Pillar of the community

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.

This work is by Beth Van Hoesen and it was purchased at Berggruen Gallery in the 80s.

In the living room, above the fireplace is a beautiful photo realistic watercolor by Jeffrey Becom. Ron and his late partner Peter Alpert encountered this work at an exhibition at Gensler Architects.

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.

Above the stairs leading into the main living space is a large painting by David Huffman, a celebrated local artist who is represented by Patricia Sweetow Gallery.

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.

Moving down the hall is a work by Brian Singer, who has a studio at Pacific Felt Factory.

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.

Baskets from Vietnam.
Close up of image from The Secret Life of Plants series.

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.

The photo of Malcom X is by Frank Espada, an incredibly influential local artist and teacher. He died a few years ago and he is survived by his son, Martin Espada who is an acclaimed poet.  

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. 

See source for further detail. 

Above the bed is a photograph by Paul Caponigro. Ron purchased it in New Mexico at the Andrew Smith Gallery.

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 large painting is by Arlene Shmaeff (1941-2013). She was a friend of Ron’s later partner Peter Alpert and she was also the Executive Director of the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland

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.

Lifesavers, 1930.
Door Knob, 1979.
Straws, 1930.
Teapot, 1976.

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.

Give the gift of art (even if it is for yourself – I would)

Since I probably won’t have time to visit another collection before the end of the year, I thought I would use this platform to help get the word out about some cool art buying opportunities this holiday season. I’ll keep updating this post when I hear of new ones.

Kala Art Institute is having a Holiday Pop Up Sale. According to my friend and former colleague Alice Wu, “Kala Art Institute’s highly anticipated holiday sale features mark-downs of up to 50% on framed and unframed works on paper and printed goods by Kala resident artists. Proceeds support our artists and non-profit programming.”

Participating artists include: Ben Engle | Carissa Potter | Cianna Valley | Dan McClain | Deb Sibony | Deborah Salomon | Donna Westerman | Ellen Heck | Elizabeth Sher | Emily Gui | Emily Payne | Eric Larson | Ewa Gavrielov | Gary Nakamoto | Harry Clewans | Helene Cote | Holly Downing | Jamie Brunson | Jeannie O’Connor | Jeffrey Hantman | Jenny Robinson | Jon Zax | Julia Lucey  | Kate Klingbeil | Kerry Vandermeer | Linda Simmel | Lynn Beldner | Mary V. Marsh | Masako Miki | Michele Theberge | Nancer Lemoins | Nif Hodgson | Nora Pauwels | Packard Jennings | Sarah Klein | Sarah Smelser | Seiko Tachibana | Sharon Jue | Stephen McMillan | Steve Briscoe | Susan Felter | Sylvia Solochek Walters | Trudy Barnes | Veronica Graham | Victoria Bevington | Wendy Goldberg

Here is a sneak peek at some of the goods…

Kelly Ording (one of my favorites), Blue Sea Havana.
Veronica Graham, Mine Field Number 2
Stephen McMillan, Carmel Bay, 1
Seiko Tachibana, Fern 21.AB
Masako Miki, Onigiri
Julia Lucey, Redwood Sorrel
Helene Cote, Gefilte Fish

WHEN: Sunday 12/10, from noon-5pm
ADDRESS: Kala Art Institute Gallery – entrance at 2990 San Pablo Ave., near Ashby, Berkeley CA 94702
TIP: Street parking on San Pablo, or pull around back of building to Orchard Supply Hardware and park near the Xmas Trees, enter back of Kala through Loading Dock A. Make sure you have 2990 San Pablo in your GPS…NOT the Heinz St address, which is the studio and doesn’t connect to the gallery end.

One of my all-time favorite shopping haunts is Ver Unica, an amazing vintage store in Hayes Valley.  Check out their Instagram. 

The owner Cindy has an amazing eye, and in addition to selling clothes and accessories, also showcases local artists. I recently put Cindy in touch with a friend of ours Kelly Harris​,  a painter, musician and all around Renaissance wonder woman.

Go check out Kelly’s show, Cult of Reflections, now on view. She has a great mid-century modern aesthetic. Pair one with your favorite Eames-style recliner or a wiggle party dress from the shop!

I snapped these pictures the other day; I hope to add a few more images soon, so stay tuned or just go see them for yourself. Ver Unica (526 Hayes St.) is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-7pm, and Sunday from 12-6pm.

My dear friend Victoria Chaban, who is also multi-talented, will premiere the first six pillows created from her original bird paintings at Zinc Details Holiday Market.  Each bird and striped pillow is printed on velvet fabric that is both soft and durable with leather piping. They are GORGEOUS.

There will be lots of other interesting goodies at the sale including ceramics and jewelry. The owners of this shop have excellent taste so I have no doubt that it will be a highly curated market. It’s worth a look see. Details below.

Cabinet of Curiosities

If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend the documentary Herb and Dorothy, which is about this adorable couple who collected 5,000 works of art by pioneering abstract expressionists on their civil servant salaries and housed them in their one-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan with a bunch of cats. It’s a gem, and there are many parallels between my latest subject, Matt Gonzalez and the Vogels, including the adorable part.

Ever the fountain of good and helpful ideas, Beth Davila Waldman reached out one day and offered to connect me with Matt, who allegedly had a highly unique art collection.

With regard to this blog, my approach has been to say yes to everything, so I gave her the green light and she was successful in inviting us over to take a look.

Matt lives in a modest-sized, one-bedroom apartment near Alamo Square that happens to have a substantial amount of wall space, which is handy because virtually every inch is filled, and I mean, filled completely, with art. He has very little by way of home furnishings. For example, his living room features a desk, three chairs and a coffee table. No TV, no couch.

When I arrived, he was working on two collages that he recently decided to revisit after starting them in 2012 and 2013. So in addition to all of his other accomplishments (former Supervisor, Green Party Vice Presidential candidate and, more recently, the Chief Attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office), he is also an artist, represented by Dolby Chadwick Gallery.

I would describe Matt as a “minimalist art hoarder”.  When I jokingly said this out-loud, he kind of blushed and was maybe just a tiny bit annoyed and adamantly stated (in the nicest possible way) that he is “not a hoarder”. Fair enough – “hoarder” conjures some bad images. Certainly a nicer way to capture the shear volume, variety and splendor of what he has amassed is to describe him as a “highly prolific collector with excellent taste.” That is a decidedly more flattering description.

His apartment is a veritable wunderkamer, or cabinet of curiosities, with many delightful surprises, some in the most unexpected places.

In addition to his apartment, he has works in his office and he estimates “more than 100” pieces at his parents’ house in McAllen, Texas, where he grew up.

He caught the bug for collecting while living in the Mission, from 1991 to 2000. During this era, he got to know “the artists who were trying to make things happen”. As an attorney, he had a few extra dollars to pick up artwork when it fancied him, and at the time the artwork was inexpensive, but his main motivation was to support his friends in their creative endeavors. Many of the works in his collection were gifts from his friends – no doubt tokens of appreciation for his championship of their work.

