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.


The Importance of Place

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I sat down with William Salit in his brand-new studio at ARC, the gallery/studios complex that my partners and I recently started in SOMA.  We talked about setting up his new space – his first studio since the tragic demise of Belcher Studios two years ago.  Belcher Studios was, in many ways, the template that we used when we started ARC.  We all loved the energy and spirit of community at Belcher. In fact, when I first found out that the building that used to house New Langton Arts was available, I actually approached some of the former Belcher artists about the possibility of resurrecting that community in the building.  Ultimately that did not work out.  We formed our own partnership and started ARC.  However, I was really thrilled when William, one of the Belcher artists that I really admired, decided to join the studios.

At Belcher, the first studio that you encountered when you entered was William Salit’s studio.  When William saw the studio at the top of the stairs with its window open to the staircase, it was like coming home.  He immediately took the space.  In February, he started moving in.  By last week’s grand opening, it was beautifully laid out.  All of which led to a conversation about the importance of place.

Over the past two years, he has largely taken a hiatus from drawing.  As you can tell from his beautifully organized studio, William has a love affair with order.  Everything has a place and everything is in its space.  This is true in his home, his office and his studio.  However, strangely enough, he found that this need for order in most of his life was stifling his art.  He was not able to “let go” in his ordered spaces.  At Belcher, he had given himself the freedom to allow chaos into his studio.  He is not quite there yet at ARC.  But, he envisions very shortly carving out an island of chaos where he can have the freedom to let his art take him wherever it wants to go. 

There is an echo of Greek mythology in this discussion.  Chaos was the primordial ether from which the gods created the universe.  It was not the opposite of order.  Rather it was the raw material from which order was drawn.  For William, the physical connection between chaos and order is his crayon.  He talks about his hand and the graphite in that hand as if it was somehow disconnected from his body:  “My hand loves a piece of the Conté crayon in it.”  He draws aggressively.  It is not a delicate process.  This is no gentle foxtrot.  It is a wild tango.  And, the Conté crayon is a very hard kaolin/graphite/pigment mixture that accommodates his dance. 

The range of William’s work is astonishing.  I asked him to pull out some of his work , so we could talk a little bit about some of the different things that he had done and that he was doing.  We actually started with a recent series of photographs.  When he was without a dedicated studio, his drawing almost completely stopped.  No island of chaos was available.  His design work benefited, as his art sought an outlet.  He also began photographing more seriously.  I was particularly drawn to a large series of works of “found objects” photographed in the streets of San Francisco.  They are unstaged objects found lying on the street that do not belong.  I was particularly fascinated with the Band-Aid meticulously affixed along side a crack in the sidewalk.

There are the “Old Master” drawings – studies of the head and the figure reminiscent of Italian Renaissance drawings.  He opened his flat file and pulled out study after study of Val, his continuous muse for over 20 years – going back to his college days in New York.  They moved to San Francisco together.  He has drawn her literally thousands of times. I, in fact, met her leaving William’s studio when I arrived.  These are masterful, traditional drawings.  They are beautiful in their own right.  But, they are also like a musician playing his scales.  As William gears up, the drawings are his way of stretching his artistic muscles.

And, last but not least, we talked about the organic abstractions.  The foundation here is also the figure.  However, it is a sub-conscious foundation.  He begins with a line and starts drawing without purpose.  As it takes shape, he might turn it sideways or upside-down to make sense out of it.  He adds oil washes to the waxy charcoal.  He collages on the drawing.  He colors on the drawing.  In some cases, he makes a series of prints utilizing techniques similar to monoprinting.  I asked him how he knew he was done.  He described a process of “half lives”.  The frenzy simply winds down.  It is never really done.  But, much like a calculation in calculus, the drawing simply approaches being finished to the point where there was no meaningful difference between being finished and being almost finished.  Then he stops.

William Salit is one of the featured artists on this month’s Tour des Artistes studio tours.  You can also see his work at the SOMA Spring Open Studios.  There will be a preview exhibition at ARC Gallery on April 9-10.  And, his studio will be open for Open Studios on April 16-18.  Or, you can contact William through his website to arrange to for a studio visit by appointment.

Seeing the Man in the Moon

liz@RG09Liz Mamorsky’s work is a trip.  Living through the late 60’s and early 70’s, I know a trip when I see one.  I distinctly remember sitting on my bed, watching a montage of Liz Mamorsky paintings play out on the cinder block walls of my dorm room in 1971.  Well, maybe not distinctly.  By that time, Liz had relocated from the East Coast.  She graduated from Bennington in Vermont; spend time in the Village in New York City; then, made her way to San Francisco where the counter-cultural revolution was in full force.  Liz has a wondeful studio just south of Market off of 9th Street.  We spent an afternoon chatting about shared history.  Not surprisingly, when I pointed out the similarities between the light shows of the 60’s and some of her work, Liz noted that she produced light shows for rock bands with liquid gels – both in New York and in San Francisco.

