On a cool, breezy summer evening, music emanates from the middle of the block on 18th Street, steps away from Dolores Park. The lovely voice of a woman summons, rather easily, others to a delightful space. Stepping inside, there are vibrant and colorful drawings of sweet breads and cakes adorning the walls. The music that lured people in is just as intoxicating as the wine and food served. A songstress taps at an upside-down metal bucket fashioned into a stringed instrument while singing with perfect key and timing. Looking around, the tables are filled with people and food. One of the chefs for the event walks over with sushi wrapped in nori with intricate laser-cut patterning. Sitting down on one of the benches and with possibly the freshest ceviche ever made, it was hard not to feel captivated by the warmth and uniqueness of the space—not your average closing art exhibition. Yet, this is the constant environment and ambiance found at nonprofit organization 18 Reasons.

In 2007, Bi-Rite Market took over the space formerly known as Blue Space from founders Cliff Leonardi and Dan DiPasquo. Paying homage to the iconic San Francisco 17 Reasons sign that served as a part of the Mission District skyscape, Bi-Rite decided to rename the event and gallery space to 18 Reasons after its new home on 18th Street. Despite the bustling surroundings and wide array of eateries in the area, 18 Reasons unites an undeniable combination of art, community, and food. With the objective of creating community through food and art, the programming literally and figuratively caters to the diverse San Francisco community.

The multifaceted approach toward community engagement requires programming and interfacing with the public in ways that offer new perspectives to the community through the arts. Eighteen Reasons offers not only an exploration of food and cooking, but also a multitude of approaches that touch upon more complex issues. Art serves as a great vehicle for broaching real-world problems in relation to consumption and our overall relationship to food. Regarding the greater curatorial practice, 18 Reasons curator Casey Carroll elaborates on her vision of the space as a gallery: “Beyond encouraging pleasure and a deeper appreciation of food and those that produce it (both the environment and our farmers), my vision is to push the envelope and encourage open dialogue that addresses some of the rougher sides of food: commodification, labor infringements, animal abuse, poor nutrition, hunger, and beyond.” Carroll adds that “each art show is tailored to the individual artist and the concept or vision that guides their work. What sets our programming and curating at 18 Reasons apart is that the art on the walls never stands alone. The programming that surrounds each display showcases its interconnection and interdependence with the culinary arts and social practice.”

Lastly, the art programming at 18 Reasons entails the Bathroom Residency. Yes, it is exactly what you think. The yearlong artist residency allows for an artist to create artworks for the 18 Reasons restroom. Believe it or not, this takes an incredible amount of innovation and strategic thinking around how to utilize the space. Granted, many restrooms have some sort of decorative artworks, but these residents make using the space an unforgettable experience. Carroll describes the Bathroom Residency as “the second piece in a long-term project entitled The Residencies, which launched in 2009 during Julie Kahn’s stay at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Julie decided to take over our bathroom for the year and install amazing works of art that ranged from Eucalyptus branches springing out of the wall to laser-cut nori. Julie wanted to stay true to our roots and make the residency feel seasonal, which is why each artist has four different installations over the course of the year.”

Originally posted to Asterisk SF Magazine + Gallery site, please view here

Johanna Poethig
Johanna Poethig, Artist Feature in Asterisk SF Magazine

Imagine a bright-blue-eyed four-month-old baby girl traveling with missionaries to the Philippines. Picture her growing up and attending an alternative school in Manila filled with many friends who encourage her to engage in the vibrant art community. In her teenage years, she returns to the United States to learn as much about muralism as possible in Chicago, later venturing to the West Coast and settling in the Bay Area. Now, this is not romanticized fiction. It is the colorful and extraordinary life of artist Johanna Poethig. With over 25 years of experience spanning public art projects, murals, installation, performance and video, Poethig remains a prominent female figure in contemporary muralism.

During her early adult years spent in Chicago, she was inspired and mentored by well-known muralist William Walker. After spending time learning about the history and significance of muralism, Poethig was determined to make a career of the discipline. She thought back to her days in Manila and yearned for familiarity; her desire to reach a larger Filipino community is actually what brought her to the Bay Area. But over the years, she faced setbacks. Among these challenges, she was forced to navigate building permits and policies, changes in building ownership, and even her murals being painted over.

Yet Poethig remained determined to create artworks in public space. “I always saw mural practice as a way to do community art or social practice. You have these huge canvases! Not only is it a way to do something for a community, but it is fun as a painter to learn about history and to put it out there for the people,” she says. Despite teachers and professors discouraging her from becoming a muralist, she was steadfast in her passion and knew that San Francisco’s strong mural movement would help solidify her goals. One of the most interesting aspects of murals is the unpredictable nature and politics that go into their conservation and preservation. New media efforts are constantly being developed to address digitization of public artworks. As Poethig explains, “There’s nothing that takes away from the material and paint, but new technologies are new technologies, and I’m grateful that there is a solution to preserving the image and the idea of the image. … If it’s a new-media projection, it’s a good thing. It’s all about occupation of public space and who is going to occupy it.“

“In my mind, being a muralist is extremely important to do. Otherwise, all of our big spaceswould be taken up by advertising, and that would be a travesty to have all of our big, best walls in the city be advertisements. The more public space where creative artistic images can be placed, where the space is not about commodity, consumerism or trying to sell you something, is a victory but it’s difficult to do.”