To illustrate this, Matt pointed out the painting above the door to the living room by Felix Macnee. The way Matt describes it, he was just the dude who worked at Adobe Books who also happened to be an amazing painter. He went on to get an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and now lives in LA. They keep in touch and occasionally see each other when Macnee plays local gigs with his band.

That is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. As you’ll see, Matt has works by Mission School all-stars, Barry McGee, Clare Rojas, Chris Johansen, and Alicia McCarthy. For Matt, collecting these artists was more than just about being in the right place at the right time. Sure, that was part of it, but it was also about forging lasting and meaningful relationships and giving back to his community.

He personally knows most of the artists he collects. He follows their careers and continues to support them in reaching their goals. For example, he purchased this artwork by Rigoberto Gonzalez to help underwrite one of his residencies.

Rigoberto Gonzalez, Levanton, oil on linen.

This is one of several paintings by Gonzalez in his collection. He recently donated one to the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas. I didn’t actually see this painting in person, but I had to include it in this post, because it’s stunning, and I like any artist who shares my admiration for Caravaggio. Another one of Rigoberto Gonzalez’s works from Matt’s collection was featured in a Smithsonian portrait show – just to give you a sense of the caliber of the work.

And when it comes to purchasing, when he can, Matt likes to buy directly from the artists, who often give him a good price. And when he buys from a gallery, he pays the full asking price because he appreciates “the role they serve in supporting artists and making great work available.”  He is also mindful about collecting women artists.

Jenny Sharaf–with Jenny Sharaf.

One of Matt’s “very favorite artists is Hilary Pecis.” When we visited, he had two of her works displayed in his foyer.

As we started to go around the room I just gave up taking notes. Sorry readers. There was just too much, too fast. Without further ado, here is what I managed to gather for your visual pleasure.

The Living Room

Many of the artists in the living room share personal connections to one another and to Matt. I regret that I could not capture all of the stories and the connections, but the web is an intricate one that stretches from the Bay Area to LA and beyond.

Wood sculpture by Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Ceramic sculpture by Anthony Torres. Painting in upper left is by Francesco Igory Deiana. Artwork in upper right is by Alicia McCarthy.

Painting by Gianluca Franzese.
Center: Kottie Paloma, The Beginnings of a New America, 2011. On pedestal: mixed media sculpture by Svea Lin Soll. Bottom right, sculpture by Kyle Ranson. Lower left: folk artwork by unknown artist.

Close up of artwork by Svea Lin Soll.
Located above Svea Lin Soll’s sculpture is a painting by Chris Johanson.
Center artwork by SF-based artist Andrew Schoultz.
Portrait of Barry White by Michelle Guintu. Painting below is by Mario Ayala.
Painting by Yarrow Slaps, 2016. Yarrow is the son of The Luggage Store Gallery founders Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith. Yarrow has joined the family business as a curator.

The Bedroom, where there is lots of magic happening (art magic)…
Many of the works in Matt’s bedroom are by a number of prominent local mid-century artists, some of whom Matt got to know personally.

Painting above the dresser is by Paul Gibson, 1994. Ceramics on dresser by Christa Assad, early 1990s. To the right of the vessels is an abstract painting by Dimitri Grachis, 1959. Center painting, above the bed, Paul Wonner, 1960. Far right painting is by Jose Ramon Lerma, 1958. The large wooden piece on the far right of the photo is by Andy Vogt.
Clockwise starting from upper left – Still-life by Bruce McGaw, 1964; Bumble bee ink on paper work is by Joan Brown, 1958; Still-life with paper bag, bread and tomatoes by John Axton; Nude woman by Terry St. John, 2015. Sculpture in lower left, on the stool is a Huastec mask from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Painting to the right of the Joan Brown bumblebee, Paul Wonner, Still Life with Femme Au Coq, c. 1954. Black wood sculpture (a la Louise Nevelson) by Richard Faralla, c. 1968.
Profile painting by THE Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1991. Painting featuring two figures in the upper right is by Theophilus Brown, 1969. Underneath is a still-life by Paul Wonner, c. 1970.
From left to right – The white cube sculpture is by Ryan Wallace.  Next to it is a wood sculpture by Paul Spencer. The one on the right is by Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Small colorful sculpture underneath window is by Nick Makanna. Sculpture in the lower right-hand corner is by Sahar Khoury.
Another view of the painting above the dresser is by Paul Gibson, 1994. Peeking out on the left is a woodblock by Spencer Keeton Cunningham from 2006. Finger in upper right-hand corner by my mom and dad (oops!). 
Coming full circle now…not included in the image above and located above the nightstand is a framed set of six paintings by Takeshi Matsunaga. Matt discovered his work on Instagram @matsunagatakeshi85. Next to Matsunaga’s piece is a green abstract painting by Sherie’ Franssen.

This is a paper sculpture by William Emmert, one of several in the collection.
Here is another fun sculpture by Emmert located in the old phone niche by the front door.

The Dining Room

This painting by Barry McGee (c. 1997) takes up an entire wall in Matt’s dining area.


On the opposite wall is a “piece of so-called ‘graffiti'” that McGee painted onto a bus shelter Marlboro advertisement near SFMOMA when he was doing his SECA (SFMOMA’s Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) installation circa 1996.

These two works are by Andrew Schoultz from 2007.
Top: Chris Johanson, watercolor, 1998. Bottom: Barry McGee, c. 1993.

The Kitchen, where things get a little surreal…
Like the rest of the apartment, where there is a wall, there is a work of art. 

Located just to the right of the entrance – top: Clare Rojas; bottom: Barry McGee, 2009.

Andy Vogt & Bert Bergen.

And then, Matt opened up the cabinets…

Peppered in among the Meso-American artifacts and sculptures is a wee Barry McGee (see lower left) and a series of vintage photographs, which Matt also collects.
If I had to do an elevator pitch for this blog post, I would just show this image.

And in case you were wondering…

Yes, that is artwork in the fridge. A friend told Matt that the best way to eliminate unwanted pests from antique masks was to put them in the fridge. He took the advice and then just decided that he liked seeing them there. Matt also claims that he cooks “all the time”, but I remain skeptical.

The wood sculpture/panel above the fridge is by Gustavo Ramos Rivera. The bowl is Spanish colonial.
Artwork by window by Andrew Schoultz, 2005. Steel sculpture on left by Cody Hudson. Sculpture on right by Philip Mendlow, c. 1970.

The Closets
Here I have to just say a big thank you to Matt for allowing us to look inside spaces that are rarely accessible to guests. I think we all learn from an early age not to go snooping in people’s closets, so this was a real treat.


This artwork doesn’t just languish behind closed doors. Matt actually rotates the artwork on view on a regular basis.

I asked Matt about the future of his vast collection and if he had plans to sell it down the line and retire early. His response: “I can’t take it with me”.

While he follows the value of the artists in his collection, he has never been in it for the money. He’d like to see his collection enjoyed by the public. To that end, he has donated works to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, Oakland Museum of California, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the The Beat Museum and the Mexican Museum. He also hopes to donate works to the Museum in his hometown in the near future.

So there you have it, the wunderkamer apartment of Matt Gonzalez. It should come as no surprise that this post took forever for me to write. Of all the posts I’ve written, I think I am the most self-conscious about this one. It was hard to wrap my head around such a diverse and expansive collection. I’m not sure I’ve done it justice. In some ways, I’m still processing it.

