SF Open Studios Weekend One – Where’s Mike Going?


SF Open StudiosWith over 300 studios to choose from this weekend, everyone is asking “So Mike, where are you going?” 

Well, here is my traditional strategy:  I go to the San Francisco Open Studios Preview Gallery at SomArts, 934 Brannon Street.  Before I go, I pick up a copy of this week’s Bay Guardian.  There is a pull-out map for Weekend One that lists everyone who is an official San Francisco Open Studios participant, along with their location on the map.  I go to the Preview Gallery, map in hand, and chart out where I am going based on which works exhibited appeal to me.  While there, I also pick up a free copy of the Guide. 

That is my traditional strategy.  However, I have been going to SF Open Studios for a long-time.  Therefore, I have a pretty good idea of where I am going this year and why.  So, time to spill the beans.


Friday Night Receptions

There are a ton of Friday Night Opening Receptions.  I have a pretty comprehensive list here under “San Francisco Fall Open Studios“.  Realistically, there is no way I am going to get to all of them on Friday night.  So my strategy this year is to start with some of the more “Off the Beaten Track” openings.  Here are my choices and why:


Secession Art & Design
3361 Mission St (across from 30th & Safeway)


Heather Robinson


Nate Tan


Brain Schcuk


Twelve Designs


Coleen Mauer

 Secession Art & Design  is near my house, so that is where I am going to start.  Since it is going to be a jamming night, I might go by before they officially open and see if I can get a private preview!  I featured Secession in an article I wrote earlier this year: “Alternatives in Alternative Spaces“.  It is one of a number of boutique/gallery spaces that have expanded the exhibition opportunities for local artists.   
3318 22nd Street (near Valencia)
Ursula_Young_281Next up: Fabric8.  This is another one of the boutique/gallery spaces.  Here the emphasis is definitely on younger artists with a Manga sensibility.  The emphasis is also on “gallery”.  Since opening their back space, the gallery exhibition space here is really impressive.  Fabric8 is hosting the open studio for UrsulaX and her “Altered States, Dreamscapes and Underworlds” solo show.  It kicks off with a Friday night reception.  And, since there is a distinct possiblity of some of my favorite street vendors showing up, with some luck, I am going to hopefully be able to fuel up for the evening’s art trekking, in addition to checking out a great show.
1084 Capp Street (between 25th & 26th)
hilary williamsdk haasThese are another two of my local neighborhood artists.  I have seen their work at City Art Gallery, Artist X-Change and Secession Art & Design, but I have never been to their studios.  I am guessing that this is their home, so it really harkens back to the original spirit of San Francisco Open Studios, when the artists who created the event, largely were showing in live-work spaces.  The work on the left is by Hilary Williams.  The work on the right is by dk haas.  About this time, I should be thirsty.  Rumour has it that the wine will be flowing, so I am going to see if that is true.
1890 Bryant Street (at Mariposa)
1890Bryant-ad-sm2If you can only go to one party all night, this is the one!  Cynthia Tom and Tanya Wilkinson are sharing a studio – both have been featured on SF Art News.  But there are 50 artists in the building and most will be showing on Friday night.  Don’t miss Jeremy Sutton‘s studio.  Always a crowd favorite, there is a good chance he will be dancing the night away on his permanently installed dance floor (who knows when the urge to dance will suddenly strike?).  This building has some of the Mission’s most impressive artists.  In addition to the one’s that I named above, I always try to make it to see Annie Arrasmith, Aubrey Rhodes, Katja Leibenath, Trish Tunney and Sevilla Granger.  Visit everyone!  This building has attracted some amazing artists – discover your own favorites.  This should pretty much stick a fork in me for the night.  After 1890, I’m heading home to rest up for Saturday and Sunday – so many artists and so little time.

I am going to try to get to as many studios as possible over the weekend.  For anyone who wants to join me in my marathon efforts, I will be starting at the Coffee Bar on both days around 10am – email me at mikeyoke3@gmail.com to let me know you want to tag along.  This means that my intinerary is simply too long to post, so I am going to just give you the highlights.  For starters, in addition to 1890 Bryant Street Studios, there are several large group sites that are part of Mission Artists United, which you definitely want to start with:


Project Artaud
499 Alabama Street

OS09-1.inddEvery year, I start my SF Open Studios adventure here.  Why?  Because this is “ground zero” for San Francisco Open Studios.  This is, as they put it, the pioneering artist live-work space in San Francisco.  A number of the original Open Studios founding artists lived at Artaud when SF Open Studios started 34 years ago.   I come in through the Alabama Street entrance and walk into the courtyard studio of Pico Sanchez, “The Prince of Artaud“.  I walk through his live-work space and enter into the maze of studios that is Project Artaud.  Once again, this is a building with a lot of serious artists.  Try to get to as many as possible, not only because they are wonderful artists, but also because the live-work environment is so incredibly interesting.  A few of my favorites, in addition to Pico:  Victor Cartagena, Carrie Nardello, William McElhiney and Dale Erickson.


