths nearly twenty years ago at Stanford. There, appropriately enough, they bonded over a Hasselblad. On an early adventure to Zion and Bryce National Parks, they first began photographing at night. Night photography is technically quite challenging and lends itself well to collaboration. Often there are multiple cameras, all shooting with different exposures. Lighting is jury-rigged. And, at the end of the shoot, it can be difficult to identify who authored any particular shot. The resulting arguments over who authored which images were soon resolved by simply declaring all images to be collaborations.

Over the years, they have been drawn to what they describe as “unnoticed places”. Always they are places that have a very different presence at night than during the day. As with the Potrero Hill gas pumps in the banner image, they often end up photographing things that “have been left behind to decay or to be destroyed”. I asked Greta Schnetzler to describe a favorite photo shoot. She showed me a photograph that they took near Bode in the desert. It was a group outing with The Nocturnes, an amazing group of loosely affiliated night photographers here in the Bay Area, founded by Tim Baskerville. The group came across an abandoned trailer. Greta and Manu were certain that everyone would come back that night to photograph it, but astonishingly they were the only ones. The Schnetzler’s are very “old school”. They use an old Hasselblad camera, a few Holgas and recently an 8 x 10 view camera. The photograph on Fuji Velvia film. For this shoot, they lit the trailer with hand-held flashlights and gels. Otherwise, the image is unaltered.

Many times the subject is a very ordinary object – such as a simple park bench in their San Francisco neighborhood. In an article by the French poet, Laureline Amanieux, the resulting image was described: “What does a bench do in the night while I sleep? Does it suffer from its sudden solitude or does the bench live much more without the trace of a body?” This anthropomorphizing of ordinary objects is a power that the night possesses. Film, as it slows the light, uniquely captures that. In the hands of the Schneltzer’s, the camera is a tool for exploring their environment. It is a way to see beyond what is immediately visible; capturing images that, at their best, reveal not only what is seen in these night places, but also what is felt. Manu & Greta Schneltzer participate annually in the San Francisco Open Studios with The Noctournes. They have shown in numerous exhibitions here and abroad. Their work was recently featured in B&W Magazine. Studio visits can be arranged by appointment.

Curiosity Dissected the Cat – Sandra Yagi

Earlier this year we visited the studio of Sandra Yagi in San Francisco’s SOMA area.  Her studio is in an industrial building in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, but it has great light – very important for an artist whose work is rooted in life drawing.  While Sandy’s work often has a surreal feel to it, an exploration of her studio reveals the references that inform that work.  She is a diligent student of nature.  There are books on botany and anatomy.  There are taxidermy forms.  There is a skeleton named Frederick.

Sandy’s life as an artist was a dream deferred.  While she was always interested in making art, that was not an education that her father, ever practical, was going to pay for.  Instead, she started out with a business degree and a career in finance.  After Bank of America relocated her here to San Francisco from Denver, she began seriously studying and making art on the side.  With her business/finance background, she developed a formal plan to transition to art.  She and her partner settled into a very frugal lifestyle, saving towards the goal of being able to support themselves with Sandy pursuing art.  There was an actual business plan.  They worked with the most conservative assumption that there would be no revenue from art initially.  And, they set a standard of living for themselves that allowed for that.  This gave Sandy the time she needed to find her voice as an artist.

And, it is a fascinating voice, indeed.  Sandy is intensely interested in how things work.  And, at the same time, she is very interested in how different societies at different times have tried to unravel those mysteries.  Much of her work explores both the modern world’s scientific discoveries and the ancient world’s mythology looking for similarities and disconnects.

In one series of work, she specifically explores myth and symbolism.  She scientifically illustrates horses with detailed anatomy in one painting that is based on the myth of the Mares of Diomedes – horses with an unnatural appetite for human flesh.  The story resonates in the modern world as parable of nature punishing man.  She paints skulls with reptiles crawling around in the cranial cavity.  The paintings are not just a little disturbing.  And, it is not an accident that one of these paintings is in the collection of Axl Rose.  But the symbolism is again very modern.  It is a direct reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is a representation of man’s reptilian brain taking over.  Consumption of the bird in the painting symbolizes consumption of freedom or the soul.