Thank you, Matt, for your patience and for giving me this opportunity to meet you, see your treasures and to share them with the community. The experience has been genuinely inspiring.

Making a House a Home

When I conceived of this blog, one of the things I knew I wanted to do was feature artists who are also collectors. I could not be more excited to share the home of Ray Beldner and Shannon Kaye.

Ray is one of the founders of the stARTup Art Fair, one of my favorite art events of the year. For the last three years, the fair has transformed Hotel Del Sol, a kitschy mid century motel in the Marina District, into a collective of exhibitions where visitors can interact directly with artists. I described my most recent experience there in my last post.

After the blog’s launch, Ray reached out with an invitation to peek inside the 1906 Bernal Heights home he and Shannon share with his teenage son.  I was so flattered to receive the invite and their support for my blog.

So on the hottest day of the century, I showed up on their doorstep with sweaty thighs and my laptop and plopped down at their dining room table, which is the center of a vast constellation of art.

It’s hard to miss the large work in the center of the wall, which is by Frederick Hayes. Hayes, who now lives in NYC, used to show regularly at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. When he moved away, he left a giant trove of artwork in storage. Unfortunately, he lost his space, but his friends stepped up to help him out and now “store” the artwork for him. Photo by Shannon.

Ray, who describes himself as a “gregarious introvert”, is a sculptor and new media artist. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and can be found in many public and private collections including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Federal Reserve Board, Washington D.C., the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Oakland Museum of California, the San Jose Museum of Art, the diRosa Preserve in Napa, California, among others (Go Ray!). In addition to making art and running stARTup, he manages a vast private collection.

Shannon is an artist and has her own business, Plein Heir by Shannon Kaye, “which provides Interior color and Styling consultant services along with art and home goods offerings.” Shannon sees herself as a coach helping people bring out their own creativity.  She is also a TV personality, having hosted several seasons of Fresh Coat, a makeover show on the DIY Network, and Southern Living on Portico TV. She has also made appearances on HGTV, TBS and Lifetime. If you are an interior design blog junkie like me, be sure to check out her blog for some major color inspiration.

According to Shannon, “For both of us, empowering others to pursue their creative endeavors is a natural part of our individual personalities and a driving passion behind our businesses. Through stARTup Art Fair, Ray helps artists grow both creatively and professionally. With Plein Heir, I help people get over their fear of making color and style mistakes to make their homes more livable and lovable.”

The house represents the beginning of their artistic collaboration. Every weekend the kids were gone, they worked together to make the house more homey. It was really important for Ray that his kids felt like the house was a happy place. Shannon knew exactly what to do and set about bringing color, salon style art displays, and furniture arrangements that created a comfortable space for everyone.

They started by painting the stairway, and it is brilliant. The two tone black and light blue paint makes the central artery of the home cohesive and sophisticated and creates a wainscoting effect. The black dictated that the space would be dedicated to black and white artwork.

Shannon and Ray at the top of their stairs. Clockwise starting from the top is a photograph of North Beach at night by Shannon’s friend David Mendez. On it’s right is a work by Shannon’s brother, Lane Hunter. The  photograph with the gentleman in hats is by William Heick. Lastly, the image behind Shannon’s shoulder is from Catherine Wagner’s Classroom Series.
This is a photography by the great San Francisco photographer Fred Lyon.
Photo by Shannon.
Ray points out a work from his series featuring doilies with portraits of US presidents. Underneath is a drawing by Maria Forde purchased from Danielle Smith and Kimberly Verde’s gallery, State Space. The small painting on the bottom with the peach background is by Derek Lynch.
Alongside Ray’s doily is a doily by Laura Splan that is based on the HIV virus.

Leading up to the top of the stairs is a revolving assemblage Shannon has brought with her from her past homes designs. Currently, it features photographs of family members combined with fortunes she had made at a fortune cookie factory.

In the great room, Shannon wanted the color story to be much bolder. According to Shannon, “For me, art almost always looks better on walls with color.” She waited until Ray was out of town to take the bold step from white to blue.

Photo by Shannon.

If you look carefully at these images you can see small lines sprinkled across the blue plain. Sol LeWitt is one of Shannon’s favorite artists. The living room is an homage to his intricate large-scale line installations. She had a plan to do broken triangles, but once the yellow lines were on the wall she fell in love, and then shifted her attention to what art would go on the wall.

The tray at the top of this grouping is by Piero Fornasetti. It belongs to Shannon and it is a rare piece because, typically, these trays are in black and white and this one is in color. Shannon loves the artist’s sense of humor. Underneath the tray on the left and behind the plant are works by Margaret Timbrell from as series where she embroiders humorous accidental auto-corrects from texts onto kitschy vintage needlework patterns. This artwork reads, “I took him to the nasty” and it was actually supplied by Ray. I also have one that says “All ducking day” on an image of a duck. This series is hilarious – I love it. Check out her shop.

To the right of the Timbrell at the top is a work by Anne Siems.  The work with the hair is by Lesley Dill. Lastly, in the white ornate frame is a postcard by the late Susan O’Malley.

Photo by Shannon.
Above the TV is a work by Karen Olsen Dunn.

Shannon has a special talent for identifying groupings of objects that share a through line and has a kind of psychic intuition about what a specific space needs. When she gathered the artworks for this room together she noticed that all of the blue works had hints of orange and that many of the works had an ethereal or heavenly theme.

Photo by Shannon.

The photograph of stars is by Desiree Holman. Most of the artwork surrounding this photograph belongs to Ray who said that he has amassed his collection through buying, selling and trading. Most of the works in his collection are by friends. He got the Holman at a fundraiser during a brief stint when he worked for the Real Real.

During the first dot com boom, Ray was the artist relations person at Next Monet, which is similar to Art.com. While he worked there, he was entitled to one artwork a year. During his tenure he collected the work above the Hollman by Leslie Dill and the silk screen orange and purple circle print by Tony Beauvy.

The artwork with text in the center of the grouping is a painting by Shannon. Ray purchased it when they first met, before they were dating – it was meant to be.

These pillows feature artworks created by Shannon that she had printed on linen.

On opposite wall, instead of a yellow vertical line, Shannon painted a light blue horizontal line. Accordingly, the artworks in this group feature horizontal compositions.

While Ray’s approach to collecting is more organic, Shannon likes to start from a project perspective. When she approaches an installation her goal is to tell a visual story. And that story is multi-layered, because as I found out through our conversation, each work in a grouping has a multi-chapter story of its own.

The anchor for this grouping was the image of the Fountain of Apollo at Versailles, which was given to Shannon by her friend David Mendez. The frame, which belonged to her grandfather, had been in her collection for sometime and when she got the photograph, she knew that it was perfect. She took it to her friend and master framer, Peter Werkhoven at Aedicule Framing  who happened to have a spare remnant of fine linen, and voila!

Surrounding this artwork are paintings that Shannon has collected at various flea markets and garage sales.  She is particularly enamored with the unfinished painting of the orange, which she picked up at a bazar for $0.50. She was attracted to the landscape on its right because it was “naive and funny” and because the clouds form a small heart, which is a form that catches her eye regularly in all kinds of contexts. She bought the whole thing for $20, which goes to show you, that you can create a “high-style” art installation with inexpensive artwork as long as you pay attention to the overall form and materials.

