I continue to work through the backlog of art and music reviews by presenting some of the openings and performances I saw on the particularly busy and fun evening of February 19 here in San Francisco. Although the evening included both musical performances and exhibitions of visual art, music was present as a central theme throughout.
First up, we visited Jancar Jones Gallery for the opening of William Leavitt: A Show of Cards. The exhibition featured “over 300 ink drawings on index cards” (though I only counted 248) arranged in three groups on the walls of the gallery.
The gallery’s stark white walls presented a great surface for drawings, which were sometimes very sparse and sometimes quite detailed. Many featured musical elements, such as instruments or notes on a staff. There were also mathematical pieces (such as an x-y plot of a sine function), electronic circuit diagrams, architectural drawings, animals and abstract textures.
It was fun to scan the rows of cards, picking out individual ones for closer inspection and comparison, particular the abstracts and the references to some of my own areas of expertise (e.g., music and electronics). It turns out Leavitt has a long-standing interest in electronic music, and was featured in this article at GetLoFi alongside circuit-bending godfather Reed Ghazala.
In addition to being works of art in their own right, the cards serve as a source material for chance procedures that Leavitt uses in other works. In particular, a random subset of cards were used to generate a narrative that was incorporated into the text for his play “Pyramid Lens Delta” (the title came from the first three cards in the set). The script for the play was part of the exhibition. The back of the script contained the card set, and glancing through the text one could see where portions of the dialogue seemed to be drawn from the cards, particularly dialogue associated with Ivan, one of the characters in the play.
Leavitt has used chance processes for past works, including a theater piece The Radio which premiered in 2002. This piece includes not only dialogue but also an original score that included musique concrete. I would have liked to have seen this.
After Jancar Jones, we made a brief detour into that ambiguously defined area at the base of Potrero Hill to Project One for The Art of Noise, a visual exhibition coincident with the Noise Pop Festival. It featured large artistically altered portraits of well known musicians, as well as some installations, such Ted Riederer’s piece featuring drums covered in rose petals.
We finally ended up in the Mission District, and after a brief stop for tacos arrived at Bluesix for a pair of musical performances.
The saxophone duo of David Boyce and Phillip Greenlief. As noted in previous reviews, Greenlief’s virtuosic saxophone performances cover a wide variety of instrumental techniques. The duo weaved effortlessly between idiomatic jazz riffs and more free-form sections featuring multiphonics, noise production and vocals. The change between sections was both sudden and subtle; I was immersed in a jazz riff with long up-and-down lines or rhythmic patterns and only later would realize that we had moved to a more non-tonal (i.e., “noisy”) and arhythmic section. They demonstrate that these modes of music making need not be at odds (as they are sometimes portrayed on musician discussion lists) and can be part of a single piece of music. The performance did, however, inspire a short discussion with a friend about what is “experimental music” and why the performances this evening did or did not qualify as “experimental”.
Boyce and Greenlief were followed by the Karl Evangelista Spaceman Explorer Trio, featuring Karl Evangelista on guitar, Cory Wright on baritone sax, and Jordan Glenn on drums. Evangelista in his various groups blends jazz traditions with elements of late-20th-century experimental music. This of course led back to the question of whether or not this performance was “experimental”, particularly given strong jazz foundations on the pieces that we heard. The trio opened with loud driving rhythms and Evangelista and Wright trading long fast melodic runs. The piece “Hurdles” on Evangelista’s MySpace is quite representative. Another piece a somewhat slower groove with strong quarter notes (one might say a little bit “funkier”, more 1970s). Within this context, the melodies, riffs and one-off notes were often atonal, which helps to keep things moving forward. Overall, it was a fast-paced and virtuosic performance.
Just as it was last year, Open Studios is “art overload” – the sheer number of artists and artworks can be quite overwhelming, even just concentrating on a few studios in a small number of blocks in the Potrero Hill and Mission neighborhoods. I concentrated on a few areas of particular interest, such as pure abstraction, conceptual work, urban landscape, and use of technology, but also took notice of other themes such as animals (especially cats) and selected figurative works as well.
The first major stop was Art Explosion Studios on 17th Street (they now have several locations). I usually begin by seeking out larger abstract works (such as might be appropriate for the walls of CatSynth HQ). These could be single large paintings, or collections of smaller objects to form a whole. An example of the latter was Kally Kahn’s black-and-white “pincushion” series.[Click on any image in this article to enlarge.]
