Thursday, October 30, 2008

Arteaser Weekend Guide 10.30.08

The Weekend Guide is a little light this week, but it's Halloween, so you'd be out trick or treating anyway. Otherwise, it's a great time to get caught up on ongoing shows!

Ongoing Shows

Brian McDonald at Reaves Gallery through November 2

Javier Chalini and Mike Kimball at the Falkirk Cultural Center through the end of the year

For more shows and events featuring artists interviewed on Arteaser, check out the Arteaser Calendar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kent Roberts

I first met Kent Roberts at an opening at Space Gallery, where he was showing a couple pieces along with fellow SFMOMA employees. On my most recent Open Studios weekend tour, I visited Roberts in his appropriately located studio in the Pier 70 shipyards.

Growing up in Albuquerque, Kent Roberts' early creative efforts often involved building vessels:

"[T]he space program was happening which really intrigued me. I even made model rockets that my Dad and I launched out in the desert"

Although he was also interested in art, he followed in his father’s footsteps and got his college degree in engineering. There, Roberts learned to appreciate certain methodologies:

“I like that idea of how to think, or the process of [...] scientific or engineering thinking. There’s a way of dealing with problems”

When his draft number came up after college, Roberts joined the Navy. After two years of service, he used his GI grant to go to the San Francisco Art Institute:

"I had already studied engineering so thought I would give my other interest a try"

Early on, he gravitated towards the detail and process oriented painting style of photorealism. But he has since embraced sculpture, broadening his scope of materials and using them more as tools to solving a larger artistic quest:

“I don’t try to stick with a medium. I just try to choose something that’s appropriate for the work […] because I’m not an expert in any of them, I know a little about all of them”

Meanwhile, Roberts had gotten involved in hanging and installing art in galleries and he now heads the installation team at SFMOMA. Like his own sculpture work, the varying nature of the contemporary exhibits he installs presents unique challenges:

“It’s exciting working with the art, putting the art up, and the best part is working with the artists [...] I worked with Richard Serra and we had a thirteen thousand pound lead sculpture, that’s molten lead, that we had to melt in the middle of the night […] or Matthew Barney, we had to pour all that Vaseline into a big mold”

Working with vested third parties is a reality for the numerous public sculpture commissions he has been awarded. Concerns about potential issues such as graffiti, safety hazards, and misuse of public space all need to be factored into his creations:

“They have all these worries and […] it gets in the way of the art, but to get the commission you have to solve those problems”

For an upcoming commission for the Moscone Park, Roberts originally proposed a monument to the location as a refugee site after the 1906 earthquake. Ultimately, he won the commission, but for a boat-like design that reflected both modern and historical elements of the location:

“I try to do pieces that are about the site somewhat, or at least fit with the site”

Indeed, a number of his sculptures have nautical elements:

“When you’re sitting on a boat for two years, maybe it kind of seeps in [… but] it’s not the sailing part, it’s the making of the ship”

Going back to his engineering roots, Roberts is largely focused on the process of creating his sculptures. But he considers the display - for which his public commissions are explicitly designed - to be an important element in the artistic process:

“I like people to see my work and hear what they have to say about it. I think it’s important that people see art. I mean, if nobody’s looking at a piece of art, to me it doesn’t exist”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend Recap 10.27.08

Weekend four of SF Open Studios focused on artists in the SOMA/Potrero Hill districts of San Francisco. I enjoyed taking in the fading industrial landscapes which inspire a number of artists working in the area. My first stop was the SOMA Artist Studios, as featured in the Arteaser Weekend Guide, where I dropped in to see Mike Kimball (below, right):

Next, I made my way down to the Noonan Building, in the historic
Pier 70 shipyards

I visited with printmaker, Sarah Newton, among a number of painters and printmakers working in the building:

Built in 1941 as an administration building, the Noonan Building still has a number of older fixtures and features that create a unique atmosphere.

Next, I headed up to the
Graphics Arts Workshop where a number of printmakers, including Lori Robi (below, left), were holding their open studios:

After that, I headed back to Pier 70, to the Substation building, the oldest steel building in the Pier:

At my last stop in the Substation building, I met with sculptor, Kent Roberts:

For more events featuring artists interviewed on Arteaser, check out the Arteaser Calendar.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mike Kimball

I visited Mike Kimball in his studio at the SOMA Artists Studios. In addition to participating in open studios with the Bay Printmakers and at his SOMA studio, Kimball sits on the ArtSpan board which oversees SF Open Studios. Kimball is also an organizer behind SOMA Open Studios, which promotes the arts community and consciousness of the SOMA district.