In her own words, “It’s important to let a home design evolve and reveal your personal stamp on these most intimate spaces. I always encourage people to take the time to create artful displays of your favorite things- your photos and mementos- in every room. Even a shelf of cups can be beautiful if they’re organized and intentionally placed. It makes such a difference! I’m always thinking about the rooms we live in and how we tell the stories of our lives as they relate to those spaces.”

Surprisingly Shannon admitted that she is not sentimental, which seems odd for a collector. Apparently, when her brother visits he is always curious about what is still there. In truth, once a space is finished, she gets restless and has to move on to the next project, and sometimes that means she gets rid of everything and starts from scratch.

Last stop on the tour is the master bedroom, which features an incredible built-in shelf filled with wonderful objects and mementos.

The large bunny painting is by Philip Knoll, one of Ray’s friends. The hope chest belonged to Shannon’s grandmother. The sculpture on top is by Walter Robinson.

This pantyhose sculpture is by Anna-Lena Sauer, who participated in last year’s stARTup.

In the early 2000s, Ray created a series of artworks where he recreated iconic artworks by famous artists out of sewn US currency.  His Counterfeit series inspired friends to gift him objects made of cash.

Before leaving, Shannon invited me to add a wish to the art piece she made for Ray. I wished for something bad to happen to our current president. I felt guilty about it at first because I felt like I was adding bad juju to a work of art that was meant for one’s best intentions, but I was kind of pissed about the heat and global warming. Then Charlottesville happened, and as I told Shannon, I felt less guilty about it. Honesty is the best policy (right?) and the intention came from the heart.

I think this artwork represents what Ray and Shannon (and their collection) are all about. In a lovely email Shannon sent to me after my visit, she summed it up best when she said, “I was thinking about what our ‘story’ could be and think it’s really about bringing our complementary experiences and attitudes about art together in a space and lifestyle that reflects our personalities, and celebrates the friends and families we treasure.”

Thank you, Ray and Shannon, for opening up your home to me and for letting me share it with our community!

Good Vibrations

I love abstract painting, and I’ve been in the market for one (or more than one) for some time. There are a lot of bad ones out there. In my experience a truly good one is a diamond in the rough.

I had about an hour to make my way through last spring’s StartUp Art Fair, a super fun event that takes place at the Hotel del Sol in the Marina. The hotel is three stories: car park on the ground floor and two levels of rooms that wrap around a central square with a pool. I literally walked/ran around the concentric squares popping in and out of each room, and then I stopped, and no lie, my heart started to pound when I saw this painting by Michele Foyer. I know that sounds dramatic, but the other way I could describe this feeling is like what I imagine a lion might feel when it sees a really beautiful zebra that it wants to possess, like now.

Errant Charms, acrylic, flash + ink on canvas 65 x 60 x 3.25 inches, 2017

As my wardrobe can attest, I love color. I have great esteem for those who can combine seemingly awkward colors together and make them harmonious and beautiful. I personally don’t have this talent. It’s actually something I’m actively working towards as a goal for my 40s. Clearly, Michele has this talent and, in my opinion, while her compositions are compelling, I think it is her use of color that makes her work stand apart.

In keeping with the lion theme, once I stepped into Michele’s room, I was on the hunt. As much as I love the painting above, it’s not quite right for my space. I did consider burning everything I own to make it right for my space, but that’s just impractical.

I ended up purchasing this beautiful painting, which is a work on paper. It’s titled, Houdini’s Dream II. As Michele explained, its image of “form and color that overflows itself” inspired the title of a Houdini dreaming of escape from confinement or an existing structure.

I loved the combination of blues (a color I gravitate towards), subtle peaches, bold black lines and sea foam green. Once I had it framed, it inspired me to paint my bedroom, ceiling included, dark blue (Dark Secret by Kelly Moore). The wall color makes it, and everything else in the room, pop. It’s dramatic and gives the room a romantic, oneiric quality.

Michele was kind enough to loan me the plastic sleeve she was using to protect the painting until I had it framed. I vowed that I would return it. Six months later, I made good on that promise, and delivered it to Michele’s studio on Yosemite Street in the Bayview.

Brief aside, if you love discovering the City’s off-the-beaten-path nooks and crannies, studio visits are the best! I had never been to Yosemite Place Studios, and while I only saw Michele’s space, I know that this retro industrial building is a wonderland of creative rabbit holes. In addition to artist studios it’s also the home of Zaccho Dance, an incredible, and altruistic, aerial dance company. I can’t wait to go back during Open Studios.

Michele’s studio is spacious and filled with light. She welcomed me in and we sat at a table that doubles as her palette. We chatted for about an hour and I learned more about her career trajectory and her artistic practice.

No Dead Reckoning, , Acrylic, Flashe & Ink on canvas, 37.5 x 37.5 x 3.25 inches, 2017
Pedestrian Crossing, Acrylic, Flashe + Ink on canvas, 37.5 x 37.5 x 3.25 inches, 2017

While pursuing her graduate studies in Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, Michele also took many courses in History of Art and Contemporary Theory. Like me, she felt the beginnings of a shift around 40 and decided to pursue other avenues. As an extension of her current studio practice, Michele has curated exhibitions, and with one of her studio-mates, Laura Boles Faw, is currently exploring a salon-style exchange between artists and the public in their studio space.

I expressed my admiration for her use of color. I told her that I feel like people are born with another sense that enables them to truly see color, in a way that perfume noses can smell scents. She admitted that this ability to combine colors in unexpected ways just flows out of her (lucky). She believes that color is complex and powerful because of the unseen vibrations it emits and because of its sensory impact.

Hive Encounters, segment of over 500 small works (to date) when fully installed, Acrylic, Flashe + Ink, 2009 – ongoing.

Color studies.Michele shared that while she was in grad school,  Critical Theory, which is derived from linguistic and semiotic theory – think Lacan.- dominated contemporary art, as well as the understanding of abstraction.  In her pursuit of knowledge, she found a different lineage of philosophers as well as contemporary writers and scientists who were interested in exploring “sensation” from a radical notion of “self”.  These discoveries inspired her to work out of a different conceptual interest.

Her paintings are extensions of her ongoing fascination with rethinking “the nature of perception” and the “brain eye relationship”. While she has a strong color theory foundation, she believes that it’s a predetermined destination. She prefers “a more dangerous journey when the colors jostle into place”.  When it comes to her use of color, she is always trying to push boundaries and to “overcome the bounds of what would be considered normal.”  Her paintings explore how far she can take it, and she wants people to have an emotional response, like the one I had when I first walked into her room at the fair.
Left: Errant Charms , acrylic, flash + ink on canvas, 65 x 60 x 3.25 inches, 2017. Right: Just Ask Chicken Little, acrylic, flashe + ink on canvas, 65 x 60 x 3.25 inches, 2017.
Lack of Tact, Acrylic, Flashe + Ink on Canvas, 37.5 x 37.5 x 3.25 inches, 2017

Michele is pictured here in front of that beautiful painting that turned me on to her work. I would love to see where it ends up. I’d love to do a follow up to show readers it’s new home. In the meantime, I look forward to staying in touch and to having Michele over so that she can visit Hourdini’s Dream II in situ at my house.

