We are all so busy these days that I feel we rarely spend quality time hanging out in anyone’s home. I mostly get together with my nearest and dearest outside the home, at a restaurant or at an event. While I’ve known Ron Moultrie Saunders for years, through my work at the Arts Commission, I didn’t really “know” him until he agreed to let me come over to share his collection on this blog. There was something so sweet and intimate about experiencing the coziness of his home and listening to him tell parts of his life story. I’d like more of this feeling in 2018.
I consider Ron to be a fixture in the local arts community. He is one of the founding members of The 3.9 Art Collective, which is “an association of African American artists, curators, and art writers who live in San Francisco, and came together to draw attention to the city’s dwindling black population.”
Ron is the type of person who shows up for his community. He donates work to auctions, he volunteers at events and he mentors other artists.
He has won numerous commissions from the Arts Commission and has work at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and Laguna Honda Hospital. His most impressive commission to-date is a suite of large photograms at the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library that depict superimposed images of the human figure with natural elements. This is from the press release I wrote in 2013, “The installation speaks to the spirit of life, man’s interconnectedness to nature, culture and the artist’s own ancestral history.” This sentence, pretty much encapsulates what is important to this exceptionally dear human being.
I mentioned to a colleague that I was featuring Ron in my next post and she also gushed about what an incredible person he is. He is a love.
Ron lives at the very top of the Bayview on a hill in a house he purchased with his late partner 30 years ago. He enjoys sweeping–like Sutro Tower to south of the Bay Bridge–views of the city. The space is cozy and filled with an eclectic collection of artwork and objects. Once we got into it, it kind of sunk in for Ron how much he has. I had planned to stay for 90 minutes but I stayed for over two hours and apparently, we missed a room!
Ron grew up in Jamaica, Queens and moved to San Francisco in 1982. When I asked him why he decided to stay, he said that it was the landscape that called to him. He has a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and works as a residential garden designer to support himself and his art practice.
I never knew this about him before our time together, but this detail explains so much about his art practice, which draws heavily from nature. For Ron, nature is a vehicle by which he can explore the interior aspects of his life. Nature ‘in and of itself represents life from beginning to end’ – it’s all there.
Hanging in his dining room is a beautiful and provocative series of photograms from an exhibition at the Jewish Community Center called Vanishing Point. The show featured work by the 3.9 collective and focused on the declining population of African Americans in the City.
In this work, Can You See Me Now Albert, Fennel, Ron plays with this idea of how African Americans can blend into the landscape. Ron rendered the image of fennel onto a silhouette of his friend Albert, who is acknowledged in the title. When he created the series he was thinking about slaves in the South, some of whom were able to escape under the cover of darkness and by hiding behind vegetation. Simultaneously, the work considers how the “black population of San Francisco is vanishing in plain sight. They are disappearing without being seen.”
*I apologize for the poor quality of this image and for the glare.
Next to the aforementioned work, is an image of feet super imposed onto an a leaf rendered in finite detail. This image is meant to convey man’s interconnectivity with nature.
The image with the profile is titled Emerging, and it was created after Ron’s mother, Gloria Frances Morris Saunders, passed away, and he found himself grappling with “where did I come from, who am I”. The image combines the elements of water, light and plants to give it a structural element.
The image with the hands is titled Ropes. According to Ron, “it is open for interpretation.” He said, some people think of “S&M” or of being “unbound and a sense of freedom.” When he created it he was definitely thinking about “history, heritage and ancestors”.
The last image on the right is titled Middle Passage II. Ron asked me what I thought it looked like and I said it reminded me of someone drowning. He nodded knowingly and then shared that he was trying to capture “the experience slaves had when they jumped overboard.” Heartbreaking.
Laying against the wall on the floor, underneath the other images, is Hands. Rope. Salt. I’ll let you interpret this one.
Located near the kitchen is a large blue photogram by Ron titled Blue Pincushions. For this image, he took an original silver print, scanned it and did a digital cyanotype in photoshop.
This plant shows up a lot in Ron’s work. The little pods are tiny in real life. Here’s what it looks like intact.
In the corner of the dining room is a collection of objects that Ron’s mother collected on her various trips to Africa.
This decorative instrument shares this special corner with pottery from New Mexico.
