Robert Bowen Studio Visit

Robert Bowen’s artwork is colorful, funny, shocking and all over whacky. My head really did get tangled up in a knot trying to figure it out, and that’s when it occurred to me: Robert Bowen paints the world that we see in our dreams, not the fairy tale kind, but our actual dreams: the ones that contain both good and bad; both ease and distress.

Robert Bowen,  And They Called Him Donald, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Viewing Bowen’s work is similar to dreaming. One painting may convey several different scenes, and just as with a dream, each image blends smoothly into the next without question, until you wake up and try to piece the whole story back together, only to find that it doesn’t work. Bowen’s work, on close inspection may result in furrowed eyebrows. I actually find this quite humorous and wonder if the artist enjoys watching the multitude of facial expressions that are brought on by those who view his work.

Robert Bowen, An Alternative Nightmare, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches.

Likening Bowen’s work to a dream places it under the umbrella term ‘Surrealism’. The 20th Century saw Freud’s discovery of the subconscious and the destruction of the rulebook that told artists what to create, so I think that it’s a natural progression in the art world to see artists expressing what is most natural to them: their thoughts, flowing as naturally and as easily as they do in a dream.

Robert Bowen, The Last Polar Bear, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches.

There is a lot of juxtaposition to Bowen’s work. It takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster. A guy blowing his brains out is spewing rainbows and butterflies.

Robert Bowen, A Magnificent Shame / Budd, acrylic on canvas, 8×10 inches oval.

I like Bowen’s approach. Ridiculous content is presented seriously: His work is painted beautifully and displayed in an honest and straightforward manner. It really gives the content credibility and makes us take the time to consider what is conveyed. He uses elements from popular culture to effectively communicate with his viewer. We all know how to react to Mickey Mouse and Darth Vader.

Robert Bowen, Southern California Oracle, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

There is an undeniable sense of freedom and Punk Rock rebellion demonstrated in Bowen’s work. Colorful and full of movement, he paints whatever he wants to. And that’s not surprising since graffiti was a major contributor to his artistic development. Graffiti is like montessouri school. Artists get to create what they want, how they want to, at their own pace and without the scrutinization of grades.

Robert Bowen, Nerd Medusa, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 48 inches.

Bowen uses humor to comment on greater social issues. Take a look at the print that was offered for sale on his website during the holidays:

Robert Bowen, Jesus Criss, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.

I love this piece. It’s just so cheeky and absolutely hilarious! Peter Criss is elevated to The Savior. We really do worship pop stars in our culture and the church is a joke. The painting is right up there with my favorite Mission District dollar store find, the Obama Christ candle:

Bowens’s work contains good and bad; dark and light. It is an accurate representation of our lives, and I think that his own approach to life is reflected in his work. It’s not all bad and there are some very terrible things that you just have to let go of so as not to let them eat you. His strong sense of humor is conveyed as well as the underlying message: ‘Don’t forget to laugh at it all’, because sometimes that’s all you can do. His work is both fun and serious. It’s very well thought out and I really am looking forward to watching him produce more in the years to come.

Robert Bowen, Lucky Strike, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches.

This is the artist at work. Photo c/o Shaun Roberts.

Here are some of the things that I saw when I went out to visit Bowen at his studio:

This is his studio, small, very well organized and choc-a-bloc full of weird stuff.

Bowen is a junior entomologist. This is his pet scorpion ‘Smitty’, who was encased and framed when he died.

This is a pigeon skeleton.

Here’s a tip: If you want to give this artist a gift, find something weird, dead and beautiful, then frame it. He’ll be delighted.

More dead stuff.

Then, just when I thought I had seen it all, this is what I found in his bedroom. The large coffin is his closet and the baby coffin is his sock drawer.

This is Bowen giving his Lovebird ‘Beaker’ a bath. Beaker sees Bowen as his life long partner and is head over heels in love with him.

These are some of his books.

A well stocked DVD collection. No surprise coming from someone who has always been an avid TV watcher.

View the full collection of Robert Bowen’s work at www.robertbowenart.com.

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Interview with Blek Le Rat

Blek Le Rat is a street art legend. He is the first major stencil artist and has worked all over the world. He is an extremely important and influential figure in the history of street art and I had the honor of going out to have a chat with him while he was preparing for his show at 941 Geary Gallery that opened this past Saturday, November 19th. Here’s how it went:

SFAB: In your words, how would you describe the progression of your work over the years?