Art in public space is not just a physical marker. It places an individual within a specific location and provides a rich context of the environment, the people and the culture within that space. On sunny days, native San Franciscans and tourists alike flock to the vibrant murals of the Mission District, yet many historic and iconic public works—from the I-Hotel mural in North Beach to the Statue of Liberty mural on the side of the South of Market Multi-Service Center—tell the stories of San Francisco history. Poethig’s work tells these stories of San Francisco history, proving her continued importance in the Bay Area mural and visual arts movement. Her work speaks fervently about what it means to actually be present and aware of one’s community. It encapsulates a strong desire to draw, quite literally, people into public space in a way that makes them question their experiences and reflect on their own histories.

Originally published and posted to Asterisk SF Magazine, please click here to view

Hella More Funner, Artist Feature in Asterisk SF Magazine

Information overload is all too common with today’s readily accessible images, text, and video. Even language reveals our dependence on the Internet, with the word google not only referring to a company but also being used as a verb in lieu of search. The Internet and social media have become ubiquitous in our daily routines. Need an image of a dog? A cat? Or how about a dog holding a cat? You will probably find what you’re looking for. As a matter of fact, you will probably find over 1 million images and more.

Ask artists Sam Fuchs and Adam Gray— commonly known by their moniker, Hella More Funner—about this deluge of images. The art duo has incorporated this constant stream of communication, imaging searching, indexing and everything we feed the Internet as fodder, inspiration and the basis for their large-scale collages. The resulting artwork looks at the current generation and how it’s inundated by data, immediacy, gratification and a voyeuristic obsession of viewing ourselves and others.

Since 2007, Hella More Funner has created works based on re-appropriated imagery of culture. When asked about their studio practice and creative process behind their artworks, they noted, “Obsessiveness is the key; we are connoisseurs of Google Image search, aficionados of Flickr and buffs of Wikimedia Commons. We copy and cut and compose images by the thousands without concerning ourselves with trivialities such as the subject’s historical origins, owner attribution, or a perfect and direct connection to the theme of the piece. And it’s not just us. Our process reflects our peers. … We start with an idea, decide on categories of images that relate to that theme, and build an archive. The archive serves as a trail of breadcrumbs for us and building blocks for the collage.”

As visual archaeologists, they showcase our relationship to popular culture through large-scale works such as “Cielo” or “Beachy Head,” which entice the viewer with bright and audacious colors. Standing in front of one their works, it is easy to find one familiar image after another. Even with unfamiliar images, the massive collection of photos meshes and blurs together to create what looks like a mythical creature, being, or landscape. Much like our own experiences in sifting through email messages or virtually stumbling and clicking on morning headlines, Hella More Funner has taken familiar behavior and created collections for the viewer. The longer we look, the more we realize the amount of information we take in, and it may lead to a sense of anxiety and angst. Either way, the work provokes the viewer to perceive far more than the tiny images that make up the whole.

Whether the work appears as a meditation or effrontery to the senses, Fuchs and Gray show what they have coined as a “garbage culture.” The collective defines this particular phrase as “anything that serves to distract or delay any real and unmediated experience—a connection with another person, for example. It is in everything that promises happiness and youth, every product that promises the bikini babe, every ripped athlete selling a cheeseburger. Garbage! You know it when you see it.”

However, is the viewer able to give up looking at some point? Hella More Funner’s phenomenal, meticulous, and labor-intensive compositions aim to make contemporary art, well, hella more funner. At first glance, the works may be more than you can visually handle but, let’s face it, you know you want the cute kittens, the six-pack abs, the beautiful women, football players dancing in clouds, dolphins midflight, rain-soaked flowers, and angels fighting demons, because it’s all present and ready for consumption. It’s all there for you and your viewing pleasure.

Originally published and posted to Asterisk SF Magazine, please click here

Artist Feature on Jonathan Barcan in Asterisk SF Magazine

At Workspace Studios off Folsom Street, visitors can expect a breathy climb up brick-colored stairs to a maze of artist studios. One of those studios belongs to artist Jonathan Barcan, who during a studio visit shared insights on his printmaking, drawing and painting practice. In looking at his work, it is easy to see the precision that goes into his etchings and prints as well as the experimentation and the unpredictability of materials in his drawings and paintings. Organic materials such as wine, spices, sand and metal form beautifully articulated lines and figures. Although his Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Buffalo afforded him opportunities to exhibit work in Philadelphia, Beijing, Montreal, Toronto, and Florence, San Francisco is home.