Please be sure and visit Michele’s website where she has stunning photographs of her work, far better than the ones I’ve included here.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I’ve been asking the universe to show me what’s next for me for about two years. Then literally out of the blue, like a bolt of lighting, the idea for this blog popped into my head fully formed. My immediate next thought was that one of my first stories would be about my friend and colleague Robynn Takayama’s collection.

I hadn’t been to Robynn’s house in a few years, but I vividly remembered her art collection. There is something amazing to look at on every surface. Even a trip to the bathroom is a treat. Her small one-bedroom in the Mission, which she purchased on her own through the city’s affordable housing program (YES IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU), is filled with an eclectic mix of treasures that are a reflection of her values and work in the community.

Robynn now shares her apartment with her newly minted husband, Oliver Saria, who runs Bindlestiff Studio. They are still in the process of merging their stuff, and I am told he has BIG plans for their space.

For Robynn “Take it the Streets” Takayama (that’s how her co-workers described her and it’s so true, cracks me up every time), activism and cultural tradition are sacred. Robynn is also a storyteller. On the side she produces Apex Express, an Asian American show on KPFA that airs Thursdays at 7 p.m., with a collective of activists, DJs, and media makers. It was no surprise to me that she would have a detailed backstory for each of her beloved artworks, and she had me eating out of the palm of her hand.

This is Robynn holding Jet Martinez, Alcatraces, 2007. She scored it from a Precita Eyes fundraiser. 

This post is my attempt to recreate some of her storytelling magic, and please hang in there, because one of them is an “only in San Francisco” kind of tale. And just because I can’t help myself, it involves a pair Japanese men trapped in a “white men’s bodies” and Golden Girls.

First up is this lovely poster for the annual Nihonmachi Street Fair in Japantown above a sweet little collection of objects including a little print of a Hawaiian scene. Robynn’s father and many of her relatives live in Hawaii, so it is a place near and dear to her heart.

The poster was designed by Leland Wong who was born and raised in Chinatown and part of an influential group of Asian American artists in the Bay Area during the 70s and 80s. Together with his contemporaries, Jim Dong and Nancy Hom, he helped foment the Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest Asian American, interdisciplinary arts organization in the country.

Robynn has been involved with Kearny Street for years and now serves on the board. She is steeped in its history and reverent about its early days and the contributions of Wong, Dong and Hom, all of which appear in her collection.

Robynn has collected several of these posters, some of which she purchased at Japantown Art and Media Workshop’s closing sale. For many years, JAM as it was lovingly referred to, was an important collective of printmakers that was known for supporting the community.

This is a poster for a Japanese band called Mono, that according to Robynn is like “Mogwai but Japanese.” This poster was from their 2009 North American tour.


Underneath the Mono poster is a print by Nancy Hom. On her website, Hom describes herself as follows:

“I am labeled a community artist, for lack of a better term. I came to SF in 1974, after graduating from Pratt Institute in NYC, and have worked with different groups in the Bay Area to give voice to their hopes and dreams, to express their plight and their resilience, and to build community across cultures and generations. You might say the work I do is really about helping to create the conditions where positive action can manifest, whether it is creating images for worthy causes, or reading poetry, or dancing, or helping organizations become stronger so that they can do the work I can’t do as one person, or inspiring others as a mentor. The practical aspects of Buddhism – patience, diligence, exertion, loving-kindness, etc. – are the tools I use do my work in the community.”

Hom created this work after the Tsunami in 2006. It is atypical of her style; Hom is most known for her printmaking and bold illustrations. For this work she experimented in pastels. Her husband took a photograph of the original and printed it on archival paper to make it more affordable.

Robynn’s favorite band of all time is Jawbreaker. This is her shrine…

Shrine Part I: This poster is from a secret show that was held on Thanksgiving at a legendary venue in LA called Jabberjaw. Robynn knew that Jawbreaker was in LA. She heard about a late-breaking show on college radio and put two and two together. She showed up for the daytime show and as a prize for her hardcore fandom she got this poster.

Shrine Part II: This is a set list from a Jawbreaker show with a cutout photograph of Robynn and Blake Schwarzenbach (Robynn just calls him “Blake”) the band’s lead singer and guitarist. Robynn interviewed Blake for her zine Static (man do I miss the 90s, especially right now). The zine was dedicated to “scams, pranks and workplace sabotage.” Robynn “published” the zine from her job at Kinkos. In preparation for the interview, Robynn and her co-worker decided created band letterhead (from Kinkos, of course) as a gift. It was used for the set list and Robynn scurried to nab it after the show.

Oh it gets better. Here is the CD that was put out several years later of the very same show. Microphone drop on Jawbreaker shrine.

Behold the red-and-black-themed wall. Color coordinated organization is so satisfying and Robynn is the queen of matchy match (I mean that in the best way, truly. I compliment her all the time on this special talent.)

This poster is by Nikki McClure who is known in the punk rock community. A friend and radio colleague gave it to Robynn. This friend lost her voice (eventually she regained it but it was a traumatizing experience) and the title of the poster is Voice.

Fist poster is from the Oakland Museum of California’s “All Of Us Or None” archive, which is a collection of posters representing various progressive movements in the United States.

The two smaller works are by Nancy Hom, they are silkscreened postcards from the 70s. The one on top is a lotus and the one on the bottom depicts a dancing woman.

The work on the far right is by Faviana Rodriguez, an Oakland-based artist and activist.

These black and white photographs are by Bob Hsiang, also considered an “elder” in the local Asian American art community. The artwork on top is from 2002 and titled War is the Obscenity. The one on the bottom is from 2008 and it is a photo of the legendary Civil Rights activist Yuri Kochiyama holding a picture of Mumia Abu Jamal. Robynn won the Kochiyama photograph at an auction and Hsiang gifted her the anti-war photo for her 30th birthday.

These photographs are by Robynn herself. 

The top photos is at a protest she observed while on vacation in Merida, Mexico. She shot the bottom photo during Occupy Oakland’s port shut down, which happened on Dia de los Muertos. SEIU 1021 held a SEIU Cesar Chavez event and asked for Arts Commission participation; these photos were Robynn’s contributions. She is very involved with her union and is the shop steward for the Arts Commission.

Robynn’s bathroom is sweet and happy. It’s painted a vibrant green and is decorated with colorful works by Faviana Rodriguez (on left) and a poster by Mariana Garibay Raeke (right).  Robynn bought it from the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

The Rodriguez poster is titled, Everything Counts, which is from a series where each work is titled with an 80s song. Can you guess which song? The poster reads, “You are Perfect”, which is “perfect” for a space where you judge your physical appearance on a daily bases. That was Robynn’s intention.

On the toilet is another work by Hom. This is an image of her daughter. Over the years Robynn has become close to Nancy and her daughter, Nicole.

Robynn’s doors also feature artwork, a surface I had not considered myself, but now that I’ve seen it, it opens up a world of possibilities.