BLR: Over thirty years of working it has changed a lot. At the beginning I was making only rats, small rats. I used to spray them in the streets of Paris, thousands and thousands. And after that I changed my goal and I changed my mind.

SFAB: What are your goals now?

BLR: In 2006 I met a guy who put a price on my work. It’s changed since then. It’s a new experience. Showing my work in galleries now is a different experience. It’s an incredible experience. After your life changes, you change your way.

SFAB: I’ve been reading quite a few interviews that feature you and something that comes up quite a bit is that you wanted to be famous. Do you feel that you’re famous now?

BLR: Not as much as I would like to be. (Laughs…) My goal is to continue to work and to show my work. I have many things to say. Not especially about the social context of society, but I have many things to say about what I believe in. I am very interested by the history of art and the way it is developing in the context of the street.

SFAB: Why do you think the street art phenomenon is so great? Where do you think it’s going to go?

BLR: The reason that most of the graffiti artists are working in the street is to be recognized in this society that is so anonymous. The city is very huge and you can stay ten years without any relation with another one. It’s very difficult to live in the city. So many people are looking for recognition and it’s a good way to show your work: to do something in the street: music, art, painting. Do it on the street and you are recognized very fast. I think that most people making street art have a need to be recognized. It was the same thing for me. I remember in the 70’s I travelled to the US very often and met people who played music on the east coast. I was very fascinated by the young Americans playing music and doing things. Everybody was practicing.

SFAB: You have stated several times that you feel that the street art movement is the most important movement in the history of art. You were there at its inception and have obviously been very influential. Are you one of the most important artists in the history of art?

BLR: No, because we can’t know. We can’t say that because we will see in 200 years if this moment was important. Maybe it will be completely forgotten in 100 years. It’s a very good experience in art and I hope that it’s going to stay for a long time, developing different schools and ways of expressing. For example, a lot of people are starting to dance in the street now.

SFAB: So, you see people becoming more liberated and you think that the street art movement is a part of that?

BLR: Yeah, probably yeah. And also it’s a rebel art. Many people coming from this art are rebelling against society, so it brings a lot of new thinking. The first goal of the street artist is to be famous, to be recognized by other people. That’s why they tag their name: to be recognized by their friends and by the world. It’s a little megalomaniac. People who work in the street are kind of megalomaniacs. They make huge pieces and they want to rule the world.

SFAB: Is there anyone that you look up to?

BLR: That’s something that happens when you are young. When I was young I was very influenced by the Pop art movement. Andy Warhol had a show in Paris. I was influenced by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, people like that. I think that every street artist was influenced by Warhol in some way; Banksy, Shepard Fairy.

SFAB: Where do you draw inspiration from?

BLR: From my life usually. The best way to find inspiration is to take from your own life. Inspiration is not so difficult. It’s not so difficult to have ideas if you read the newspaper, or just to walk in the street.

SFAB: Do you try to be original with your style?

BLR: Yes, even when a lot of people are making stencil art. It’s difficult, but I try to have my own style.

SFAB: Do you think graffiti should be legal?

BLR: Yes, why not? It would be an interesting experience. Yes, of course. I would like for it to be legal. And also, this crime of making graffiti is not a huge crime. It’s not like attacking people in the street or selling drugs. It’s a small crime. So, I don’t understand why it’s so punished by the law. In France you can go to jail for two years for doing graffiti. And if you deal drugs in the street, you go for six months. It’s more the way the government sees street art. They are afraid of it.

SFAB: Why?

BLR: Because when people put their work in the street they can say fuck the government, or they can say I’m gonna kill someone, crazy things also, so it’s dangerous. For example the Nazis used graffiti in 1933 to paint on the wall the Star of David on the stores in Berlin. It’s the same thing. It’s propaganda. It’s very dangerous.

SFAB: How do you feel about the transience of street art?

BLR: I think it’s good. It’s very important. It doesn’t have to stay. Our work doesn’t have to stay for a long time. It’s just for a moment. I don’t want to have the same thing on my wall every morning. I want change. I think two, three weeks is ok.

SFAB: Do you record your work?

BLR: Not always.

SFAB: As far as I can tell, you’re very aware of street are globally. Do you think that there’s a distinct difference in style between street art in America and in Europe?

BLR: Yes. European artists/young people are very influenced by the American style, and American fashion, and American music. Everything coming from the US is very appreciated, in France and Spain and everywhere. And so a lot of French artists try to have the same style as the American, but it doesn’t work very much, in my opinion. It’s only my opinion.

SFAB: Why doesn’t it work?

