San Francisco’s Open Studios

Nov 10, 2014 / By admin
Posted in Culture Vulture / Good Ideas / Magazine / San Francisco / Travel |

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Fort Mason on a Sunday. Farmers’ Market stalls laden with early November tomatoes, a reminder of drought, a meaty breeze blowing from the German sausage stand, pregnant women toddling in hoards towards a baby fair, serious couples with striped shirts and sophisticated sunglass frames and Jack Russell terriers, a line of bearded men and their friends pouring out of Greens to Go restaurant, seagulls and grackles fluttering for detritus. It is a supremely San Franciscan chaos, full of all the signs that this city is being itself.

I climbed above the Italian Institute in building C where ten first graders where attacking a horse sculpture up the iron staircase where I was promised a glimpse at art. I am beginning to second guess the use of that word, coming from a school of thought that doesn’t agree a person with a canvas can necessarily succeed at its genuine creation. Yet there is an innate joy in the busyness of ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios – many people, different ages, making a clear priority to express in their chosen medium. You could say that in and of itself is inspiring.

What I found varied in quality – many of the displays were merely color studies, where I could image the authors feeling new freedom from boldly using crimson, vermillion, royal blue, all in concert. There were at least eight rooms of art, several artists’ work in each. Every room was also outfitted with a refreshment table: cheap wine, cheese fish crackers, cutie mandarins.

No doubt there was refuge to be found in this factory-like space, which, if gutted, would not look all that dissimilar from the innards of Kilmainham Jail. It was cool and relatively quiet. Best of all, perhaps, there were no hard sell tactics at play like at the respective Fort Mason activities where, for instance, a pregnant belly is perceived as a chance to sell you any number of gadgets and philosophies. Lately I’ve tired of San Francisco’s entrepreneurial spirit, which is often watered down to a sell-yourself attitude where any conversation can become a persuasion toward purchase.

These artists had put serious time into preparation. The multitude of oiled canvases, collages on wood board, photographic prints, and abstract clay sculptures were evidence. Many were what I perceived to be an artists’ own discovery, and a little tough criticism would likely boot them into editing their voice into something clear and discernible. I grew up with a mother who told me she cried most days at art school, which shaped her well. Maybe that pain is useful in forcing clarity in artistic expression. Maybe it is some sort of cathartic pathway towards both owning your ideas and being able to realize them.

Two artists in the farthest room were the most formulated. Renee DeCarlo Johnson made colorful tangled paintings glazed with layers of shiny tar gel. Some where deconstructed into square quilt-like blocks and drawn over so that the depth of her complex designs came to the fore. The most intriguing was Ealish Wilson, whose repetitive technique of textile creation yielded a solid collection of thought-provoking works. She starts with a simple design, like a stylized arrow, then creates a pattern from it and prints a fabric. She then smocks that fabric, photographs it, and hones in on a particular area from which she creates a second textile. Then that resulting fabric get smocked in various sumptuous patterns to create a pithy hanging, that draws you into conversation about shape and topography and space. Her works had a glimmer of Louise Bourgeois influence, and were displayed in a tight grouping that had the residue of appreciated editing.

Art Span hosts the longest-running open studios program in the country, where over 800 artists show works over four weekends – this year October 18-19, 25-26, and November 1-2, and 8-9. Incidentally, October is also San Francisco’s hidden summer, an ideal time for a visit or a day trip within city boundaries with the highest possibility of wearing a tank top comfortably. Find information for visiting next year at For current exhibits in city-wide galleries hit the Galleries Tab on the website.

Another by Ealish Wilson, image thanks to artist:

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Art by Renee DeCarlo Johnson, image thanks to artist:



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