Very abstract and geometric, I did not immediately recognize them as pincushions until Kahn pointed it out. The brought to mind science fiction or microbial illustrations, and as such I thought of Miro’s Constellation. The coloring and texture also reminded of Julia Orshatz’s work I had seen a week or so earlier at First Thursday, although Kahn’s pincushions were rounder and less intricate.
In terms of larger abstract canvases, Heike Seefeldt’s Roller Coaster series stood out. Each 3-foot square canvas featured a central color and set of shapes (e.g., spirals, radial patterns, stripes, etc). Most made use of bright colors, but the Devastation sub-series featured darker colors, including one distinctive black canvas with more rectangular shapes.
I again found Melisa Phillips’ paintings, featuring stenciled text on large color fields as well as embedded abstract figurative images. She also presented some of her figurative drawings this year, but it was still the larger text-based works that got my attention. There is always the question with works that incorporate text about whether it is a purely visual element, or conveys meaning. Certainly, one recognizes the letters in these paintings as letters and thus as language, but for me part of the appeal is that they don’t appear to mean anything with regards to our normal use of language. (I found myself speaking with another artist, Megan Cutler, on the challenges of using text in art.)
Michelle Champlin’s large canvases featured cityscapes that were imaginary but were inspired by real cities, such as San Francisco.
At least one painting featured an outline of the Transamerica Pyramid; another was supposed to represent a neighborhood like the Tenderloin as seen at ground level and incorporated newspaper clippings into the background. Champlin said she was inspired by the cosmopolitan nature of the cities, and the coming together of many different people with different perspectives.
Jhina Alvarado’s stark Forgotten Memories series was based on old photographs she collected. It seemed odd to possess “other people’s memories”, which led her to create these series where the people were presented on empty backgrounds, and their eyes covered with black boxes. Alvarado suggests that blocking out the eyes added anonymity, as well as some mystery to the figures, and to separate them from the memories of the original owners of the photographs.
Interestingly, some Alvarado’s work was displayed into the main hall next to another series of paintings in which the main figure’s eyes were hidden. Romolo R Nisnisan Jr’s In the eyes of a hakujin included a large portrait of a blindfolded Asian woman, supposedly a caricature of western mens’ perceptions of Asian women (or at least that’s what the poorly worded artist’s statement suggested).
On my way to Art Explosion, I stopped at a small studio on Potrero Avenue, featuring paintings by Calixto Robles. Several of his large paintings feature iconic and stylized images of jaguars.
Most were singular portraits like the examples above, although Robles sometimes incorporated them into other pictures with dreamlike or religious imagery.
At 1890 Bryant Street, I met Sevilla Granger. Most of her canvases feature trees in silhouette surrounded by warm colors. The trees often have sharp bends in their branches and patterns reminiscent of the cypress trees along the California coast. Interestingly, these “arboreal portraits” are sometimes painted over initial abstract layers of paint that are never seen except as texture beneath the surface. She actually presented one of these preliminary images as a finished work, and found that it received a very positive reaction.
Catherine Mackay’s paintings focus on the “visual urban experience”, and her new series Wharves and Warehouses continues this theme. I had seen Mackay’s work before, which featured familiar locations from San Francisco and New York. Unlike her previous paintings, which featured very think paint and strokes that obscured the industrial quality of the scenes, the current series is very finely textured and almost photographic in some cases.
I instantly recognized one of the piers from along the Embarcadero near the Bay Bridge, an area which has been a rich source of material for my own photographs – this led to an opportunity to share some of my own images and discuss our experiences with the urban landscape.
While some artists focused on a particular media, theme or technique, Mr. Rogers was focused on a single character “Bunnymatic.” As the name implies, bunnymatic is a sort of robot/bunny character, inspired at least in part by the characters of Sanrio (e.g., Hello Kitty, etc.). We see bunnymatic in a variety of media (painting, graphics, popsicle sticks, kinetic sculpture) and in a variety of situations, such as playing drums, partying, towering over a skyline, etc.
Another comic/cartoon-like image that caught my attention was this one illustration by Matt Delight, featuring a young woman and her pet mollusk.
A block or so away was Project Artaud, which houses a warren or live/work artists’ spaces, studios, galleries and a large performance space (where the 2008 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival was held).
Around a corner, I came to the studio of Janet Scheuer, whose colorful paintings feature cats. In particular, they feature her cat who passed away at the venerable age of 21.
In another corridor, I heard electronic music coming from the studio of Saiman Li, where a small group was performing live. The walls were covered with a variety of objects, photos and conceptual works relating to Asian visual imagery and Asian identity.