Toy trains have been a favorite of many children, but growing up in New Mexico, Mike Kimball had close encounters with the real thing. In those early germinations of a life long interest in industry, Kimball’s talents as an artist manifested in drawings of trains:

“When I was maybe three or four, we lived in a city that was part of [the] freight area for the Santa Fe railroad that ran through that area […] when I was really young, I used to draw a lot of trains […] they’re just little kid drawing, but even then […] you can see the beginning of putting stuff in perspective” 

Supported by his parents from a young age, Kimball received art training early:

“When I was in grade school and high school, my parents - they noticed that I had drawing skills - so they were really good about letting me take art classes and painting classes” 

After high school, he attended a vocational art program in Denver, but ultimately dropped out of an undergraduate program at UNM to pursue a career in illustration and graphic design:

“I picked up this pretty sweet job [at a] newspaper where I was doing illustration, like editorial illustration, and graphic design […] so I never finished [my degree]” 

Eventually, Kimball moved out to San Francisco in the hopes of finding broader options as a graphic artist. The move would also prove to feed his interest in the visual landscape of cities and industry:

“I’ve always been fascinated with cities […] When I was driving out here [...] I came through the Caldecott Tunnel […] and laid out before you is all that: the port, and farther away is the city on the horizon […] It definitely made an impression on me” 

After twenty years in the graphic design field, Kimball began taking painting and printmaking classes part-time. But the journey back to fine arts was not without its artistic baggage:

“I had in my mind that I should disassociate anything that was graphic design influenced from what I was trying to paint, so for a while I was trying to paint very realistic […] I was even approaching printmaking the same way […] thinking, ‘How would Rembrandt make a print? I need to be like Rembrandt.’ […] I studied quite a bit of art history so I had in my mind all these precedents” 

An instructor at CCSF, Glen Moriwaki, pressed him to embrace his graphic instincts:

“I was trying these different things, trying something that was more loose and brush stroke and trying to figure out ‘what is it to be an artist’ [… He asked], ‘Why are you running away from what you are naturally inclined to do?’[…] That has always stuck with me” 

Kimball has since completed his degree at CCAC, left his position as Art Director for the San Francisco Business Times, and continues to work as an artist and freelance graphic designer. In serigraph, Kimball has found a medium that connects his fine art with his graphic arts heritage:

“It’s very similar as far as the way you produce a graphic design and a screen-print and it lends itself to very graphic images, so I’m starting to feel very comfortable in it”

In his serigraph series, “Cargo”, completed while on an artistic residency in Belgium in 2005, Kimball pushed the medium, as well as his artistic tendencies:

“I want to try and make these very geometric compositions so I’m dropping out a lot of detail, but I’m so tempted from history to paint in every little bolt” 

But he has not completely abandoned realism, taking inspiration from precisionist painter, Charles Sheeler, and local photorealist painter, Robert Bechtle. Instead, Kimball navigates between the abstraction of graphic arts and his realist influences:

“The thing I liked about [the ‘Cargo’ series] is that a lot of times when people see them […] they’re thinking that red has nothing to do with the port […] But if you went to the port you’d see all those colors” 

That first-hand observation of modern industrial landscapes has marked Kimball’s work from his early drawings of trains and continues to inspire new subjects for exploration:

“I think a lot of my art kind of glamorizes the skyscraper, but I also like to look [at] what it looks like where trailers are parked under an overpass […] there’s plenty of places in the city, but its more gritty and it’s more industrial. It’s not the perfect, pristine skyscraper buildings that you see in the Financial District” 

See more of Mike Kimball’s work at Open Studios, from October 24-26. Along with fellow Bay Printmaker, Javier Chalini, Kimball also has works on display at the Falkirk Cultural Center through the end of the year

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Arteaser Weekend Guide 10.16.08

It occurred to me that folks might want to find out what's on that weekend BEFORE the weekend starts. So, without further ado, here is the Arteaser Weekend Guide for October 17-19 (note: times/dates link to the calendar with location details):

Opening Receptions
Javier Chalini at the Falkirk Cultural Center, 5:30-7:30pm
Brian McDonald at Reaves Gallery, 6-9pm

Open Studios
Nining Muir, 11am-6pm

Ongoing Shows
Nining Muir at SomArts Gallery, through October 26
Nining Muir at Space Gallery, through October 26

For more events featuring artists interviewed on Arteaser, check out the Arteaser Calendar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Barbara Kleinhans

As my last stop on the first weekend of SF Open Studios, I met Barbara Kleinhans in her apartment, where she paints.