BLR: Because you have your own architecture and your own way of life here. You have different people from European people, completely different. I don’t think that it works very well to make a beautiful American piece in Paris. I think that the people who make tags and pieces in the street belong to the same family. But, we take different ways to express ourselves. I like a wall full of tags in Paris. It can be very beautiful. Deeply in my mind I would prefer if the French people could express themselves more, not trying to imitate what’s happening in the US. What you find in Europe is a fake American graffiti. It’s beautiful sometimes, but it seems fake compared to when you see it in New York, or when you see the same thing in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

SFAB: Why did Pompeii make an impression on you?

BLR: Because of the feeling you have when you are in the city. It’s very strange because everybody died in a few hours. And you feel the feeling of violent death very strongly everywhere. A massive amount of people died together. You can feel it. It’s very powerful with reference to art. The remains of the people and everything stayed absolutely in good condition, frescoes and the way that they were living, even dogs, statues of dogs. And so that’s the reason that I wanted to work on places like that, you know, where something very strong happened before. So I worked in Volubilis. It’s the same kind of city as Pompeii. It’s in Morocco and it’s smaller than Pompeii. I worked in this place in 2003. You see the way the people were living 2000 years ago. They were making lots of graffiti. People wrote their name or drew a boat or horses. You can find a lot of graffiti. It’s very cool.

SFAB: Is there anything else that you want to say?

BLR: I’m very happy to be here, to be recognized in the US. It’s very important to me. It’s something that I would never have imagined before; when I started in the ‘80’s, I would never have imagined. It took a long time, but when something must happen, it happens. Things happen at the right time.

 Blek Le Rat, Last Tango in San Francisco, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 108 x 80 inches.

Blek Le Rat, The Duet, spray paint and acrylic on wood, 45 x 49 inches.

BLR: I made the pieces on wood here. I like to work in the country where I have a show. It’s very pleasant for me to go in different countries than mine and to work. I hate being a tourist. For me it’s a very good experience: preparing things, talking to people. I love that. I really love that. It’s absolutely great. It’s very important to have something to do when you travel. To work or meet people, living life in the same way.

Blek Le Rat, The Real Mona Lisa, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 78 x 78 inches.

SFAB: I really think that the Mona Lisa piece hits the nail on the head. It’s describing street art as an undeniably and essentially important movement in the history of art.

Blek Le Rat, In Tenderloin, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 72 x 80 inches.

BLR: This one is a police man who is working here in the Tenderloin (district of SF). He belongs to the anti-graffiti team. I met him. Some taggers from SF are going to tag it, which is very important to me: to have an exchange of work. I love to share my work with other people.

SFAB: The finished piece has about eight other writer’s tags on it. This is definately one of my favorite pieces from the show. It’s aesthetically beautiful and a big f-you to the anti-graf squad.

 Blek Le Rat, Tribute to Taki 183, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 54 x 80.

BLR: It’s a tribute to Taki 183. He was one of the first graffiti artists in New York. This guy brought a lot of things to the world: a new way of thinking; a new way of expressing art.

SFAB: I have to say, that’s exactly the way that I feel about Blek Le Rat. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. He has not let any of his acclaim tarnish his demeanor that remains humble, open and kind.

This is the man himself standing with his piece entitlted What the Fuck, spray paint and acrylic on linen, 85 x 78 inches. Photo c/o Alan Bamberger at www.artbusiness.com. (Reviews at http://www.artbusiness.com/openings.html)

This historic show will be up at 941 Geary Gallery now through January 7th, 2012.

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Casey Gray at White Walls and Studio Visit

I went to the opening of Casey Gray’s ‘Style of Eye’ on Saturday night at White Walls. Though I had seen his work at his studio before, I had never seen it properly displayed in a gallery, and finally got the chance to really look at and spend time with it. His work is simply arresting. It transported me into parts of my imagination that I never even knew existed…

Casey Gray, Drowning in a Drought, acrylic spray paint stencil and ink on wood, 60 x 48 inches.

Gray’s artwork makes me feel like a kid on Halloween night after devouring half of my pillow case full of candy, then spinning around and around in circles before falling down into a fit of giigles. In just the same way that children are addicted to candy, I found that I was addicted to Gray’s paintings. Explosive and kaleidoscopic, there is so much color and movement to these pieces. They are musical and they made me dance.

I must have spent three hours looking at the exhibition. I walked around the gallery several times, and every time that I saw the same piece again, I saw something fresh in it. Sometimes it was just a few small details, and oftentimes I saw a completely new picture. His work is composed of so many layers. There are layers of scenes and layers of meaning.

