Interview by Nikki Greene
Ramon’s Tailor is an unexpected surprise in the heart of the Tenderloin. More unconventional than your typical four white-walled gallery, Ramon’s Tailor is small and funky. The space offers emerging artists a chance to experiment with new ideas and create work in an atypical setting. The work showcased is contextual and often site-specific inspired work. For instance, the past artist-in-residence Radka Pulliam, occupied a desk at the window facing Jones Street and made an embroidered “drawing” every day while at Ramon’s Tailor. Similarly, local artist Iris Alden used that same window for a series of witty and clever daily “fortunes” that were posted for all passersby to see.
I recently sat down to meet with Frank and Teri, the couple behind Ramon’s Tailor, to talk about their space, the neighborhood and why their bathroom is plastered with leaves. The two are incredibly warm and hospitable, which lends for a perfectly approachable creative experience. Perfect for creating a welcoming space for friends, neighbors and art admirers just stopping by.
So tell us, how did Ramon’s Tailor come about? What was your inspiration behind Ramon’s Tailor and how has it evolved to become what it is today?
Ramon’s Tailor was definitely inspired by the many collaborative experiences I had at CCA, where Teri and I both studied applied arts. At that time, the school was designed so that the disciplines could easily interact. I was in the architecture program and was ten feet away from graphic designers, industrial designers, furniture makers and fashion designers. These people not only became influences on the work I was creating, but were also partners on projects. This collaboration was most fulfilling to me — it was what drew me to studying architecture at an art school. In thinking about opening a creative space, I knew that multi-disciplinary collaboration would play a strong role in our programs.
We were hunting for spaces two years ago while the Stein show was up at the SFMOMA. The Steins were great appreciators of art and I was inspired by the salons they held, where artists, writers, musicians all got together to show and share ideas. These salons became more relevant when we found our current space — the physical layout of which is not like a traditional gallery, but much more intimate and subterranean. We allowed our programming ideas to be informed by the space and that was the genesis of Ramon’s Tailor as an artist salon. The intention is to provide a public venue for artists to experiment, showcase and talk about their work. We also create the opportunities for casual interactions between the artist and other creative people and art-appreciators.
Well, you definitely succeeded in creating an intimate environment where artists can play with the quirky layout. What kind of art or artist are you most drawn to?
I feel like we are less drawn to specific mediums or artists, and are more drawn in by concept, process and craft. At Ramon’s Tailor, we embrace these ideals in different ways. Conceptually, we like when installations relate to our surrounding neighborhood or to the space itself.
For us process is what tells the interesting story behind the work and when revealed is ultimately the most compelling part of a piece. In addition to encouraging artists to experiment, we place a high emphasis on process over highly polished body of work.
At Ramon’s Tailor, we also embrace the idea that art can be expressed in many different forms from paint to words to food and drink. Our goal is to help break down barriers; art doesn’t need to be intimidating. Art should be a fun way to bring people together—that’s what we’re doing.
Speaking of breaking down artistic barriers, do you get many interesting people that stumble into Ramon’s Tailor? Curious passersby, tourists off track from Union Square, or maybe your kooky Tenderloin local?
Yes! We love the Tenderloin because of its beautiful and diverse mix of people. Most people are curious about what we’re doing, because it is so visually different than what they’ve encountered before. People come in to check out the work and from the moment they step through the door are engaged by either us or the artists. This isn’t an anonymous space, we love talking to people and hearing what they think about our shows.
Parts of SF feel like its going through some rapid transformation, do you see any change occurring now in the TL? How do you think it will affect the art culture in the TL?
There’s certainly change happening in the Tenderloin. There are a handful of small businesses like Farm:Table and Big that have opened in the past few years that have brought new ideas, character and a sense of community to the neighborhood. Additionally, like Ramon’s Tailor, there seems to be an explosion of art spaces and now the Lower Polk Art Walk a fun and popular monthly gathering for art goers. These places and events are all thriving because they offer something unique and add to the already wonderful and unique character of our neighborhood.
I agree, I used to live down the street on Jones and O’Farrell and the Tenderloin is definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. There’s always something going on and I draw a lot of creativity from my time there. Besides your TL neighbors, what are your favorite places to go to in the city?
There are so many places we love in San Francisco. From the unique art installations that populate our city like House of Days at Fort Mason to the arts commission gallery on Grove Street. We especially love social experiences like curated dinners by our city’s many talented food-lovers, to underground speakeasies.
Sounds like you guys like to have a good time. Is there anything that you are excited to tell us about?
Recently in May we hosted the San Francisco debut of the Postal Collage Project #2. It’s an international project started by a Berkeley-based artist, Marty McCutcheon. The project is centered around 12 groups of people, age 5 to 77, each based within 11 countries. Each of the 72 collaborators starts a collage that gets mailed on to each of the group’s members for their additions (or deletions) and eventually the collage finds its way back to the originator for completion. It’s the second year that Ramon’s Tailor has been involved. We love seeing the final creations and hearing about how the different artists faired in the collaborative process.
Being such an intimate space, we also use our Water Closet as an exhibition space. The show that is up right now is ‘Evergreen’, which reminds me of hiking through a dense forest — you really need to stop by to properly experience it.
Trust me, ‘Evergreen’ is a delightful surprise to an already charming environment.
Ramon’s Tailor is proof that craft and art can be expressed in a variety of ways. I strongly suggest checking out this quirky and intimate gallery space at the next Lower-Polk Art Walk, every first Thursday of the month.
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