By John Held, Jr.
Most of the Tenderloin galleries are open Wednesday through Saturday, so I chose a Thursday afternoon to take in as many spots as possible on this second of my cultural drifts through the hood. The Upper Tenderloin galleries have joined together in a loose association, supporting a “First Thursdays Art Walk,” so I picked up a postcard invitation promoting the event and took in as many remaining galleries as I could.
Some of these listed “galleries” are secondary to their primary focus, including Public Barber (571 Geary), which was doing a brisk business in “hair sculpture” in addition to displaying the works of Lauren Chai. Likewise, Cafe Royale (800 Post) a local watering spot featuring a cursory selection of works, which the owners would not allow to be photographed without asking the permission of the artist (what is that about). Ramon’s Tailor (628 Jones), may or may not be a tailor shop, but does have an intriguing mission statement.
“Ramon’s Tailor is an art storefront dedicated to promoting visual art through salons, installations, artist- in-residence programs and public workshops. We feature nontraditional, multi-disciplinary work and provide artists a public venue to experiment and showcase their ideas. We encourage our community to gather and see, critique and create, and learn and explore. Come interact with our artists, experience their process and hear them talk about what they are creating at one of our upcoming events.”
Curious, I went to their website (www.ramonstailor.com), and duh, they don’t do tailoring. But a former occupant (Ramon) did for forty years. This constitutes a trend, as Ever Gold gallery (441 O’Farrell), is located in what was previously a dental supply company providing gold for fillings, and also kept the name of the previous tenant. I like this trend. It maintains the heritage and feel of the neighborhood as it undergoes transition (well, slowly and surely). Ever Gold, also publishes San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and maintains the site you are reading from, while providing both cutting edge and historic exhibitions. Enough said. I could ramble on about its many virtues, but that might constitute incest or nepotism or conflict of interest. Probably all three.
I can recommend, without hesitation, Gallery Heist, which was given over this day to the drawings of animator Kyle Kingston, who was on hand chatting with owner Julianne Yates about an animated television series they hope to get off the ground based on the drawings of characters on display. I dug the interaction between the two, and the support the gallery owner was showing the artist. Heist has been open since 2009 and has flown under my radar, but I’m impressed with their ongoing program and intend to follow their future exhibitions based solely on Julianne’s enthusiasm. While I was there, a group of kids from SF City Impact, which serves inner-city kids, wandered in and checked out the scene. I took away the feeling that Heist was having an impact as well.
My next stop was Gauntlet Gallery (1040 Larkin), where I met owner Luke Lombardo, former advertising guy, who is also an artist. He bought a bad-ass giclee printer to duplicate his own work and began offering his services to other. Like Gallery 16 before him, this morphed into a gallery to show the finished products. Luke oversaw an impressive site renovation, with offices and printing facilities over the sweeping gallery space. The day I was there a Seattle art collective was getting ready for a pop-up. Up next, opening August 17, is an exhibition of prints by Fab Ciraolo, a Chilean artist. This gallery is too professionally run to fail.
Next up was Art Primo (1124 Sutter). Aside from the art, they bill themselves as the “world’s largest selection of graffiti supplies.” It was pretty awesome, and cheapskate though I am, I had to pick up a couple of acrylic markers that looked just yummy (and they were). The art was pretty typical and mostly beside the point. The raison d’etre is support of the community (for better or worse), which Art Primo serves.
Filled to the brim with all manner of pop-surrealism, low-brow, animation, graffiti, Juxtapoz inspired art from the galleries I had already been exposed to, I was nevertheless shocked when I walked into Spoke Art Gallery (816 Sutter). It was more of the same but with the added punch of an obviously professionally run enterprise and holy of holies, sales that were through the roof. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been to any gallery exhibition in San Francisco where there were so many red dots around the room I was in fear of catching chickenpox! This due to the spectacular painting technique of Scott Scheidly, whose pop culture figures in, “The Pinks,” ranging from Abraham Lincoln, Star War’s Chewy, Heinrich Himmler, Kim Il Jong II, Pope John Paul II, and Ayatollah Khomeini are all goosed up in pink and decked out in all manner of satiric sendups. Priced modestly, they’ve practically flown out the door. Upcoming shows should be just as dramatic and popular. Up next is Casey Weldon, a Pop-Surrealist with a thing for cats.
I ended my tour at Kayo Books (814 Post), which has little art to speak of but is heavy on paperbacks from the fifties and sixties. So kookie. You have to love a bookstore with categories like “Catholic Guilt” and “Going Native.” I’ve passed them by for years, as I have with most of the galleries in the area. This time I stopped to “smell the roses,” and like most of the venues I explored, it was sweet. And just to cop another cliché, take a look around the neighborhood and you’ll find art literally underfoot. The Loin has a decidedly artsy feel these days and is ripe for continuation in this direction.
For more information on the Lower Polk/Tenderloin Art Walk visit here.