Casey Gray, Break the Glass, acrylic spray paint stencil and ink on wood, 48 x 72 inches.

Though his work presents many different scenes, it is cohesive. They are all aspects of one whole. Your eye is guided around the artwork, and your mind is taken on a journey. Each part of the painting depicts a different setting with a whole other feeling. These are seemed together by drips, bands of color and strings of light bulbs. The viewer’s eye is shown through the piece using the flight of a bird upward, the reach of a hand across, or eye lasers that shoot along the picture plane.

Casey Gray, Party Foul, acrylic spray paint stencil and ink on wood, diptych, 60 x 96 inches.

There is an element of plasticity and disconnect from reality in his work. The images presented are mainly drawn from his memories, and the way that he feels about them. He comments on the effect that the internet has had on today’s society. The whole world is accessible to us without leaving the house and we have become distanced from reality.

 Casey Gray, Sweep it Under the Rug, acrylic spray paint stencil on wood, 60 x 48 inches.

Gray’s technique matches his personality. He is calcultated, and there is a great deal of precision and exactitude to his work. He hand cuts stencils with a razor and then uses acrylic spray paint to apply the color.  The blade suits him. The paint is applied perfectly smooth and even. He has an excellent sense of color and those that he chooses are bold, vibrant and beautifully matched.

 Casey Gray, Still Life with Flowers #2, acrylic spray paint stencil and ink on wood, 48 x 36 inches.

Gray is an ambitious over achiever. White Walls is the ultimate gallery to be shown at in San Francisco for the new style that’s coming out of the City. Showing there is the final goal for many SF artists, and most don’t make it. This is Gray’s second solo show at this gallery. Not bad for a 27 year old.

This is Casey Gray at his show at White Walls.

I went out to meet Gray at his studio. He shares a 20k square foot space with three musicians and three artists.

This is the front entracnce to his studio, and one of several workspaces.

This is part of his dry studio, where he cut stencils and works with dry materials.

This is Gray surveying a piece before the exhibition.

He stores his stencils in these drawers for future use.

This is one of his favorite stencils.

These are some of his books. They entail several of his influences.

This is his spray paint. It’s organized in the same way as a color wheel.

Casey Gray has what it takes to succeed. I think that his work is still developing, and I’m really looking forward to watching it progress. His show at White Walls will be up through October 29th.

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David Young V Studio Visit

David Young V is a man on a mission. There is something a little militant about him, the way that he walks and even carries himself. He chews his cigarettes, and I can’t help but be reminded of a general chewing a toothpick while planning out his next battle move. Sometimes I wonder if he’s just itching for all Hell to break loose so that he can spring to action. He even lives in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. It’s by far the most grizzly part of the City, overrun by drugs and homeless people; the sound of sirens is a familiar one. You are constantly reminded of the worse parts of life here, and need to be a soldier to survive it.

I discovered Young’s work not too long ago, and became very interested in it. I decided to go out to meet him at his studio to discuss it.  What I discovered really blew me away. Young is an avid reader of Sci-Fi and a history buff with a highly active imagination. He was so excited while speaking about his work that he was talking at about a million miles an hour, explaining the deep intricacies of the society that he has built up in his mind. What is conveyed in his multi-layered artwork is a whole other world with a detailed and thorough narrative. Tribes, languages, religions, symbols and colors have all been woven into an elaborate plot. I think that what puts Young’s work on the map is the fact that it is a whole new type of artwork. It is Science Fiction artwork. What writers and film makers put into books and on film, Young has expressed onto paper and board.

This artist’s vision is so involved and complex that I would have to write a whole book to explain it fully (something that he is considering), but instead of doing that, I’ll explain just a few of the more important aspects, going into detail on some.

This is the piece that he was working on when I paid a visit. The world depicted is our own, set some time in the future, after we have become more advanced. The entire fabric of society as we know it has been destroyed, and is now being rebuilt and redefined.

He explained that there is a whole language to the symbols that appear in his work. With reference to this piece, the ’003′ indicates that this is the third image that he has created depicting a group of bonded people. A symbol drawn in pencil in the lower left, made up of a square with an arrow through it, stands for the bicycle couriers. The square indicates a neighborhood, and the arrow access to it. The bike couriers act as a freelance militia, mercenaries, private escorts and security. They are the only group with no barriers into other parts of the City. Almost everything in Young’s work is subjective and he invites the viewer to draw his own conclusions.