This Navajo pot from Jemez is filled with holy dirt from El Santuario de Chimayo. Quick side note – I am half New Mexican. I have made countless trips to El Santuario. For many years, I had the miracle dirt saved in a plastic 7 11 big gulp cup and sometimes put it on zits in the hope for a miracle. I have family members who, up until recently, made the pilgrimage from Santa Fe every year, in cowboy boots. The fact that Ron has dirt from this place was totally endearing.
Ron loves New Mexico and used to travel there often with his late partner. There are objects from the Land of Enchantment throughout the house, including light switch covers in the form of El Santuario and a Dear Dancer.
Also in this corner of the dining room is a contemporary pot that was given to Ron. This pot was broken and then put back together.
Ron picked up this little box in Hong Kong, a city he loves, when he was there in 1986.
Ron has a few works by Becom whose later works include bolder colors, more form and texture.
Next to the fireplace is a collection of masks and a decorative instrument.
Ron inherited the long mask, which was collected during one of his mother’s trips to Senegal. The mask in the middle is from Mali. The bottom and top objects are from New Mexico. The form of the bottom artwork is a gourd. We tried really hard to read the artist name, but sadly we couldn’t make it out. It is by a Native artist and the image is a buffalo. It’s hard to see in this image, but it is beautiful.
Large work in the middle, titled Pine Needles, is from Ron’s series, The Secret Life of Plants. It was commissioned for VM Ware, Inc. a software company with locations in Los Altos and Dallas. The work is 4′ x 5′, enlarged from an 8″ x 10″
The angle of this photograph is awkward, but it was the only way I could capture it without the glare. It is a sensual photograph of a male nude by John Casado, a Bay Area artist and graphic designer who has created some of the most iconic brand identities for companies like Esprit and Macintosh. Check out his timeline.
This painting is rich. Again, sorry about the glare, but please take a close look at this one. It is rife with pain and suffering. Ron actually bought this after his mother passed away. He had seen it at a show and kept thinking about it. It’s no wonder why. It is a vortex that sucks you in. The composition features an incredible cast. In the center an angel weeps blood while his feet are aflame. He is flanked by a simple-looking, clownish vaudeville character. There are African masks and other depictions of grotesque historical stereotypes. In the upper center of the painting is a self-portrait with an empty dialogue bubble near his mouth. When it comes to Black male identity, Huffman has a lot to say. I’m listening and I hope you are too.
According to Ron, this painting is about “persecution, the environments they [Black males] are in, how they are treated, the lack of a lot of stuff and stereotypes.”
This image of James Brown is by William Rhodes, one of the founders of the 3.9 Art Collective. I love this story…James Brown lived four blocks away from where Ron grew up in a “mini-castle with a moat that you could walk over on a little bridge.” You could “ring the bell and someone would answer and hand out a free 45.” When Ron saw this, he had to have it.
I love Brian’s work and I am really jealous of this one, which was created by reconfiguring the cut edges of vintage books. Take a peek at his website. His work will blow your mind. The man has the patience of a Tibetan Monk and the attention to detail of, well, I don’t know if there is even a comparison. Just look at his series, Assassinations.
Sharing the wall with Brian’s work are images from Ron’s The Secret Life of Plants series and a few photographs taken on a trip to Vietnam.
In the bathroom is a small work by Michael Ross , a 3.9 member who sadly left San Francisco and now lives in Laurel, Mississippi.
Day Dream House is from a series of works of houses that are “twisty and almost look alive.” Ross would xerox his drawings and then color each one differently.
Ron purchased this snake in New Mexico. Ron is both scared and fascinated by snakes. He said he once touched a boa constrictor and was amazed by the feeling.
One wall of Ron’s home office is painted a deep red. This beautiful portrait of his mother, which he said was painted by a street artist, sits atop a bookcase surrounded by other sentimental objects.
The photograph , which was taken in Iceland, is a platinum print by John Fox Sheets.
On the adjacent wall are a series of Ron’s digital prints where he was experimenting with capturing the look of water. What looks like rain drops is actually handmade glass. The black and white photogram was scanned and then colored.
On the right is a print titled Can You See Me Now Blue Moon. It’s hard to see but there is a silhouette of a man overlaid onto an image of leaves. This work is about the disappearance of African Americans and about not being seen.
Here is another “water” print in black. Beneath it is a work by Rodney Ewing from a 16-panel series featuring men shot in the US by police. This image is Michael Brown.