Developing Environments
499 Alabama Street

EwingFrom Artaud, I am going to start following the footsteps on the sidewalk and street to the other Mission Artists United group sites.  Developing Environments, just around the corner is another seminal live-work space.  Not as many artists actually open their live-work spaces here, but it still definitely worth visiting.  I plan to visit the studio of Jennifer Ewing.  Her work is also featured at the Kathleen McMahon Gallery over at ActivSpace, where there will be a Friday night reception.  I will check out her work there, as well, since ActivSpace will be my next stop on Saturday.



3150 18th Street


Kristin Grahn

Where Project Artaud and Developing Environments have been part of San Francisco Open Studios from the beginning, ActivSpace is very much the new kid on the block.  They opened there doors to a vibrant mix of artists, entrepreneurs and trades people in 2008.  From the start, they have been demonstrated that they value community, actively participating in the Mission community and the community of San Francisco artists. Kristin Grahn, David Bontempo, Sandra Masae Kawano and Jonathan Yen are among the artists circled on my map.



Workspace Ltd
2150 Folsom Street

WorkspaceThe last major group site (whoa – think I need some caffeine!) is going to be WorkSpace Limited.  This is a major site with more than 50 artists, many of them participating in SF Open Studios.  This is one of my “don’t miss” studios every year.  This year, I have circled Maxine Solomon, Derek Nunn, Charli Ornett and Delfina Piretti on my map; but who knows what other artists I will discover during my visit?



Silvia Poloto
442 Shotwell Street

ObservationsGreen1And finally, my personal favorite – the fabulous live-work space of Silvia Poloto.  It is an oasis for a tired art trekker.  Who would ever guess that a studio this fabulous lurked behind the industrial facades of Shotwell Street.  And the art? Oh my.  I profiled Silvia on SF Art News earlier this year in an article that I titled “Art=Life=Art“.  Truly hers is a life that is fully immersed in life.  I am a traditionalist.   When I dine, I save dessert for last, because I love dessert.  On Saturday, when I over-indulge in art, I will still have room for Silvia, because there is always room for dessert.




After Saturday’s marathon, I plan to be a little more relaxed on Sunday.  Mostly, I will be focusing on individual or small group studios.  Here are a few that I will definitely be visiting:


Alan Mazzetti
834 Moultrie Street

MazzettiI have known Alan for years.  As usual, he will be exhibiting at the Garage Gallery on Weekend Three.  Here, however, is a rare opportunity to see his actual, real studio in Bernal Heights.  And since this is my stomping ground, I will be stopping by.



Rebekah Goldstein
69-A Richland Avenue

GoldsteinAnother Bernal Heights artist – I am not really familiar with her work.  Just liked her image in the catalogue.  I am a sucker for collage.



Somboun Sayosane
292 Whitney Street

SombounI have always been partial to Samboun’s work.  Plus, once again, the home studio is spitting distance from my house.  And, to some extent, the original idea of Open Studios was to open real working studios to the public.  San Francisco Open Studios is dominated by the large group sites and I love visiting them.  But I also love to visit the home studios right in my neighborhood.  And, that is what Sunday will be largely dedicated too.  I have not decided what other studios I will visit on Sunday.  And, I may visit some smaller group sites too.  But, I am definitely largely reserving Sunday to Bernal Heights, Glen Park and Noe Valley – as many artists as  I can fit in.


Hope everyone has as much fun this weekend as I am going to have and GET YOUR ART ON!


Whenever I am looking for an art oasis here in San Francisco, I try to plan a visit to the live-work space of Silvia Poloto.  With Silvia, the line dividing her life poloto in studio 6from her art is definitely blurred.  She lives in a space where she is completely surrounded by her art – works both finished and in progress.  Her life permeates her art and it is, in turn, permeated by it.  She told me that she cannot imagine living in a space where she could not immediately access her paintings at any time.  It is not that she needs to be constantly working; but, ideas for work can come to her at any time and she loves being able to walk into her adjacent studio when that happens.

On one memorable Sunday afternoon, more than a dozen intrepid art trekkers made their way to her Mission loft.  There we sat around drinking fine wine and nibbling on artisan cheeses, while Silvia held court. Silvia is a great story-teller and her story is both inspiring and moving.  Raised in Brazil, she was born into a family and a society that was not particularly supportive of any artistic ambitions.  For her parents, the academic achievements of her brothers, leading to careers in engineering, were praise-worthy. So, intensely competitive by nature, she focused on academics.  She entered the best engineering schools; became a sales engineer; and went on to get an MBA – all to prove to everyone that she was as good as or better than her brothers.  Becoming an artist was not an option – not even a dream.