The Neutrality is like the UN in that it stands to keep the peace and protect, but behaves in much the same way as the ancient Romans. They are the most advanced group and are on a mission to take over the world. They envelop cultures and make them their own. The Neutrality tribe put together much of the infrastructure of this earth, including history, language and technology. This brave new world is like our own, but everything is tweaked, just like the Mad Max series (which Young lists as an influence).

The piece above illustrates the ‘Yellownecks’. The Yellownecks have taken drugs over time that take away fear and make their emotions unstable. The drugs have affected their liver, so they have a yellow tone to their necks, hence their name. They are a lost generation of monstrous humans who started out as orphans. A constant annoyance and threat, they have been cast out of society and now occupy the external area of the City.

There is a blend of old and new, past and present throughout Young’s work. The moon is a constant reminder that history exists, and that there was an advanced civilization before. The moon was conquered and there are remnants of that great feat still visible from earth. With reference to the piece above, the words ‘memento mori’, mean ‘remember death’. The female’s face is something of an iconic image. She is a symbol of hope and perseverance.

This is David Young V holding a pillow with a replica of him on it.

 These are some of his books, a nice collection of sci-fi and art.

These are some of his movies.

This is pinned to the wall beside his workspace: assembly instructions for an M16 air rifle.

Random stuff on a shelf. Let’s see… Books from one of the World Wars, a pack of Facebook cigarettes, a comic book character and a robot toy with a huge machine gun.

Young is a highly intelligent artist whose imagination knows no bounds. His work is truly original and I can’t wait to see what he produces next.

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Skinner Studio Visit

I initially became interested in Skinner’s artwork about three years ago. I came to know his murals, then went to an art show where viewers wore 3D goggles. The pieces jumped from the canvas and came to life. I then went to his recent show at Shooting Gallery, and finally made the trek to visit him in Sacramento.

Skinner’s artwork is iconic. He is engaged with many aspects of popular culture. His work is larger than life, rebellious, punk rock and energetic. I was introduced to it when I had just moved to the City and saw his mural on Lower Haight. This mural is a symbol of San Francisco. Lower Haight, characterized by dive bars, punks, hipsters and funky art galleries, is a hub of San Francisco’s counterculture. Skinner’s mural, and the rest of his artwork, encompasses this contemporary genre. It’s part of our zeitgeist. I know I’m home when I see that mural.

Skinner, Mural on Haight Street.

His artwork is dramatic, exciting, gripping, dangerous and addictively fun. It kind of feels like a video game that you just can’t stop playing. His work presents another world overrun by vibrantly colorful, three eyed monsters preying on people and wildlife alike. There’s a battle ensuing between good and evil.

But, his work is more than just a game. The world being destroyed is our own. We witness it falling into darkness. Evil beings conquer life and all that is good on earth. I think that his work is an anti war, anti global warming, anti animal eating (he’s Vegan), and anti everything else that we’re doing to our planet to destroy it commentary. There is an element of terror, and possibly even hopelessness for the state of humanity that is being expressed in these penetrative scenes.

Skinner, The Black Rabbit of Inle.

Though his work presents Hellish images, Skinner is anything but dark. His work is cathartic. What is presented in his artwork is something that he has purged; something that is no longer inside of him. Just like a color, what is seen is the only thing that is not a part of what is represented.

He really embraces his life and lives it fully. The world in return embraces him. Skinner’s career is on fire with commissions coming out the wazoo. He’s designing toys, stickers, t-shirts, album covers, snowboarding equipment; the list goes on… On top of that, his work is not only coveted in SF, LA and NYC, but also in Japan, Russia, Berlin, Spain, the Netherlands; that list goes on too…

Skinner, Hitogimira, custom toy. (It’s vomiting people)

Sacramento, his hometown, beams with pride for him, and has given back. He lives in a house that he built with his own hands as part of a subsidized housing program for artists. The materials were free and his mortgage is peanuts.

Skinner’s phat pad. He lives here with his two cats and four bunnies. The building in the background is his studio.

The property is composed of two buildings: his two storey house and studio. The latter is made up of an atelier and a soundproof music room where he practices with his band, Ungoliant (self described as ‘kind of a Psych-Heavy Rock band’).

This is his music studio, inside of the main studio.

This is the main atelier. That door with the AC/DC poster leads to the music room.

This is Skinner at his most recent show at the Shooting Gallery. Photo c/o SF Weekly.

This is Skinner’s assistant, Hal. He’s a computer whiz.

This is his comic book collection.

These are some of his books.

These are some of his toys, used for inspiration.

These are the masks behind his desk.

This is a drawing that he did when he was ten.