Artwork by Kevin B. Chen
This sexy print is located on Robynn’s bedroom door. It’s by Artemio, Rodriguez and is titled “Algo secreto” (“something secret”).

The walls in Robynn’s bedroom are also covered with artworks.


In the upper left, we have a print by Christine Wong Yap titled Stop Evictions. Wong is known more as a fine artist, but did more political work earlier in her career. Her work can also be seen on the lower right, above the plant.

This is a print by Leland Wong that he made for a band called A Grain of Sand, which was popular in the 70s. This poster advertises their first public performance in 20 years.

In anticipation of my visit, Robynn pulled works out of storage.

Shown here is a work by acclaimed street artist Eric Drooker Fun fact: he designed the animation for the film Howl. 

This is an amazing print by Katie Gilmartin, Driving While Black, created, as Robynn pointed out, before the “Black Lives Matter” hashtag had been popularized.

This work is haunting to me. She captures the essence of what it means to be under suspicion, all of the time.

And now for my favorite story…William and Bo Gatewood were soul mates. They were both “Japanese trapped in white men’s bodies”. William expressed his Japanese side through his elaborate artworks of fans and kimonos. Bo “channeled” a book that preached a new religion, Ashan, the basic tenant of which is that one is born again until one learns unconditional love.

These two beautiful souls somehow found each other. They shared a house in Hayes Valley, and for a brief time in the 80s Robynn’s aunt lived with them and helped Bo set up psychic readings. Robynn and her mother became close with the couple. Bo, a former priest, even officiated Robynn’s mother’s second marriage.

During the 80s, William’s work took off. Robynn would randomly see his art at restaurants and even caught a glimpse of one of his works on an episode of Golden Girls.   

Sadly, William and Bo passed away from AIDS. Robynn inherited this work, which Bo had explicitly set aside for Robynn.

It’s a-typical in that it is not a fan or a kimono but it features a circle design that was created with joss paper from Chinatown. Robynn also has one of William’s more typical fan paintings hanging in her room, but this one is extra special because it was selected especially for her.

And that my friends is one hell of an art collection! What I love about this collection, is that it is a perfect reflection of my beautiful, soulful friend.

Thank you, Robynn, for sharing and for helping me flesh out some of the finer details!

Reconnect and stay connected

I met Beth Davila Waldman in the summer of 1999. My mom picked me up from the airport after I had spent a year abroad in London and one of the first things out of her mouth was, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I got you a job and the bad news is that you start tomorrow.”

I was pissed. I had envisioned a whole month off and had planned to spend that time doing nothing. I had missed a whole year’s worth of Oprah and I had fully intended to log some hours catching up on American television.

The job was at Vorpal Gallery, a reputable gallery in Hayes Valley (before it was Hayes Valley) that specialized in M.C. Escher. My job was to sit at the front desk and answer the phone. Beth was a recent graduate of Wellesley (I went to Smith so there was the “why did you go to an all girls college – you mean ‘women’s college'” connection) and was just starting out in the gallery world as a sales associate. She was cool, she had a boyfriend (now her husband) and was where I hoped to be a year from then, after I graduated.  Summer ended, I went back to school and Beth and I didn’t keep in touch.

About two years ago, I ran into Beth at an ArtSpan Auction, and I approached her and reminded her who I was. Beth was gracious and warm and we caught each other up on where we were in our lives (she is married and a mother of two adorable daughters) and what we were doing career wise. There was a lot of overlap in our venn diagram, and once we reconnected, we continued to cross paths and established a line of communication, occasionally sharing ideas and resources or connecting each other with other people in our field. She was the impetus for my last post about Sawyer Rose’s excellent exhibition in Oakland.

We are kindred spirits in that we are both what I would call “connectors” and we both enjoy helping others reach their full potential. In Beth’s case, she has turned this passion into a business: WaldmanArts. She is also an artist herself, and this year she is taking a sabbatical from consulting work to focus full time on her artwork.

When I launched this blog, Beth was one of the first to reach out to offer her encouragement and support. She immediately got it, and she graciously offered up her home and studio in Mill Valley as fodder.

My brother Bob Patterson kindly volunteered to accompany me to document the visit. Thanks Bobo!

The first stop was Beth’s garage studio (she also has a studio inside the house – I know, so lucky). Beth is working on a very cool collaboration with Jenny Day, a painter who divides her time between Tucson, AZ and Santa Fe, NM. Beth and Jenny met at the No Dead Artist Art Fair Exhibition at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans and bonded over their affinity for “landscape, human impact and the manmade.”

Garage studio. That’s me on the left and Beth on the right. On the far wall, in front of us, DAY + WALDMAN, “Hunter’s Point 9″, 2017, acrylic, plexiglass, spray paint, archival pigment on paper, graphite on panel, 48″ x40″.

This collaboration is inspired by the Hunter’s Point Shipyard, a former naval base come artist studios come major redevelopment area. Hunter’s Point also happens to be a Superfund site (meaning polluted in a number of ways you don’t even want to fathom), which happens to be a long-time obsession of Jenny’s.  She has a background in Environmental Studies and explores the “human effect on nature” in her practice.

Earlier this year, they set out to capture the current transformation of Hunter’s Point “from toxic to benign, public to private.” Using photographs of the site as their jumping off point, they worked on six 20″ x 24″ panels in their separate Arizona and California studios. “These panels were exchanged at midway points enabling each artist to complete the other’s work.” Eventually, they got together to complete the Hunter’s Point series in Beth’s studio. And until they are able to show the series together, Beth is lucky to get to live with these beautiful works of art.

DAY + WALDMAN, “Hunter’s Point 8,” 2017, acrylic paint pen, spray paint, graphite, colored pencil on panel, 40″x 48″.

At some point during their weeklong “residency” in this space, Beth and Jenny decided to merge four distinct works into one. The effect is so satisfying. It’s hard to see in a photograph by these works combine photography, fragments of photographs printed on plexi and spray paint. Beth’s roots are in sculpture, so this series is somewhat of a homecoming in the sense that they are highly tactile and dimensional.

At the top of the stairs: Beth Waldman, “Mollendo No 8″, 2017, acrylic & archival pigment on canvas, 60″ x 40”, go here for more information. 

More works from their collaboration line the entry staircase. Currently, there are nine works, but when they are finished there will be 12. At the top is a striking work by Beth from a series inspired by the architecture and landscape of Peru, where Beth has family ties.

DAY + WALDMAN, “Hunter’s Point 7″, 2017, diptych, acrylic, collage and graphite on panel 48″ x 72”.

Beth and Jenny will show one of their new works at the fall launch of art in Chelsea, NY at Galerie Protégé. In the meantime, they’ve started a new series, It’s yours to resolve, which harnesses the power of digital communication to exchange ideas and “pinpoint moments of understanding, irony and questioning in their everyday lives as individual artists and a collaborative team.”

The next stop was Beth’s second studio space, filled with her solo work. Beth had a nomadic upbringing. Born in Princeton, NJ to a Peruvian mother and a New York architect father, she has lived in Cincinnati, Houston and Florence. Influenced by the built environment, she creates large-scale mixed media canvases that combine digital media with traditional paint.