Despite having never traveled outside the surrounding area of her childhood home in rural Wisconsin, Barbara Kleinhans imagined the world beyond the countryside:

“For a while there I thought I was going to be this reporter and I used to make little magazines […] I would write travel journals and I would make up these completely fake places [..] it kind of combined the elements of this kind of fantasy world I guess I had, between the writing and the drawing”

When some of her older siblings moved to the Bay Area, Kleinhans got her first taste of real travel:

“I remember coming here in that middle school-high school years on road trips with my parents, so this was one of the few places I had ever visited outside of just the immediate area of where I grew up.”

The city left a lasting impression and when she was eighteen, Kleinhans left rural Wisconsin for San Francisco:

“[San Francisco] held an interest for me and […] everything was different about it and that was what I was craving at the time. I wanted something totally different, I wanted to be in a city, I wanted exposure to all these different people, I wanted everything that was opposite of where I grew up”

After getting a degree in fashion design, Kleinhans worked passionately for a large clothing manufacturer. But she was forced to re-examine her career path when a round of corporate cutbacks found her holding the kind of pink slip that isn’t part of a wardrobe:

“When I was laid off I thought it was time to rethink all this”

To get some perspective, she packed a suitcase full of paints and a camera and traveled to Greece for four months.

“I decided at that point that I didn’t have to have a job that was my creative fulfillment”

Working in a less intense environment, Kleinhans began exploring acrylic painting on her own time, eventually developing a textured style from using painting knives instead of brushes:

“I kept trying to find ways to make [acrylics] look different and to force it to do more”

Inspired by the textured paintings of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne, her abstract paintings evoke a quiet landscape, far from the bustling city:

“It started out as I kind of started appreciating more what it was like to grow up in that area of the US and also in the countryside and how much freedom we had as kids [...] Maybe as a kid today and in city I never would have that kind of freedom and running around and all that. I started visiting it in a very abstract way.”

Kleinhans began reconnecting with her roots, drawing inspiration from known places, rather than the imaginary ones of her childhood:

“My traveling now has all be going to Wisconsin and helping my mom. That’s actually helped focus the artwork and the artwork actually even became a little more real in a way. Instead of these very kind of vague references to what I knew, it became a little more exact and I was willing to put it out there that this is what it is”

Embracing the location, Kleinhans is pushing further into the personal nature of her art:

“It has evolved to the point now where I take a lot of reference photographs […] to kind of capture something that had a lot of history for my family and bring it more directly into the painting. I think they're actually getting somewhere between abstract realism and a bit of realism in there now. So it’s the same subject but it’s evolving”

UPDATE: See small works by Barbara Kleinhans at the Studio Gallery from November 5 - December 24. She will also be participating in Visual Aid's "Big Deal" on November 8 and has works available for sale at Zonal Home in Hayes Valley.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Weekend Recap 10.13.08

It was a busy weekend on the Arteaser project, visiting open studios and gallery openings. With some artists opening their doors on Friday, the first weekend of SF Open Studios was in full swing by Saturday afternoon when I stopped by Fort Mason to see Javier Chalini, along with other Bay Printmakers, including Mike Kimball, Peter Doolin, Fernando Reyes, Noah Dasho, and Ingrid Caras. If Fleet Week traffic kept you away from the north side, be sure to see works by the Bay Printmakers on exhibit at the Falkirk Cultural Center in Marin through the end of the year.

By Saturday night, I was at Space Gallery in Polk Gulch, attending the opening of "Thought of you as my mountain top." Featuring works by SFMOMA employees, including Nining Muir, the exhibit will be on display through October 26:

On Sunday afternoon, I was at Reaves Gallery in Hayes Valley, where Brian McDonald was holding his open studios:

McDonald's show, "Clowns in My Coffee," will be on display at Reaves Gallery through November 2.

As Sunday wore on, I made my way up to Alamo Square, where Phillip Dvorak had opened his studio:

I ended the weekend on the other side of Alamo Square, where Barbara Kleinhans was holding her open studios:

For more events featuring artists interviewed on Arteaser, check out the Arteaser Calendar.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald is another artist participating in Open Studios this month. I stopped by his apartment in the Mission to get a closer look at his signature collages.