Using physics, science, the natural world, and the notion of the human soul as inspirations for his art, Barcan has a highly meditative quality to his work. His prints serve as observations of and responses to our contemporary world, combining older technologies such as printmaking with more modern sciences and digital advances, all in an effort to identify people’s relationships to society and culture. As a longtime printmaker, Barcan works diligently toward understanding the unexpected nature of the craft and its medium. Working with acids and metal surfaces is no simple task, yet his works comprise natural lines, organic forms, and fluid motions that seem impossible to replicate. From colorful to monochromatic pieces, his work envelops the viewer in an imaginary space where words are unable to express the breadth of the human experience.

“We are clearly becoming other types of people because of the rapid rate of technological progression. We understand information and the substance of a person so much differently than we did 100 years ago,” says Barcan.

His specific visual language includes erratic, bold, non-tentative lines that aim at investigating human intricacies and understanding humanity at the intersections of art, technology, and science. Despite the depth of content, his images become familiar and accessible to the viewer. “It’s seductive,” he says of drawing. “It is so important for me to show the artist’s hand in my work. I like the messiness. When fingerprints and dirt on the paper show, there is a history. There’s also a tension in the drawings. I also like to observe people. For me, the drawings are the easiest way for me to communicate my observations. It’s immediate, in some ways. But the seductive quality comes from convincing people the work is immediate, but that’s not true. There is a lot of work and rework that takes time. The seductive part also comes from how people project how I make these things and me knowing the actuality of the creation.” His work is dynamic, connected and provocative. It inspires introspection in its dealings with the separation, integration and presence of the soul or the self within society and culture. With the swarm of interactive devices, data streams and codes that riddle our transactions, books, magazines and billboards, the artist and his physical work are rare but imperative. Despite the multiplicity of subjects in Barcan’s work, each is unique, much like the smudges and fingerprints of the artist’s hand. His work serves as a meditation, both on how we live and what we choose to leave behind.

Originally published and posted to Asterisk SF Magazine, please click here to view

Rio Yanez, Artist Profile

In the early 20th century, San Francisco felt the effects of disaster. The earthquake of 1906 left the city with crumbled buildings and widespread devastation throughout the downtown area, so art was probably not on the minds of civil servants and residents trying to recuperate and clean a city in disrepair. Artwork from this period in San Francisco history, such as works by Jules Page, showed a San Francisco landscape unharmed by natural disaster; Page’s work captured the vibrancy of the city. In such a digitally laden age, shows may not commonly feature serene paintings of the San Francisco cityscape. But there’s still a deep appreciation for artists who incorporate the city through an artistic lens that gives the viewer a strong sense of the city’s essence.

In searching for a contemporary San Francisco artist who uses San Francisco as a primary element within their work, we found Rio Yañez. At Muddy Waters Coffee House on San Francisco’s popular Valencia Street, a young man wearing a black, Star Wars–themed Dia de Los Muertos T-shirt approaches and kindly greets me. As a native San Franciscan, Yañez grew up on 26th Street to parents who were both visual artists. In the 1970s, his father was a collage artist and curator, while his mother was a painter. Rene Yañez, his father, remains highly active in the Bay Area arts community today. Father and son have co-curated shows and worked in tandem, most recently on a 3-D art project enticing viewers into a rich dialogue both visually and physically. In addition, Yañez created 3-D conversions of his father’s other work. As co-founders of art group The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the duo silkscreen tortillas with chocolate ink and create edible works of art that serve as both interventions and experimental art.

One of the life-changing events for Yañez was turning to photography in high school. Soon after graduation in the late 1990s, he started the City College of San Francisco associate degree program in photography, marveling at two-megapixel cameras. He found something exciting and rewarding. He moved to Southern California to attend the prestigious California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he received his bachelor’s degree in photography. Upon returning to the Bay Area, he wanted to mesh his photography skills with his love and fascination for sequential art. The end results were dynamic artworks that coalesced photography, drawing and new media. His childhood obsession with comic books resurfaced and can be seen in some of his most current works. Yañez continues to work digitally but is exploring

ways that he can apply his knowledge to other formats. With a fascination of moving GIFs, or cinemagraphs, he continues to pay homage to the San Francisco cityscape and memories that shape his spirited and energetic work.

Even with significant differences in medium, the common thread between Page and Yañez is the desire to illustrate San Francisco in a way that captivates and piques the curiosity of the viewer. Both artists utilize San Francisco as a subject, but Yañez shows how the city has grown, developed and changed over the past century. He successfully aims to show his San Francisco in such a way that any viewer—whether newcomer, transplant or native—is more than welcome to join in on the dialogue.

Upcoming Shows: Counterproof: The Other Side of Print at Incline Gallery with The Great Tortilla Conspiracy ~ April 13. To learn more about Rio Yañez visit his website. RioYanez.com

Originally posted to Asterisk SF Magazine. Please view here.

Who do you admire?

The Asterisk SF team is hard at work with the next issue covering the beautiful people of San Francisco. Click on the image above to submit a nomination for someone you believe promotes and creates positive change in the community (or is just a damn good chef or makes phenomenal art). Whoever they are, Asterisk SF wants to hear about who you admire and why. 🙂