Then, love entered the picture and everything changed. Everything became possible.  She metObservationsGreen1 her Irish husband on a beach in Brazil.  After a whirlwind romance, they married.  Billy won the Irish “U.S. green card” lottery and off they went to live in the United States.  Three months after moving here to San Francisco, and without the familial and societal pressures, Silvia decided that she had become an engineer for all the wrong reasons; and she quit.  She took some metal-working classes at City College of San Francisco and started making sculpture.  She actually worked as a welder for a short time. But her art quickly gained traction.  Her art professors recognized her talent and encouraged her.  She got a merit scholarship to the Art Institute, but dropped out quickly because she needed to focus on actually making art to meet the demand. Galleries started representing her.  Art consultants sought her out.  When she stopped making sculpture and turned to painting, they all came along for the ride.  It was, in many ways, a charmed life.  Then, tragically, her husband, who was both her best friend and an important partner in her career, became seriously ill.  In early 2009, she lost him to cancer.  On that visit to her studio, he was omni-present in both a large series of photographs and in a funerary art piece she created.  It has been incredibly challenging, but we all got a sense of just how strong, just how determined Silvia is.

PolotoCrushStudies47x47 Silvia has worked in sculpture, photography and video, in addition to painting.  And all of these make their way into her artistic process.  With photography and sculpture, the idea usually comes first.  These are what she calls “thinking pieces”.  She has a vision and she sets out to realize the vision in the work.  However, she pointed out that “there is a space of not thinking, even in the thinking pieces”.  With painting, it is more overtly “not thinking”.  Her goal is to allow her sub-conscious to direct the pieces.  The works are not really planned out in advance.  These are what she calls “intuitive pieces”.  They develop naturally.  I asked her a question that I often ask abstract artists:  “How do you know when it is done?”  In her inimitable style, she stated with absolute confidence that “I always know when it is done; it is very clear”.  She realizes that other abstract artists have a hard time knowing when to stop.  They hang paintings on the wall for weeks to be certain that the work does not need something else.  But for her, there is clarity and certainty.  When a work is done, it is done.  In both art and life, she is striding forward confidently.

Personally, I was first drawn to Silvia’s work when I encountered two mixed media pieces featuring pigs.   The pieces were “in progress” at Trillium, a local printer for artists and they were very complex.  Plexiglas boxes had been built and filled with painted panels, sculptural insets and toy pigs.  The works explore the human condition, with the pigs playing the leading role of the humans.  In one of my favorite works:  “Reverence”, the pigs hanging from meat hooks have a certain medieval quality of religiosity.  The works were both engaging and disturbing.  Two of this series of works are in Silvia’s collection and I frequently revisit them.

The “Pigs” series was a progression from an earlier series from 2004, “Unresolved”.  This was the first series where Silvia technically brought together her sculpture, her photography and her painting.  The works here were less ambiguous.  Titles for the works, such as “Betrayal” and “Vows”, were very much descriptive of the subject matter.  With “Pigs”, there was much more room for the viewer to bring their perspective to the work.  Even for Silvia, who lives with the “Pigs” in her bedroom, her evolving experiences have changed the meaning of the works for her, as well.  These are works that do not sit still.  They morph.

I was very pleased to see Silvia return to this kind of artistic exploration when I recently visited her loft.  She is once again working on large assemblages.  This series is aptly titled “Private Puzzles”.  Once again, she has built elaborate frames that combine photographic, painted and sculpted elements.  However, when she started on these new works, her original thought was to print the photographic elements very large on watercolor paper.  This proved to be prohibitively expensive.  So, instead, she printed the images in sections.  She then found herself rearranging the different sections in various combinations.  It is a very physical exploration of the artistic possibilities that allows her to take images that are well-thought out, then combine her abstract sensibilities to move the sections into compositions that are built sub-consciously.

I am particularly fascinated with her work, “Family Tree # 1”.  Here Silvia has explored the “Spanish” side of her family tree – her mother’s family.  The Spanish women were formidable, dominating family life.  At the same time, they were vulnerable to physical domination and abuse by the men.  Silvia takes three separate panels and physically unites them with steel bolts.  Her grandparents and great-grandparents populate the top panel.  The ties bind the middle and subsequent generation, reaching down to Silvia’s oft-repeated and self-identifying rose.  It is serious work.  At the same time, it is humorous work.  There is a particular subject to the work.  And, there is an ambiguity to the work where the viewer can enter it and make it their own.

Silvia Poloto is represented at numerous galleries nationwide (see “contact & galleries” on her website).  In April, she will be participating in 2011 Spring Open Studios at ARC Gallery, April 1-3; and at her live-work loft, April 16-17.  She also will be participating in 2011 San Francisco Fall Open Studios this coming October, also at both locations.  And, her studio is open by appointment.