In a more recent series of paintings, Sandy has focused specifically on the skeletal forms.  She shows skeletons having sex – an amusing reference to Petit Mort.  She illustrates Madonna and Child, where the child is a skeleton of conjoined fetal twins – the opposite of perfection.  And, there is a whole series of dancing skeletal conjoined twins, appealing to her desire to intensely study how the body works, but in a slightly twisted and highly amusing way.

Recently, Sandy produced a series of sixteen small works for an exhibition at ARC Gallery in San Francisco, “FourSquared”, that I had the honor of co-curating.  The concept of the exhibition was to showcase sixteen artists in sixteen articulated grids, effectively creating sixteen small separate exhibitions.  All of the works were small and affordable.  Sandy embraced the concept enthusiastically and characteristically.  She used the exhibition as an opportunity to embark on yet another series of works exploring the world both scientifically and surrealistically.  The question she asked was “What if evolution took a different path?”.  With obsessive detail, she imagined hybrid creatures:  Mandrill Demons, Feathertail Possums, and PigeonRats.  In meticulous rendered small oil paintings, she not only imagined these creatures, she also created entire worlds for them to inhabit. SpiderMonkey now graces my personal collection.

Everyone has a wonderful opportunity to visit Sandy in her studio this weekend as San Francisco Open Studios moves to SOMA for Weekend Two (October 15-17).  Her studio is in the South Beach Artists Studios at 2nd & Bryant Streets.  And, if you miss her this weekend, she will be featured in a solo exhibition at the Bert Green Fine Art Gallery in Los Angeles in January 2011.  You can also arrange to see Sandra Yagi’s studio by appointment.

Profile in Art: Sidnea D’Amico

”Warm colors, shapes and lines drive my work.  I like to work in series, and enjoy being playful with the subjects I have in mind.  I work with acrylics, often incorporating resin, Polaroid transfer, transfers or collage in my paintings.” -Sidnea D’Amico, Artist Statement

I recently visited artist Sidnea D’Amico in her San Francisco studio, where she was busy getting ready for San Francisco Open Studios this October.  Her work at this year’s Open Studios will feature recent collage-based paintings.  Working with a brightly saturated palette, Sidnea is concerned with her urban environment.  Her experience growing up in Sao Paolo with its particular graffiti style has been particularly important in her art.  Because graffiti is seen as a subversive act on the urban landscape, as an art form, it retains a traditional ‘outsider’ aspect to it, akin to 1960s counterculture and ‘bad boy’ personas.  The 21st century, however, has enjoyed a validation of graffiti with the work of artists such as Blek le Rat and Banksy, resulting in appreciation and enjoyment by artists and the general public of previously perceived vandalisms.  Sidnea has responded to São Paolo’s graffiti by re-purposing the visual memory of it in her paintings; creating a set of images that remind her of home, while pursuing her artwork and supporting her family in her newly adopted California home.  Such was her appreciation of graffiti, that, on a recent trip to São Paolo, while driving around with her parents, in response to their despair at the blight and urban decay symbolized by São Paolo’s prominent graffiti culture, Sidnea pointed out that the graffiti represented hope and beautiful imagery.  By the end of that trip, her parents began to appreciate their new discovery and pointed out their favorite instances of graffiti to her.  Skilled at representing abstract contemporary ideas, Sidnea addresses her environment using a visual vernacular that is contemporary and of the moment.

Born in Brazil, Sidnea studied photography and jewelry design.  When she settled in the USA, she began to develop her career as a visual artist.  Well read, literate, and articulate, Sidnea’s current reading reflects her love of biographies with a list that includes Lives of the Artists and Interview vols. 1 & 2 by Hans Ulrich Obrist.  She is multi-lingual, including Italian, Portuguese and is pursuing conversational French.

Among her many accomplishments, some of the highlights include:  California group exhibitions; shows in Dubai, Greece and Italy; an invitation to speak about her work at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts exhibition for Visionary Women; representative of Brazil at the Florence Biennale for Contemporary Art; and recently a third place award (while representing Brazil) at the Dubai International Art Symposium.  She has been invited twice, in 2007 and 2008, to participate in Hearts and Heroes, a public art project to benefit San Francisco General Hospital.  One of those works is now part of the Stanford permanent collection where it can be viewed at the Stanford Outpatient Center in Redwood City, California.