In the corner of the office, is an exquisite photograph of a cottonwood tree in New Mexico by Christopher Burkett.
This is a work by local artist Phillip Hua.
Phillip calls these his Performative Prints because they are printed on construction paper, which fades over time to reveal new images.
This is a sample for one of Ron’s artworks at the Bayview Library. It’s titled Salt and it speaks to the history of the Bay and the people who have inhabited the region.
This beautiful oil landscape is by Michael Schoening from 2007.
In the guest bedroom, which compared to the other rooms is relatively minimal, is a work by Ron featuring a scan of a dragon fly carcass on a striking red background.
In the hallway leading downstairs towards the foyer is another photograph by Jeffery Becom of a City in Morocco, Chefchaouen, where everything is painted blue. This city is now on my bucket list.
Also in the foyer is a pair of African masks on cloth made of natural fibers that belonged to his mother. The mask on the left is from Senegal and the one on the right is from Dick and Beany Wezelman who sold African art out of their homes in Berkeley. Follow that link – you’ll thank me.
The weaving over the door is from a trip to Nepal in 1996.
Next to the door is a weaving from Mali; a gift from friend.
Ron shows me how this African sculpture can contract. It is set atop an antique piece that was given to him by a friend. On the wall are some of Ron’s works.
This photograph is by Catherine Westerhout. Ron met her while doing a residency at the Kala Art Institute. I am ashamed to say that I only recently checked out Kala for the first time. It is a tremendous resource with a wonderful residency and exhibition program. Many incredible local artists have had residencies there. They also have a killer holiday sale, see my last post. Go check them out.
Catherine takes photographs of abandoned buildings. This is the old Sears building in Oakland.
Moving down the hall towards the master bedroom is a weaving from New Mexico that Ron purchased at the Shiprock Trading Post. The weaver is Pauline Thompson.
In the bedroom is a large painting by David Huffman that appeared in a show at Studio Museum of Harlem. It’s titled endothelium.
The painting is from Huffman’s ongoing Traumanaut series. He describes this series as follows:
The traumanauts are the psychological personalities coming from the rupture of slavery for Africans. I would label them a TRAUMAnaut, rather than an astronaut, because of this traumatic ruptureå of existence. From being captured, brought to America and parts of Europe, as workers, as slaves, there’s a cultural identity that’s been decimated. The traumanauts are constantly looking for a location, for home.
Ron’s boho-chic bed textiles are on point. Here’s a close up of the photograph. The glare made it really hard to capture.
Across from the bed is an art shrine…of art.
The “shrine” features a pair of lovely hats from Afghanistan that belonged to Peter. I asked, and Ron does not wear them.
This painting is a watercolor! It’s by Robert Parkison and it was purchased at a gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe.
This sand painting is from Africa, a souvenir of Ron’s mother.
The rug is from Tibet, a gift from a friend. Apparently, Ron has some really nice friends.
This cast of a white frame is by Jen Blazina, a fellow Kala alum who lives in Philly. According to Ron, “her work deals a lot with memory.” She primarily works in glass now, and likes to combine “surreal imagery and found objects.”
This small drawing is by Samuel Flemming Lewis who now lives in Palm Springs. This is a pretty little vingnette, I think.
This amazing photogram is by Camille Solyagua. Photogram No. 33, 2003 was purchased at Stephen Wirtz Gallery (now Wirtz Art).
This work is by Michal Macku. It’s a photographic self-portrait.
The image is created by removing gelatin from each print and collaging it onto watercolor paper. It is a very toxic and labor-intensive process. Ron purchased it at a gallery in NYC 15 years ago.
Ron saved one of the best treasures for last, a portfolio of fascinating and rich prints by influential local artist Ruth Bernhard. I had never heard of her before, and was totally blown away by her work.
Ron had the great fortune of taking a workshop with her and described her gift of seeing the “world as a child.”
This is a portfolio No. 2. of a limited edition run.
Finally, here is a little star sculpture by fellow 3.9 collective member Kristine Mayes, also an incredible sweetheart and a very talented sculptor.
Ron loves to travel, but hasn’t left the country in almost 15 years because for the most part, the money he earns as a landscape architect supports his work as an artist.
So this is my pitch…please seek him out and buy his artwork so he can continue to pursue his other passion, travel.
Thanks, Ron, for being open to this experience and for allowing me to get to know you better.