Liz Mamorsky’s work has been referred to as “organic abstraction”.  Like the forms in the light shows, the abstact shapes are amoeba-like.  The roots of her art in the Op Art movement of the 60’s is clearly evident.  There are also distinct echoes of artists stretching from Hieronymous Bosch to James Ensor.  Some of her works, such as the montage in the current banner above, are identifiable as mainstream Op Art.  It is “right-brain” art, regardless of medium.  In heBeneaththesurfacer signature drawing and painting style, forms mysteriously emerge “from a tangle of brushmarks, spills and splatters, randomly applied to the stretched canvas, obliterating the oppressive whitespace”.  Those forms seem to live and breathe. I was very intrigued with her techniques.  With painting, she lays down the color and form abstractly.  She then spends a lot of time contemplating the result.  Human beings are hard-wired to see patterns in seeming chaos.  It is why we see animals dancing across the sky in cloud formations.  It is why we see the Man in the Moon.  So, as Liz contemplates her painting, faces and bodies – both human and animal – take shape.  She re-works the painting and the strongest impressions ultimately define the final painting. 

popRictusLiz’s drawings are similar, but also different.  With the drawings, the surface is not a blank canvas.  She draws on amate bark.  The texture of this remarkable bark is already etched with distinct patterns.  Again making art is a contemplative, meditative process.  But here, she coaxes her images out of the existing texture.  The drawing is surprising meticulous.  But the result is once again psychedelic.  Liz describes them as “little dreams or haikus dancing in the realm of the psyche”. ab4Catchsm_aw

In recent years, Liz has become well known for her sculpture, notably her art-bots.  She has been using recyled materials to produce sculptures since the 60’s.  However, it was only after meeting Allison Walton at Float Gallery that she started to seriously produce her whimisical bot creatures.  Float Gallery is a pretty interesting gallery in its own right.  It is a “urban art spa”.  Inspired by a movie that Allison saw when she was 16, the iconic “Altered States”, she started a flotation tank spa and expanded it to include a gallery.  Not surprisingly, Liz Mamorsky’s work fit right in.  And when Allison invited Liz to make art-bots for a show she was curating, Liz really enjoyed herself.  The process of the art was very much in tune with what she had been doing for years.  She would take recycled materials:  foundry patterns and old computer motherboards.  Then, she bigtiemoose028would lay them out on her studio floor, rearranging the parts until something anthropomorphic suggested itself.  The results are great fun.  Most importantly, she has enjoyed meeting the collectors and fans of the artbots.  It is, as she says, “like going to geek camp”.  For the past two years, she has competed in the “Artbot Division” of Robogames, where her work has consistently garnered acclaim.

Lizland will be opening its doors to the public for San Francisco Open Studios this weekend.  There is a reception tonight that you do not want to miss.  Liz’s husband, Mel Knox will be pouring his Ici/La-Bas & Uvaggio wines.  The studio will also be open from 11am – 6pm both Saturday & Sunday.  Liz exhibits frequently in California and beyond.  She keeps her calendar updated and current.  And, of course, you can always call to arrange for a studio visit.

SF Open Studios Weekend Three – “So, Where’s Mike Off to Now?”


SF Open Studios This weekend, over 200 artists will be opening their studios from Third Street -> SOMA ->  Downtown -> over to North Beach.  It is a daunting journey, but if anyone is up for the challenge, it is me.  And, once again, everyone is asking “So Mike, where are you off to now?” 

Well, I have already outlined 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 Three 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 (there is also an online copy here), and chart out where I am going based on which works exhibited appeal to me.  While there, if I have not picked up a copy of this year’s Guide, I definitely get myself a copy.  


Friday Night Receptions

This is a big weekend for Friday Night Opening Receptions.  I have a compilied a list here under “San Francisco Fall Open Studios“.  I am going to try to get to as many as possible.  For efficiency, I am going to start with the SOMA Open Studios that are having Friday Night Receptions.