A very busy man, and a hard worker with a positive attitude, Skinner deserves it all. He kinda reminds me of ‘The Dude’, from Big Lebowski: Sometimes there’s a man. He’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there, and that’s Skinner, in Sacramento.

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Lee Harvey Roswell at 111 Minna Gallery

111 Minna is a gallery/bar that serves as one of the pillars of San Francisco art culture. It’s generally a little too loud and a little too crowded, but I always have so much fun there.

When I first saw Roswell’s work at the show titled ‘Illusions of Grandeur’, I thought ‘Dali, Surrealism’. I then met him and saw his upturned mustache and thought, ‘Ok, what’s this guy’s connection to Dali?’ His work is somewhat Surreal and he is a follower of the artist, but not a copycat. Roswell’s work is not technically Surreal. He’s not politically motivated and he does not work directly from his subconscious. What is projected onto  Roswell’s canvases is his unadulterated, wild and unruly imagination. Looking at his work really is looking inside of his head. We see his thoughts. That is the most direct way to communicate and a staple of Surrealism. His work is so attractive because we engage with his mind, and by doing so, we are pulled into the depths of our own imaginations.

Lee Harvey Roswell, Oh Death, Where is thy Sting?, 36 x 24 inches, oil on canvas.

There is a lot of symbolism, and several different ways to interpret one scene in Roswell’s work. I asked him if I was right to see a face in Bacchus Fermentus, (The lips are formed by the double layered wine goblet, one eye is made up of Bacchus’ face, etc….). He responded ‘Well, actually, there are many more. It runs across the canvas almost like a shelf of scattered masks, probably more faces in there than I know about’. Wow! Good luck figuring that one out.

Lee Harvey Roswell, Bacchus Fermentus, 40 x 30 inches, oil on canvas.

In my opinion, Bacchus Fermentus is the crowning glory of the show, and it’s worth taking a closer look at. It’s as though everything is in flux in this piece. Besides the fact that Bacchus’ head looks like it swallowed an accordion, seemingly opaque objects are transparent; the sky is in a picture frame on the ground; solid objects melt, and rotting fruit indicates that the young healthy beau might be diseased. Is the scale through his nipple asking ‘Is S&M ok?’. I could go on for days trying to interpret this piece, but I’ll stop there.

Lee Harvey Roswell, The One and Only, Moore, 24 x 30 inches, oil on canvas.

His work takes the viewer on a journey. You can’t help but try to figure out what is going on. You search for meaning. Ideas are presented and your eye searches the canvas for more clues to the concept that you are forming in your mind. When I was at the show, I heard so many interesting conversations. People were talking over each other, trying to be the first of their friends to crack the code of the piece.

Lee Harvey Roswell, The Curtain and the Crow, 12 x 24 inches, oil on canvas.

Each image is something of a self portrait. He puts a lot into each work; a lot of himself and a lot of time and effort. There is something very honest about sharing your unfettered mind with thousands of total strangers. Couple that with the fact that Roswell is a little shy and what you’ve got is a great display of courage.

I think that his works are so carefully executed because Roswell is a perfectionist who is highly self-critical. He constantly revisits pieces to correct them; to make them better. He sees flaws where we see a mind blowingly impressive and powerful work of art. His pain is our gain.

Roswell wrote to me in an email that ‘It only takes about a thousand of everyone else’s thumbs up to tone done my own self-criticism one notch.’ Well, Lee, from me and everyone else who has seen or will see your show: Here’s a thousand thumbs up! You rock! Thank you.

The show will be up now through August 27th.

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Shawn Barber at Fecal Face Dot Gallery

Shawn Barber, Jezebel, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches.

The history of Modern art is characterized by a series of movements that rewrote the established rulebook of what art should be that had been in place for centuries. Those movements needed to happen. That book needed to be rewritten. Unfortunately, part of this transition involved diminishing the importance of the real craft of painting, painterly skill and the celebration thereof.

Shawn Barber re-embraces that true craft; the craft of Velasquez and of Van Dyke, two masters that he lists as influences. His work goes back to the roots of what makes great art. It champions hard work, dedication and tradition. He even has the words ‘Work’ and ‘Hard’ tattooed on his fingers.

A list maker and goal setter, Barber is extremely motivated and prolific. He lives his life with integrity. He has chosen to do what he loves, and to try to become great at it. He ticks off all of the boxes, and that’s rare.

He has painstakingly studied and practiced his technique. He has spent many years enhancing his ability, practicing and motivating others. It has been said that good art no longer exists because the craft has died. Barber’s work, and that of those that he has taught and influenced, is testament to the fact that good art is alive and well.