Shown here are works from a series of scenes from the deep South. Beth’s husband, Vic, is from South Carolina and when they are back there visiting family, she feels the impact of being an outsider. When speaking about the large work shown in the center of this photograph, Beth talked about “building blocks” and what it means culturally when you are building walls.

Beth Waldman, “Mollendo No. 5″, 2016, acrylic & archival pigment on canvas, 60″ x 40”. Tip! This painting will be in the LIVE AUCTION in October at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art’s annual auction.

Beth typically starts with a photograph and then employs, what she describes, as a “subtractive method” to erase certain bits of information. This work is usually done on a computer first and then transferred to the canvas, where she continues the process with paint.

Large canvases from Beth’s Peru series fill her living space. The colors are serene and calming.  The effect belies the works’ critical commentary about man’s impact on the natural landscape. More to the point, the work focuses in on the shoddy construction that is an anathema to the country’s natural beauty.  These dwellings are essential and, yet, highly precarious – both disintegrating and standing at the same time.  Well, that’s my take on it anyway – it’s open for interpretation.

Beth Waldman, “City of Sillar No. 10”, 2016, acrylic, paint & archival pigment on canvas, 48″ x 72″. More info…
“City of Sillar: Day & Night”, 2012-2014, diptych, acrylic & oil paint & archival pigment on canvas, 56″ x 47 7/8″ each.

The dining room features two works that started from identical canvases featuring multiple view points merged into one from her Aunt’s house in Peru. Beth was interested in seeing how the works would evolve and diverge. To me, both are very cinematic. The one the left reminds me of a scene awash in stark sunlight that fades to white–like an oasis seen by a dehydrated person on the lam through White Sands New Mexico. While the one on the right, reminds me of an urban landscape seen through infrared glasses at night or as my brother Bob said, “Blade Runner.”

The mid-century house’s envious amounts of wall space, high ceilings and natural light, perfectly set off her canvases. Sprinkled in amongst her own work is a collection of prints and objects Beth and her husband have collected over the years.

Beth purchased this book sculpture for her daughter Lanta at Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley to instill in her the value of collecting artwork and supporting artists. It is from a project by Vita Wells called “Flights of Mind” .

In this dreamy sun-filled nook is a print by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, one of my personal favorites (big Art History nerd, here) Beth’s father got it for her as a present. It commemorates their mutual love for architecture. Like Beth, Piranesi had a fascination for reconstructing cities, in his case ancient Rome.

Alongside the Piranesi, to the left, is a woodblock print by Mike Kimball (“Downtown Alley”, linocut, 12″ x 6″) featuring a view through a San Francisco alley. It was purchased at Arc Gallery. Beth was attracted to the image because of her own fascination with urban alleyways and explorations of San Francisco.

Above that is a print of the ubiquitous homeless tent under an overpass by Joan Karissa. The title of the work is “These Tents Are Our Home”, 2016, screen print, 17″ x 11″ and it was purchased from ArtSpan‘s room at the StartUp Art Fair. Another parallel can be drawn between this work and Beth’s images of unstable dwellings. Kimball and Karissa are both local artists who show regularly throughout the Bay Area. On the far left is a work by Beth inspired by the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

Pictured above is a print by Jenny Robinson that Beth picked up at an ArtSpan Auction. Jenny has a studio at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard. Her work is very industrial, urbane and, for lack of a better term, noir. I highly recommend paying her a visit during Open Studios.

Beth’s bedroom. Large painting on the wall “Mollendo No. 6″, 2016, 48″ x 72” and Jesse Allen, “Oceanic SunLight”.

This image doesn’t do justice to this sweet little work by Jesse Allen, a present from Vic. In addition to Escher, Vorpal gallery also showed the work of Allen – an artist Beth and her husband both love, but one that also signifies the early days of their relationship and the life (and collection) they would build together.

The last stop on the tour was a peek at Beth’s latest acquisition: two exquisite prints by Enrique Chagoya, a celebrated San Francisco artist.  Chagoya created the works during a residency at Kala Art Institute, where she encountered the work. These prints were inspired by Francisco de Goya’s Los Disparates. 

Born in Mexico City, Chagoya has lived on both sides of the border and in Europe. His experience makes him particularly sensitive to issues of immigration. It is really hard to see in these photos, but images of the Syrian refugee crisis and the ongoing tensions between the US and Mexico were the inspiration for this 21st-century iteration of Los Disparates, which translates to “dream” or “proverbs”.  The prints are rich and employ subtle satire to illuminate the severity of this humanitarian predicament.

Enrique Chagoya, “Disparate Ridiculo (Ridiculous Folly)”, 2015, etching.
Enrique Chagoya, “Disparate Ridiculo (Ridiculous Folly)”, 2015, etching.
Enrique Chagoya, “Disparate de Toritos (Folly of Young Bulls)”, 2015, etching.

There were many more works that did not make it into this post. You’ll have to seek Beth out at her next show, make her your friend, and then invite yourself over (they like chocolate babka if you need an incentive). Find out what she is up to next! 

I think it is important to note that all of the works Beth has collected were fairly modest in price. Many of the works featured in this post were under $500. I know it is tacky to mention money, but one of my goals with this little experiment is to show readers that one can surround oneself with beautiful objects that speak to you, commemorate a time in your life and bring you joy within your means. It takes time. It takes some intense conversations (negotiations) with partners. But it is doable!

A woman’s work is never done, and there is an app for that.

Last weekend, we took a family trip to Oakland to check out a show by the Marin-based artist Sawyer Rose. We were so lucky to have Sawyer, who is warm, gregarious and incredibly articulate, treat us to an intimate walkthrough of her show.

Sawyer standing in front of Tracy, 2017 Mortar, Brass Tubes, Silver Solder, Wood 8 x 9 ft.

Curated by Dasha Matsuura of Spoke Gallery and Oakland Art MurmurForce of Nature is the latest installment of a larger series by Sawyer titled The Carrying Stones Project, which “explores gendered work inequality in its many forms.”

The multimedia works in the show combine sculpture and photography to illustrate the “invisible force that fuels working women”. Sawyer conceived of each work using data collected from a custom-built app that “enabled participants to record their unpaid and paid labor, hour by hour.” Force of Nature visualizes the data “in a quantitative manner through material and documented performance.” The objects, materials, forms and overall compositions she created for each of her subjects are deeply personal and speak to the multifaceted lives they lead.

Anna & Hillary, 2017 Archival Pigment Print.  Anna works full-time in the home, homeschooling their 7-year old while also caring for their toddler. Hillary worked in digital services for the US government through the Obama administration, and has recently been named the first-ever Chief Digital Officer for the province of Ontario, Canada. Though they are two women sharing one massive workload, their partnership tends toward traditional roles of money-maker and home-caregiver. 
Anna & Hillary, 2017 Felt, Aluminum, Silver Solder, Rope 10 x 4 feet

Sawyer, a mother of two herself, was inspired to create this project while attempting to explain to her husband how she spends 16 hours on her feet a day, working and carrying for her family and their many and various needs. She said that she got the idea when she decided to draw him a picture so that he could understand where she was coming from.