SOMA Open Studios
689 Bryant Street

Io by Erica Meriaux

Io by Erica Meriaux

This is the largest of the Friday Night opening receptions with over 40 artists exhibiting.  They are hosting a reception and silent auction, with proceeds from the auctions benefiting RAMS.  This studio has a number of my favorite artists.  Erika Mériaux was featured in a profile: Artist and Collector – A Spark of Recognition here earlier this year.   Mike Kimball is featured in a profile on an excellent local art blog: Arteaser.  Other artists that I never miss the chance to visit include Tama Greenberg, Jana Grover, Renee Eaton, Suzanne Radcliffe and Deloris Thomas.

1544 Market Street 
Alan Mazzetti

Alan Mazzetti

Just a couple of doors down, Garage Gallery will be featuring the work of Alan Mazzetti (paintings), Dan Newman (photographs), Tara Gill (photographs), Dennis Smith (paintings), Henry Epstein (paintings), and Susan Tuttle (photographs).  Definitely worth a peek.  Plus it is a cool space with a cool owner, who couples his automobile repair business with a gallery!

340 Bryant Street
Sandy Yagi

Sandy Yagi

A few blocks up Bryant Street is a relatively new artist studio building.  The entrance is a little bit tricky.  You go like you would be getting on the freeway in the carpool lanes; but stay right and go past the freeway entrance.  The building is immediately on your left.  Featured artists:  Alan Brenner, Amanda Blanton, Florence Gray, Heather Sandler, Jonah Ward, Karl Roeseler, Margot Hartford, Sandra Yagi, Susan Joy Rippberger, Susan Taylor, & William Cooper

739 Clementina Street
ab4Catchsm_awHidden away on a small street just off 9th, is Liz Mamorsky’s magic castle.  I never ever miss her openings.  It is a really fun place to visit.  And, her husband is in the wine business so the house wine should be just wonderful.  I will be kicking off Weekend Three tomorrow (Friday) with a profile on Liz, so check back tomorrow morning!
One Rankin Street
hausDeparting SOMA , I head out to the industrial section of San Francisco just off Third Street for two last studios.  First up, the mostly sculpture studio fronting on Islais Creek.  Over a dozen artists have open studios.  I featured Rebecca Fox here on SF Art News earlier this year.  But there are many other talented artists, as well.  Some of my favorites include Alex MacLeitch (work pictured here) and Min Hwan Park
1750 Armstrong Avenue
patchen-vaseContinuing further south on Third Street towards Candlestick, I am finishing the night at Public Glass.  They say that they are only staying open until 9pm, but I am hoping the party turns into an after-party.  It’s been known to happen.  This studio is a real crowd-pleaser with hot glass generally being blown.  You may want to come back, in fact, next weekend for the Halloween Party on the 31st!  Hot Glass, Cold Beer makes another appearance.  Make a donation; get a hand-blown mug; use it to drink beer while you watch the glass blowers perform their alchemy.  Davd Patchen, shown here, was featured in a SF Art News profile earlier this year.

No time to waste on Saturday.  A friend of mine from Berkeley, Yoko Ueno Lewis is a Japanese designer.  She has never been to San Francisco Open Studios so I am going to show her around.  I am picking her up at BART and we will re-trace my SOMA steps from Friday night for the most part, but with a couple of notable additions.


Hot Studios
585 Howard Street, First Floor

Carlo_Abruzzese_552Hot Studios is a  design studio, founded by Maria Giudice. an artist and calligrapher.  It will open its doors for the second year in a row and exhibit artwork created by its employees: Renee Anderson (kiln-worked glass), Peter Jacques (collage) and Holger Struppek (photography) along with an equally diverse group of local artists: Ramekon (mixed media, assemblage), Carlo Abruzzese (painting, mixed media), Christopher Craig (mixed media) and Benji Hunt (mixed media).  Since my guest is a designer of some renown, I think she will really enjoy visiting this studio.  Also, Carlo, whose work is pictured here, is one of my personal favs!
61 Bluxome Street
BubblesIIMy guest also designs ceramics, so we will be stopping by The Clay Studios.  Most of the clay artists are pretty traditional, but Jane Grimm, whose work is prictured here, is definitely not.  I try to visit her studio every year to see her new works.




61 Bluxome Street 
storeshotWell, this is not SF Open Studios.  However, I love this store and it is not too far out of the way.  More importantly,my guest for the day, YokoUeno Lewis, has designed some of the ceramics in the store from Bee House.  And, she has never been to the store.  It will be fun to introduce her to Lisa Congdon, the proprietor (and a talented SF artist herself).






Sunday, I am going to be a little more relaxed.  I am heading over to Just For You Cafe for some eggs & grits.  Then I am going to visit the studios around Dogpatch. 