Barber blends age-old technique with present day subject matter, making his work contemporary and cutting edge. Personally, I feel that the theme of the show entitled ‘Youth of Today’ is secondary to the painting itself, but it is certainly worth our attention.

 Shawn Barber, Attention Defecit, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches.

Barber is an impassioned man who is deeply upset with the state of today’s youth. Today’s young people are out of touch with their true selves. Their position is tragic because they are encouraged by the media and their peers to be somehow perfect. The standards by which they are judged are radically out of line with what is actually important in life, and with what the next generation should be learning to value. The result of their effort to fit in, and to be what it is that society seems to be telling them to be, is not beautiful, cool or impressive. It is plastic, dead and ugly. These images are a harbinger of a bleak future.

Shawn Barber, Mummified, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches.

I feel that Barber believes in finding your true self, and in letting that guide your life, so I imagine that his view of today’s youth is particularly disturbing for him. He uses his art to make a loud statement. There is a shock factor to these pieces. They jolt the viewer to attention. Dolls’ heads become bloody and decayed, ending up as skulls. There is something eerily disturbing about a doll’s head, possibly even more so than a skull. We relate to them. They are created to look like us. It’s as though Barber’s dolls are possessed. Red is a predominant color of the show. It is the color of blood, of danger, of Hell. According to Barber, the youth of today have a real problem. Their behavior is misdirected and unnatural. The doll’s eyes look sad, lost and detached from their souls. They are troubled because what is behind them is empty.

Shawn Barber, Dissolution, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches.

The show will be up now through August 6th.

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Aaron Eliah Terry at Ever Gold Gallery

My visit to the opening of Aaron Terry’s exhibition ‘Restistance to the Indignities of Modern Life’ at Ever Gold Gallery was the beginning of a challenging and colorful adventure.

Ever Gold is a small, trendy gallery in the Tenderloin (TL) District. The TL boasts a lively display of homeless people, prostitution and drugs. What is it about the blend of hipsters and crack heads that makes for the perfect place to showcase art?

I think that my initial reaction to Terry’s work was the same as everyone else’s: ‘Uh… WTF?’ I looked a little closer… I was totally drawn to it. Perhaps that’s due to the bright colors and off the wall subject matter. I was met with pristine, hyper-real, Technicolor images of a costumed ‘yetti’, or Big Foot like creature set in various recognizable scenes of San Francisco. Then, in a back room, hand sewn costumes of yettis and various other life-sized and obscure other creatures. The center of the gallery was taken over by an installation piece where the viewer walks into a cavernous, forest like space where he becomes consumed in vines made of fabric and more, smaller, sewn yettis. The installation felt like being in a B-rated sci-fi movie from the 70’s.

Everyone present really enjoyed the exhibition. The gallery was filled with smiling faces and a buzz of excitement. Part of me felt like a kid again. I don’t think that Terry ever stopped using his childlike imagination.

Aaron Terry, Yetti Installation.

Terry’s work suspends reality and transports the viewer to another world. By juxtaposing the real and the unreal, he is challenging us to question our own actuality. He turns reality up side down and encourages us to rethink it, both in terms of the identities that we assign to ourselves and to others based on appearance, and with reference to what we believe from the media.

Aaron Terry, Yetti Photo Explorations

The yetti plays an important role in Terry’s work. He uses it to show how we react to appearences. By taking such a spectacular creature and ascribing human traits to it, he magnifies our reaction to physical traits. He questions individual roles. When standing in a room shared by yettis, we question ‘who are they?’, but should we also question ‘who are we?’. Terry conveys that we can not necessarily trust what we see. He wants us to question the media. He wants us to think outside the box.

Aaron Terry, Yetti Treaty.

I think it’s important to know where Terry came from to fully understand his work.Until the age of eight he lived in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York with Survivalist parents and a very furry Dad. The yetti is a self-portrait. When I first met Terry he was in the small back room of the gallery standing with three furry animal costumes and wearing a big friendly smile. He’s well travelled, politicly tuned in and has studied History extensively. I went out to meet him at his place in Canyon, CA. Somehow he managed to find a remote, unincorporated part of the Bay Area in the redwoods.  He lives and works there with his dog Mylo. This is his house:

Terry’s work is very impressive. I just love the fact that he’s addressing such major global issues by inviting us into the whacked out world of the yetti! His creativity is off the charts and he has such a great sense of humor.

The show will be up through July 6th.