As a mother of a 2.75-year-old, who works full time, I can relate. I found this project to be incredibly moving. It visualizes what so many working mothers feel and experience–“the second shift”.  The “working when you’re not working” as evidenced by the photograph taken of my daughter Bridey impersonating a barnacle while I was trying to take in the show and to have an adult conversation.  I should note that my husband, Scott, who does help his wife a lot, tried his damnedest to distract and entertain Bridey so that I could enjoy the show, but, well, the pictures speak for themselves.

The barnacle and I standing in front of Amira, 2017 Faux Leather, Wire, Thread, Silver Solder, Acrylic 6 x 15 ft.

Amira, 2017 Archival Pigment Print Edition of 3, 36 x 24 inches. Amira works as an art consultant, marketing consultant, and podcast host. She volunteers with a number of Oakland community organizations, and in her “ spare” time, she hosts a monthly multi-racial book club. And teaches workshops. And leads art tours. There’s not much she doesn’t do, and do well.

I applaud the way Sawyer transformed, what is often described as and feels like drudgery, into something beautiful and heroic. Her subjects look powerful and serene, not overwrought, although I’m sure they have their moments. I should note that not all of her subjects are mothers, like Amira pictured above. Mother or not, women do a shit-ton of work in and outside of their paid jobs for which they get little to no recognition. This body of work simply helps one wrap one’s head around the volume and frequency of such work and how these women contribute to their families and community.

Bety, 2017 Archival Pigment Print Edition of 3, 36 x 24 inches.  Bety works cleaning homes, and she also gets up early every weekday to volunteer at morning mass at her church. She does most of the domestic labor in her own home, though she says doesn’t consider it a burden, and in fact, she’ll usually leave off working on her own tasks if someone needs something from her. “ If there’s something else that needs to be done other than my thing, I’m going to do the other thing first, even though I know I need the time for myself.”

A big shout out for Sawyer’s talented and very helpful husband, J.P. Rose, for taking the first photograph of Bridey and me as well as the one of Sawyer. He spent some time chasing us around taking shots for which I am grateful.

The exhibition is on view through September 30 at Classic Cars West. Go check it out and support Sawyer’s incredible work!

Make friends with artists and then make friends with their partners

Eventually we will get to other people’s art collections, but for now and for convenience, I’m going to start with mine.

I met Paul Madonna in 2008. I was working at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was about to open its new Daniel Libeskind building. Paul, who had a popular column in The San Francisco Chronicle Datebook section called “All Over Coffee”, had been sent to the Museum on assignment to draw pictures of the new building. Due to museum security protocols, I had the great fortune of chaperoning Paul for the whole day to make sure he didn’t run off with anything or carve his initials into our freshly painted walls.

Paul likes to work alone and wasn’t exactly thrilled to have me hovering around, but he was gracious about it and affably participated in small talk. After a while, and with his encouragement,  I decided museum protocols be damned and gave him his space. I periodically checked  back in when it was time to escort him to a new spot.

Paul was the first “real local artist” I had met since moving to San Francisco from NYC. And after spending a whole day with him, in my mind I had decided that he was going to be my friend.

When the column ran, I reached out to Paul to see if he might be willing to sell me one of the originals, but I was too late and too poor. Paul had already sold them to the Museum’s director and they were going to be hung in her office. While I was in love with the idea that I could have an artwork that I was somehow a part of, in truth, they were way out of my league, and it also made sense that the Museum should have them.

As a consolation prize, I think Paul put me on his mailing list, so when Open Studios rolled around, I made sure I went.  I wanted to demonstrate  to my “new friend” that I was the kind of friend who supports her friends.

The event was packed with people riffling through stacks of drawings. I quickly became overwhelmed by the choices. Every drawing was a stunner. Paul is singular when it comes to capturing San Francisco’s light and architecture.

One drawing in particular took my breath away. It depicted kind of an unremarkable intersection filled with not so charming city buildings – not the Victorians often featured in his work. A city street is at the center of the composition and it leads the eye into the most glorious burst of clouds and heavenly light. I loved it, but I ultimately left empty handed.

A few months later, I ran into Paul and his wife Joen walking to an art opening at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. I had just started working at the Arts Commission, and so I was thrilled to cross paths with a familiar face.

We chatted for a bit and I distinctly remember instantly connecting with Joen. Originally from Oklahoma, Joen radiates warmth and positivity. She exudes generosity in every sense of the word. She is extroverted and makes you feel great about yourself when you are in her presence. She obviously had to be my friend too.

Nine years later, I consider the Madonnas to be among my closest friends, which brings me to the point of this post…it feels really good to support your friends’ work. That drawing I fell in love with but passed on, well I bought it, a year later. After manhandling, every drawing at Paul’s open studio, I mentioned to Joen that there was this drawing that I had seen the year before with these amazing clouds, and Joen stopped me and said, “I know exactly the one you are talking about.” She reached into an “off limits” drawer and pulled it out. The intersection depicted is Cesar Chavez and Mission, right by St. Luke’s Hospital, where I was born. Like my friendship with the Madonnas,  it was meant to be. It now enjoys pride of place and what I’ve jokingly described as my “Paul Madonna shrine”.

The “shrine” with “Sofia” playing for a sick toddler. Artwork on left above the yellow chair is by Header image credit: Quilt artwork by Amy Ahlstrom. Purchased at the 2017 ArtSpan Auction.

It is also really satisfying to have a front row seat for your friends’ creative evolution. Paul retired “All Over Coffee” and has published two new books in the last year:  a novel, Close Enough for the Angels, which I am genuinely in awe of, and On to the Next Dream, which he lovingly dedicated to my husband Scott and me (and Joen too of course!).

Joen has gone from managing Paul’s business and doing freelance consulting with other artists to the Executive Director of ArtSpan, the nonprofit that produces Open Studios in San Francisco, (dedicated post in the future) and she is KILLING IT. She has significantly raised the profile of the organization and has just scored a major opportunity to develop an art space in the Excelsior District. The Supervisor for that district, Ahsha Safaí, recently said at a public hearing that meeting Joen was one of the best things that has happened to him since taking office. I’m  thrilled because not only is she one of my best friends but she is also a trusted colleague. I get to see and engage with her at meetings where we work on strengthening the local arts community.

To sum it all up, when your lives are connected, you do become in some way a part of the art that is created.  I am not saying that I am a muse – not at all! I’m just saying that the works I’ve collected from Paul over the years have more significance because of our shared experiences. From the original drawing for the Art on Market Street Poster Series that I hounded him to apply for to the drawing I bought of USF as a gift for my future husband to celebrate his MBA to the sketch from his eviction series that turned into On to the Next Dream, these works are like family portraits, only more beautiful and way less awkward.

Study for Art on Market Street Poster Series, sketch for Eviction Series, and drawing of USF.
Original artwork for Market Street Poster Series featuring Rigo’s Birds mural.

I volunteered to help out a the last open studios Paul and Joen held at their Mission apartment before they had to move out. Towards the end of the day, I saw a print of the Contemporary Jewish Museum drawings, where it all began. I asked Paul to sign it with “When Paul met Kate”  and it now sits on the “Paul Madonna Shrine”.