Brian McDonald didn’t exactly feel at home in his hometown of Valencia, just north of Los Angeles:

“I knew from a very early age that I just did not fit in there […] Growing up there, it was all about escape”

Escape he did: first to Amiens, France for a year abroad; then to Santa Cruz for college; and then after some time in Paris and Venice, Italy, McDonald came to San Francisco. It was after a couple of years in the Bay Area that McDonald found himself in a painting class:

“I always wanted to make things […] I just on a whim took a painting class and I immediately fell in love with it”

Though not a musician, McDonald credits his lifelong love of music as a key influence on his work. He conceptualizes elements of his paintings in terms of music, such as harmonies between different brushstrokes:

“When I would listen to music while I was painting, one day […] I saw the parallels”

Describing his influences, McDonald identifies music groups like Radiohead, in addition to artists, like Jean-Michel Basquiat:

“[Basquiat] was able to capture on a canvas what I think music would look like”

Imagining musical layering and harmonies, McDonald began to explore surfaces for his paintings, ultimately developing a style marked by dense collage work:

“I think I originally just started using collage as more of a background and a textural thing and also to give it a little depth in terms of layering. And then it started to work its way forward I guess and be more incorporated into the overall design”

The source material for these collages comes from anywhere, from discarded children’s drawings found on the street to food packages and table server’s notepads from the restaurant where McDonald works:

“They’re very autobiographical – my paintings – in that I collect so much stuff that normal people throw away”

Looking closely at his collages, one finds cartoons, notes, and snippets of advertisements:

“I like printed material – like the advertising stuff – because it’s got authority […] I like taking that and distorting it”

These thoughtful collages are woven together beneath and around his paintings, which often feature figures interacting in curious, but strangely familiar, ways:

“I always try to make the stories purposely ambiguous […] I want it to be kind of like a dream”

Dreams, perhaps, but certainly no fantasies, as McDonald’s figures are often coarsely drawn, with thick black outlines. This embracing of unrefined style reflects McDonald’s perceptions of his Southern California roots:

“LA is all about appearances and its all about the veneer and I think my artwork is trying to make fun of that […] almost by being the opposite of pretty”

From LA to letters, music to mass mailings, McDonald’s art reflects a breadth of influences from many aspects of daily life rather than a hermit artist:

“I need multiple things to keep me going. I could never just do art full time, I don’t think […] I would feel imbalanced”

See more of Brian McDonald’s work at his upcoming Open Studios on October 11-12 at Reaves Gallery, which will be showing his work through November 2.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Phillip Dvorak

In anticipation of this month's Open Studios, I visited Phillip Dvorak at his apartment where he works. We chatted as we passed through rooms filled with Mexican masks, skulls, and neat stacks of drawings and etchings.

As a boy in Southern California, Phillip Dvorak pursued his archeological ambitions by digging for bones behind his parents’ house:

“I was convinced there were dinosaurs buried in my backyard”

When he wasn’t digging for T-rex, Dvorak was always drawing. Even at an early age, his grandmother encouraged his artistic habits, enrolling him in figure drawing classes in the Hollywood Hills:

“It was all adults and I was just this little kid”

It wasn’t until junior college, at the suggestion of an instructor, that Dvorak began to consider pursuing a career based on his artistic talents. He considered design, but ultimately studied illustration, in which he saw more opportunity for creativity.

“Growing up, the idea of making pictures that would be in books or on an album cover--that was just the coolest thing imaginable. And I still like the idea of having my drawings and ideas published, and being accessible to lots of folks, as opposed to the handful of people who may go into a gallery and see my work.”

Meanwhile, bones - prehistoric and otherwise - continued to be a source of inspiration, in addition to the sexual surrealism of Hans Bellmer, the figurative drawings of R. B. Kitaj, and the corporal explorations of Kiki Smith. Although he works in a number of mediums, Dvorak considers himself primarily a draftsman of the human form.

“It seems like a simple thing--drawing the nude--and in a way it is. But to do it well is really very challenging, in a Zen sort of way: being in the moment, being aware, being patient. There's something so pure and sensual about it--nothing can be faked. I like that about it.”

In addition to his striking nudes and compositions of layered forms, Dvorak’s work includes abstract pieces that have organic, if not recognizable, shapes. They are often appear as delicate as the paper they are drawn on:

“I love doing abstract work because it just becomes about shape – shape, color line without being any object, it’s just pure drawing in a way. […] Just drawing a shape for the sake of itself or a nice line for the sake of itself. But being inspired maybe by something that you’re looking at.”

Many of his pastel and charcoal compositions explore intersections: between animal and human, beauty and the grotesque, and male and female. In a recent series, MexiCali, Dvorak conceptualizes another intersection- that of border towns:

“I don't think things are as black-and-white as some people would like, and the idea of creating images which try to break or blur some boundaries seems like a good one.”

In the last year or so, Dvorak has been exploring photo collages, assembling familiar subjects (bones, flowers, body parts) into bold compositions:

“I like chance and randomness and it’s a nice way to get images that you wouldn’t have gotten just by thinking of something and drawing it”

That quality of chance, rather than premeditation, defines the artistic process for Dvorak:

“Making 'art', at least for me, is more about the process--not knowing how it will turn out, experimenting.”

See more of Dvorak’s work during weekend two of San Francisco’s Open Studios, October 10-12.

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