Noonan Building
Pier 70 near 20th & Third
HuaThis building houses some outstanding artists and it is well-worth visiting.  Iwill be stoppin by to visit Philip Hua (work pictured here), Suzy Barnard and Adele Shaw, for sure.  I also love the view of the San Francisco bay from this building.  There are some abandoned buildings along the waterfront that are incredibly photogenic.  If you have never been out there, be sure to add it to your itinerary.




2565 Third Street

PVOne of my favorite artists, Pete Villasenor shows at Graphic Arts Workshop.  Including Pete, there are ten artists showing here.  It is a great place todo your Christmas shopping!  Many of the works are produced in editions and. as a result, the work can be really affordable.  I am definitely bringing my checkbook. 




I am going to finish by visiting some of the individual studios.  There are dozens and I have not completely decided which I will visit yet.  But I will definitely go see  Kathryn Arnold, Reiko Muranaga, John Melvin, Katie Gilmartin (who is giving demonstrations & free stuff!) and Annie Galvin.

Support San Francisco Art & Artists & GET YOUR ART ON!

Artist and Collector – A Spark of Recognition

by Priscilla Otani

Eighteen years ago Erika Mériaux decided to make oil paintings to fill the white walls of her apartment in Lille, France. She was pregnant at the time, her husband was away on military service and she had no money to decorate her home. She sold paintings to supplement her husband’s military pay and had gallery representation in Lille. Her first sale was to a friend, who bought a piece called Sleeping Beauty. She recalls, “He wasn’t rich and not the kind of person to waste money or time to compliment others. (That purchase) is why I felt I had to continue.”

IoMériaux moved to the Bay Area in 1999 and rented a studio at Art Explosion. In 2008, she moved to her current location at Bryant Street Studios at 5th and Bryant.  She paints there five days a week. She displays her work at Home Escape in Carmel where her portraits of dark-eyed heroic and mythical women sell well. In some ways she prefers showing her work this way than through a gallery, where the financial imperative to move art quickly makes it difficult for an artist to establish a presence. Her only regret is that she unable to build a direct contact with her collectors. 

 At her studio Mériaux says she never likes to pressure people into buying. “I‘m happy when people love my art,” she says. She encourages the collector to go for what he likes, not necessarily something trendy. “Some people are afraid of human representation, especially nudes. “Don’t give in to peer pressure, or what’s good art or bad art. Go with how you feel.”


 Shannon Simon first saw Mériaux paintings at City Art and visited her website. She was strongly attracted to “Love Story,” a piece with a man and woman painted on gold-leafed sliding panels that moved the pair closer or farther apart. She purchased the piece, based solely on the website image. She remembers how pleasant the experience was – Mériaux offered an installment payment option and delivered and hung the piece for her. Even before “Love Story” was assembled, Simon knew she had made the right choice in art and artist.

 Simon started buying art in her 20’s and has been collecting for more than 10 years. She keeps a journal of her art collection – date of purchase, artist’s name, title, price, medium and a photo of the piece. It is a useful reHera_and_the_cuckoo-1ference to track the growth in value of her collection. She also keeps a list of artists she would like to start collecting, such as Fain Hancock, Mark Popple and Michael Osborne. She views works by new artists by attending First Thursdays and SFMOMA’s Artists Gallery Sale. She brings her friends to expose them to the joy of collecting. Simon advises artists not to assume that just because a visitor is young, she wouldn’t be able to afford their work. “Don’t count out the young audience buyers,” she says.

 Collecting art – it all begins with making a connection, recognizing that spark. It can happen anywhere where art is displayed – Open Studios, First Thursdays, galleries, fundraisers, auctions, home furnishing stores, cafes, bars and restaurants. Go with an open mind – you will be pleasantly surprised by what you fall in love with. And once that piece of art speaks to you, talk to the artist or gallery manager. The more you learn about the piece, how it was made, why the artist decided to make it, the more ledameaningful it will be. Sometimes you will be satisfied to own just one piece from an artist. Or you may find yourself nurturing a relationship with someone and building a collection of work that will give you and the artist a lifetime of mutual satisfaction. As one collector put it, “Buying art has enriched my life. Fall in love with something and find a way to get it.” From the artist’s perspective, Mériaux sums it up by saying, “When people love my art enough to spend money on it, it gives me confidence to continue with what I do.” 

(This excerpt is from an article by Priscilla Otani and is reprinted with permission by Ms. Otani, Ms. Mériaux, and ArtSpan.  The original. longer article covering Bay Area artists Chris Leib, Erika Mériaux and Pete Villaseñor appeared in the San Francisco 2007 Open Studios Guide)