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Robert Minervini at Gallery Hijinks

I went to Gallery Hijinks for the opening of the Robert Minervini show.

The gallery is located in one of my favorite parts of the city, ‘The Flats’, in the southeastern part of the Mission District. It’s very Hispanic, vibrant and residential. Sporadic bars are filled with tattooed patrons. I love the artwork on the sides of buildings here too. It’s a mixture of huge, intensely colorful Latino murals and graffiti writers’ tags. They work together beautifully and illustrate the neighborhood’s inhabitants. It’s quiet and sparse, but I feel perfectly safe here.

So, the gallery… It’s located on Bryant at 21st. It’s a small, warm and welcoming place. When I was there, work was being shown in two rooms. The back gallery exhibits work from past shows and the front showcased that of Robert Minervini, a young man who has been immersed in his career since he could say the word. Seriously, his resume is impressive and clearly states that he has only ever had one choice in life: to be an artist.

When I first saw his work, I didn’t really get it. I had just gotten in the door and was focused on the larger pieces. It wasn’t until I had settled into the space and discovered the smaller ones that I really felt his work. They are exquisitely rendered. They are lovingly constructed with a delicate hand. His pieces are beautiful. His palette is soft. Using tiny and minimal brush strokes, he creates a flock of birds flying over the sea.

Robert Minervini, Acceleration Culmination, 8 x 10 inches, acrylic on canvas over panel.

But, there is something other than a peaceful landscape that is being presented in his work. I think that Minervini is commenting on the destruction of our society. His works are void of people and tell the story of a place in the future, and of a civilization that has gone. He may be warning us that if we don’t change our behavior, we will be no more. In fact, what he is showing us is our graveyard. He presents scenes of decaying Post Modern structures, vines that enwrap billboards; an ocean flowing on top of a city. Buildings in the background are left unfinished because they are ghosts.

Robert Minervini, Conscious Input, 9 x 12 inches, acrylic on canvas over panel.

He is also telling us that life will go on with or without us. We’re not that important in the grand scheme of things. The earth depicted is lush and serene without people. He may even be suggesting that removing humanity is the path towards harmony.

Robert Minervini, Sunken Dreams, , 48 x 72 inches, acrylic & oil on canvas.

I have to say that what I like most about Minervini’s approach is the subtlety. He is conveying such a strong message, but he is whispering it. We have to stop, to lean in and pay attention to what he is saying. And that’s exactly how his strategy works. He is a clever guy.

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Sergio Lopez at Modern Eden Gallery

This show at Modern Eden Gallery stopped me in my tracks.

The world of Sergio Lopez’s ‘Painted Roses’ is arrestingly beautiful. The viewer is transported into a quiet, private and sunlit world. The women in his works are delicate, feminine and serene.

Sergio Lopez, Reve D’Or, 26 x 26 inches, gouache and watercolor on paper.

Though pattern permeates the pieces, it is not offensive. Instead his works move gracefully. Meandering vines creep and play in and around the figure, whose tattooed body becomes one with her environment; one with nature.

Sergio Lopez, Duponti, 18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas

Time moves more slowly in this world. They feel like morning when there is no conflict. Everything is easy; light. There is no pain and no criticism. I find myself breathing more fully and deeply, remembering what’s actually important in life.

Lopez’s works are masterfully executed. Working in both oil and gauche and watercolor, he has a great confidence in line. I spent as much time looking at his brushstrokes as I did the full work. The patterns are reminiscent of Matisse and Klimt. I found myself inspecting the paintings very closely, marveling at the beauty of the paint and lines themselves, imagining the artist stroking the canvas with his brush.

Sergio Lopez, Anastasia, gouache and watercolor on paper.

Ok, so these works are sublime, but why the tattoos? They offer a very different tone to the paintings, giving them an edgy undercurrent. These figures are animalistic. They crawl. They flirt, and they may not be as benign as they look. They are camouflaged, as though in a jungle. Perhaps Lopez is commenting on the fact that the city is a jungle and we are its animal inhabitants.

The title of the show (Painted Roses) is another indication to the meaning of his work. The nudes are covered first in tattoos and then in wallpaper. I wonder if Lopez is commenting on the way in which our experience of society serves to cover our true selves. People become guarded and edit their speech so as not to say the wrong thing. This influence clutters the way that we express ourselves and even think. Our innate beauty is taken away as we become inhibited. These scars are as permanent as the figure’s tattoos.

Sergio Lopez, Pearl D’Or, oil on canvas.

There is a lot to this work and I encourage you to check it out.

The show will be up now through June 4th.

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