Visiting an artist’s studio offers a glimpse into a much more personal and intimate space than a gallery or museum. Sidnea’s studio, a bright compact space in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, is a colorful, vital place, full of paint samples, small paintings, sketches and most importantly, light. She showed us a few works in progress, a few pieces prepared for the recent group exhibition, FourSquared, at ARC Gallery; and, also, her more recent work forming the vernacular of her series addressing the urban landscape.

Meeting with Sidnea was very pleasant.  Young, pretty and bright, a parent, and a working professional, she was open and easy to speak with.  Recalling a recent residency in Serbia, she spoke of the beautiful rural landscapes and environment.  But she also noted her realization that her heart was firmly entrenched in urban visual culture.

Just for fun, I asked Sidnea to answer a few personal questions for our Profile in Art:

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Brazil, live in San Francisco

Education and occupation?

I studied photography and Jewelry design in Brazil, here I start architecture but drop to do fine arts.  Now I am a visual artist.


I always donate my work for non profit organizations that I believe is doing something important for the community. I absolute believe that when you have your heart into helping others, your life is enriched in all meanings.

High point(s) of your life?

While at JFK airport (New York), enroute to Brazil, after living in Switzerland, at the last minute I decided to change my path, got my luggage, and caught the last flight to San Francisco.  I had never been to San Francisco before but felt it would open my future…

When I quit architecture to pursue art, determined to never give up.

When my daughter was born – I will never forget that moment!


I used to love to travel by myself, discover new places, meet new people.  Lately I enjoy traveling when art is involved, meet other artists and show my work

I have been invited to Dubai, Greece, Hungary, Serbia and next year I will be showing my work in Poland.

Do you like music?

Brazilian jazz is my favorite

What defines you?


Are you a fashionista, cerebral, both, why?

I am impulsive, instinctive and emotional.  Inexplicably, I care about fashion only when on vacation. Here, in my daily life I just like to wear the same old jeans and t-shirt.

What entertains you?

I am entertained by my work. I deeply enjoy painting. My studio is my playground.  Also, I enjoy a good biography, the movies, watching my daughter play volleyball, walking in G.G. Park listening to music.

What is the best thing about your life?

That I am able to do what I do, Paint! I am thankful everyday that I do what I do.

-Micaëla Van Zwoll, 09.2010

Containers of Information – The Art of Monika Steiner

The rich oil paintings by Monika Steiner investigate subtle relationships between perception and material reality. Her paintings are meditative by virtue of color, shape, and multiple layers. Using ideas of surface and dissolving shapes, she creates a metaphor for the cycle of appearances arising out of, then returning to, states of pure potential.

Steiner is a beautiful woman with a refined appearance.  At a recent visit to her studio, she was friendly and expressive, lighting up when discussing her work.  Currently on exhibition at Micaëla Gallery in San Francisco, Steiner’s work studies contemplative relationships through a detailed visual landscape.

She states, “All forms of matter are containers of information.  Particles come in and out of existence, through our intention to observe them, passing from the inchoate into the physical and then back into the realm of potential.  Referencing this, my paintings feature emerging and dissolving spheres, Nature’s most efficient shape, floating in empty space.  This concept allows an investigation of relationships between perception and material reality. Harmonious background colors interacting with the energetic floating spheres create a balance that it is delicate and powerful, dramatic and serene.”

The ongoing exhibitions of Steiner’s work possess obvious kinship.  In a three-woman exhibition at Micaëla Gallery (through October 30), Steiner’s work is a presentation of color and geometric harmonies, while her recent exhibition at ARC Gallery (through September 18) is a distillation of her summer residency in Greece this year.  Both exhibitions present artwork conforming to painting formalities and visual agreement.

Born in Switzerland in 1972, Steiner holds various degrees.  In 2005, she received her BFA (Magna Cum Laude) in Painting from Sonoma State University.  Steiner’s painting was recognized early during her studies as a painter, resulting in professional acceptance of her work in galleries while still a student.  She earned recognition for her work as a goldsmith in Interlaken, Switzerland, and was awarded a Teaching Credential from the University of Bern.  She resides in Switzerland and the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches painting and is devoted to her practice of painting and sculpture.  Steiner has shown her work (and enjoyed successful exhibitions) in Switzerland. She is currently represented by galleries in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Santa Fe.   -Micaëla Van Zwoll, 09.2010