I made a brief detour to Cellspace. I mostly know Cellspace as a performing arts venue rather than a place for visual art. I did see large black abstract sculptures by Corey Best in the main hall. I also saw a few minutes of a dance performance entitled “Happenstance of Social Blunders”. Basically, it seemed to be deliberately clumsy dancing, set to some light jazz music provided by a live band.
After Cellspace, I visited the private studio of Silvia Poloto. I have a small mixed-media piece of hers, and have always liked her very deliberate arrangements of geometric shapes, color fields, organic elements and the occasional snippet of text. Her studio, like her canvases, was clean and smart and organized and was well suited for displaying some of her larger works.
Some, such as the blue painting from her Observations series, resemble that original small piece and have a the look and feel of a rough drawing. Others, like those in the Absense Presence series are very smooth and polished, and divided into sections with abstract shapes or photo-realistic elements in each. A third series, Highland, appeared to combine both styles into a very tall narrow dimensions.
[Images from the artist’s website reproduced with permission.]
From Poloto’s studio, I wandered down Folsom Street to Workspace, Ltd., a large and inviting collection of studios in a converted old industrial building.
Perhaps one of the most unique collections of work I saw was that of John Zaklikowsi. His source materials are a combination of discarded electronics (hard drives, cell phones, etc.), gears and chains, and musical instruments, which he arranges into large and intricate sculptural works. Some are flat wall-mounted collages, including one titled Number Theory; but he also had a grand piano covered with electronics and embedded with flutes, a clarinet and even a tabla.
I did not try to play it.
The corridors and studios of Workspace, Ltd also featured a variety of more conventional work. Leslie Andelin’s The Big Bang was a huge canvas covered in rectangles. The bright greenish colors are not really my preference. I did like the industrial and abstract paintings by Amy Curkendall and Alex Zenger, with lots of straight lines and angles. Ali Saif had a large collection of darker abstract canvases, mostly black and silver, with bits of red and other colors – his titles suggested industrial themes like classic cars.
As 6pm approached I did find a place to “decompress” from the artistic and sensory overload. Delfina Piretti had set up a tent as a quiet space where people could compose images from their dreams. While I mostly just wanted a moment without any additional input, I did contribute a drawing, trying to unload a bit of everything from all the different themes and trends into a single image. I left it behind in the book, unlabeled and unsigned.
[For Weekend Cat Blogging, please follow this link].
Since last Sunday (after my performance at the Y2K8 Looping Festival), visual art as taken over. October is Open Studios in San Francisco, where artists open up their studios to for public visits. I took advantage of the opportunity to get acquainted with local artists, mostly in the neighborhoods in walking distance, and the local art scene.
Taking in so much art and so many artists in such a short period of time is quite overwhelming, and I will only be able to describe a small fraction of what I saw. What makes a particular artist memorable and noteworthy is not only the quality of his or her work, but the conversations and personal connections. In some cases, I remember artists whose work may not fit my own aesthetic, but whose meeting was memorable. It was also the setting, and how their work fit in with my vision and sense of the neigbhorhoods.
Potrero Hill, The Mission District, and Bernal Heights
My first day out was last Sunday during which I visited several large studios in the Potrero Hill and Mission districts. The first stop was Art Explosion Studios. Here I met and had a change to talk with Amy Seefeldt; and Victoria Highland, whose large city-scape on a hill in front of a bay (where have I seen that before?) was one of the better large-scale paintings I saw. Heidi McDowell had an interesting large-scale painting featuring a young girl at Lassen National Monument, which I visited last year. The recent work of Melisa Philips is perhaps closer to my own interests. One of her paintings featuring stenciled text is shown to the right. I have discussed here on CatSynth in the past my interest in text within visual art, and whether the words and letters are simply visual elements or retain their meaning. Melisa Philips and I had an interesting conversation about this topic. Additionally, her earlier work includes some of the more interesting female figures I encountered on this particular day.
It is hard to tell specifically where Potrero Hill ends and the Mission begins, and many of the venues on this particular trip sit in that ambiguous area of old industrial buildings dotted with lofts and art spaces. Within these spaces, I encountered not only traditional fine art, but other media as well, some which would have been traditionally classified as “craft.” There were several jewelry makers, for example – there is a fuzzy dividing line at which things like jewelry become art, perhaps when they become more an item to collect and display, rather than to wear. There were the chandeliers by “adventurer” Derek E. Burton, which were quite intricate and intriguing, and although they are completely opposite of my personal style and the style of CatSynth HQ, I enjoyed hearing Derek’s story and his passion for his work. Aliza Cohen presented mix-media art, but it was her wool pillows that caught my attention. I did also encounter more traditional media, such as the photography of Christine Federici that incorporated some architectural and space details, as well as a mixture of natural and artificial textures.
Interestingly, it seemed that “modern” art, which is my main interest, was a distinct minority among the works encountered on this first trip. Certainly, there were many artists working with abstraction, but overall it did not have the stark geometric or textural qualities that I have come to expect.
When searching for “abstract” on the main website, the work of Pauline Crowther Scott showed up on the list. Her works features images of cats. Cats and abstraction seem like a good combination, so I made the trip out to her home studio in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. The trip to the narrow and sometimes vertical streets and older houses in this neighborhood in the southeast of the city, on a somewhat chilly late afternoon, was an interesting experience in itself. Scott’s work was much less abstract than I had expected (she was in fact surprised by the designation), but she did have several works featuring cats that were added to earlier (and indeed somewhat abstract) images. One example was Three Cats on a Bedspread.
South of Market and Mission Bay
This weekend featured open studios the South of Market (SOMA) area, which is my own neighborhood. Overall, the works I encountered were decidedly more modern, and often seemed to take inspiration from the industrial and urban surroundings. Indeed, the mixed media works of Rebecca Kerlin draw upon the highway overpasses, such as I-80 and the approach to the Bay Bridge, that I have featured in many posts here at CatSynth, such as in this Wordless Wednesday post. Her work incorporates photos of familiar landmarks and details into mixed media pieces.
One of my longer pieces about walking in SOMA included this photograph featuring an onramp to the Bay Bridge over Bryant Street, near the landmark Clock Tower:
It turns out that building in the foreground contains several artist studios. Among the artists at this locations was Paule Dubois Dupuis. Her work includes large abstract modernist paintings, the type of art I am currently quite interested in. Some of her pieces also included stenciled text, another common theme among works that draw my attention. In addition to the art itself, her studio is in quite a location, with windows that look out onto the bay, the industrial/office buildings and the highway supports, depending on the direction of one’s gaze. I was inspired to take this photo:
At Clara Street Studios, I encountered the work of Jerry Veverka, whose work involves plays on architecture and geometry, with some surrealist elements. I had seen an example at the SomArts exhibit, and was particularly drawn to his “Impossible Cities Series,” an example of which is displayed to the right. (Click on the image for a full size version at his website.)
Two other photographers I also encountered at included familiar sights from both New York and San Francisco in their work, and I had fun identifying and discussing them. I have unfortunately misplaced both photographers’ contact info (and I cannot find them on the original list. Hopefully, I will be able to get in touch them soon.
Back at Soma Artists Studios (same location as Rebecca Kerlin), I saw an interesting progression the work of Flora Davis. Her early work featured oil paintings of cats, while her more recent work involves sheet metal. They were quite separate, indeed they were displayed in two separate studios. However, I think it would be interesting to place one or two of the smaller cat paintings next to her multi-panel metal works, and considering them as a unit. Indeed, it would summarize my experience as modernism, abstraction, geometry, and cats.
After an exhausting but rewarding walk around the neigbhorhood, I did have to time for a brief excursion south to some studios in the Mission Bay area, which includes much of the old industrial waterfront.
The view behind the studios at 1 Rankin Street onto the Islais Creek Channel were quite inspiring, even without the presence of art. Fitting with the environment, this studio featured metal sculptures. The large sculptures of Béla Harcos greeted visitors. No matter how much I am supposed to be looking for prints and paintings, I am still drawn to abstract metal sculpture. Rebecca Fox also had large works on display, and I able to glimpse her workspace and her collection of metal waiting to be used. The “artist blacksmith” Wolf Thurmeier has some smaller, even “miniature” abstract metal sculptures (what I would consider “apartment-sized”), forged from recycled metal.
The Anderson Collection
Quite by coincidence, I also had the opportunity this weekend to attend a private tour of the Anderson Art Collection. The collection is located in Menlo Park (south of San Francisco, near Stanford University), and features late 20th century and early 21st century American art. It includes over 800 works, spanning about five decades and several notable styles and schools, including color fields, minimalism, the New York school of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg). There were also recent computer-assisted works by Chuck Close, as well as emerging artists that the Andersons are supporting. One interesting discovery for me was Frank Lobdell. I will have to look for him on the outside. I found it interesting how some of his work resembled the Jasper Johns’ prints featured in the collection (especially the reductions in the very detailed brochures).
This visit to one of the premier private collections was an interesting contrast to many local independent artists over the past week. I would to think that my art experiences will continue to include both.