Another San Fran artist, Paul Hayes, is primarily a sculpturist that currently favours working with organic materials. His installations combining paper and wood within flowing and chandelier like compositions are an acute study of nature represented through these manufactured materials. The work that we documented; since removed from the gallery window at the SF Art Commission Gallery, 155 Grove St. , was a great example of this process. The building apparently doesn’t allow for spectators to enter, so the front window itself was the viewing gallery, so people on the street could view the pieces from outside. It was interesting to overhear some of the comments made by passersby as we shot, and Paul confessed that when he was installing the piece that he enjoyed being incognito to overhear these little sound bites.

Despite the restrictions for viewers to go inside, we were able to get venture in and get inside the piece itself. It was a great vantage point and the buildings natural light through the ceiling windows provided for some dynamic visuals as the light reflecting off the paper created some interesting shadows and reflections. There was a great flow to the piece and once inside, we really got a sense of its movement and flow.

Before visiting his work at the commission we met up at the Alemany Flea Market, where Paul often finds some of the objects he uses in his installations. Trinkets abound: velvet paintings are stacked and an assortment of lively characters sell their wares. It’s a good place to start the day if you are interested in curios and possibly discovering something of value. Paul picked himself up a brass ball, a pair of welding goggles and a grade school book about fishes from the 1970. In that order.

We stayed in that area and took a stroll up Bernal Hill. Fantastic view. It gives one a pretty good vantage on point off the bay area in general. Do this. It’s free.

Golden Gate park was our next destination. We hung out with the other hanger-outs and Paul pointed out the tree where apparently Janis Joplin would climb up and sit inside the tree and pen her song writing. Paul obliged us and did same, sans song writing. Being 6 foot 5, this was quite a feat, and once up there, we imagined the requisite 60s style sunglasses and flower patterned headbands.

Next stop was the Botanical Gardens where Paul talked extensively about the connection between nature – and more specifically the visual patterns nature so often produces in plants, trees and other such things. There are number of exotic plants with exquisite detail, and trees from seemingly disparate backgrounds neighboring one another throughout. Of particular interest was the Japanese ‘moon viewing’ garden, which stood out for its formal design, finely manicured features, and small, friendly water fowl. There’s a nice little pagoda and overhanging tree within its midst too. The gardens overall offer a surprising array of species and spaces to experience and explore. Definitely great for a picnic. It’s bigger than Central Park too. Who knew?

We stopped in at the de Young museum too. One of San Francisco’s newest structures devoted to Contemporary Art. It’s a beautiful building. And the work inside isn’t too shoddy either.

Jimmy Chen’s San Francisco

September 19, 2008

One of our featured artists for San Fran, Jimmy Chen utilizes cityscapes taken from the internet, manipulated and then re-presented through painting. Incorporating flat colors and muted tones to create a landscape that is strong in presence and presentation, Chen’s oils are an examination of vacancy in blues and black. He is represented by HANG gallery, and they have some samples of his work online. Before taking a tour of his neighborhood we discussed his process of removing people and automobiles from the photos he utilizes before translating the image to canvas. It’s an effective means to get to what is essential – which for Chen is the landscape itself – yet he manages to retain the sense that these are inhabited spaces as well. I discovered a similar approach later on when we met with painter Robert Olsen in LA.

Jimmy took us through the Potrero district and his pick of Phil’z coffee on 24th street was a real treat. Amongst the espressos , double frap half soy lattes and lemon twist mochas of the world, Phil’z specializes in single cup drip coffee. Drinking a coffee from this place is a very unique experience, and for those devoted to espresso should give this a try. Truly. We were surprised and amazed at how good it was.

Phil'z Coffee, San Francisco

Phil’z shares the neighborhood an assortment of businesses from cheap eats to high end fare. Of note within this area are a number of murals adorning the walls on a host of buildings and alleyways, creating a gallery of urban art inspired in part by the Latino tradition of mural painting. Cruise down 24th and you’ll be privy to a few of the more stand-out works on display.

Phil'z Coffee, San Francisco

From here we toured the Mission district and strolling up Valencia, visiting a few sights of interest. Jimmy took us to Spork, an spin on fast food with a decidedly slower, more quality oriented approach. We also stopped by 826 Valencia to look at pirate garb and give props to the back-room work these scribes do for the literary arts. Serving as a tutorial centre and independent publishing house, word is they can exist only if their operation has a retail component. Pirate stuff. Why not? This publishing house is franchised to a number of major cities too. The place and was alive with shoppers and readers. The arts are alive and well in the bay. So are parrots and peg legs. And eye patches.

All in all, Potrero, Mission and Valencia are areas which obviously offer a number of excellent shops to visit and avenues to stroll down within San Fran. The murals alone are worth doing a tour of the area.

Robert Olsen’s photo realist paintings of gas stations and city objects have gained notice among art critics and collectors alike, and we spent some time with him in his Sunset Boulevard neighbourhood. Olsen uses a photo, print and paint process to achieve accurate representations of the subjects he chooses and further personalizes the pieces by reducing the image to its most essential image; often centering the objects against a background of gradated black. Not much for the traffic of the L.A roadways, he often prefers going out in the middle of the night to photograph his gas stations and other objects, capturing a quieter side of a city perpetually on the move.

Robert took us to Tacos Delta, a taqueria close to his apartment/studio near Silverlake Hills on Sunset Blvd.  The taqueria is well known among locals-it is a place Robert frequented even before moving to the neighbourhood. It was busy when we were there and its clean and there’s a nice little table area in the back where you can sit and enjoy your inexpensive and authentic Mexican. We had a good discussion about art in general and more specifically about the nature of photo realist painting and some of the difficulties of painting in this style.

There was also a few coffee shops that Robert pointed out to us. In particular, the Casbah, a morrocan themed cafe with quality espresso.

Jud Meyers- Sherman Oaks

September 18, 2008

Our final guide for L.A. was Jud Meyers, proprietor of Earth-2 Comics, a well known Comic shop in the Sherman Oaks area on Ventura Blvd. Almost curatorial in his approach to his shop, Jud’s knowledge of all things comics is broad and impressive. Situated close to a number of major movie studios, it’s not uncommon to find studio types in his place combing the racks for their next movie idea. A Sherman Oaks landmark, Jud’s store is situated right next door to La Frite, a quality restaurant that’s been in operation for over 30 years. Two doors down is Kung Pao, a Chinese restaurant that Jud recommends as well.

Kim Stringfellow is a photographer and media artist based in Angelino Heights, close to downtown L.A. Kim’s photographic work examines the beauty of modern ruins. Her study of the Salton Sea, a environmental “mistake’ south of Palm Springs, and later series of attempted (and failed) resorts, is a fascinating subject for her book, “Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005“.

Kim took us on a walking tour of Downtown L.A. It’s not an area people often associate with tourism or interesting places to visit when thinking about Los Angeles, and probably for that reason it was an incredibly interesting journey. The tour centered around a walk down Broadway, a once vibrant component to the L.A. scene. Lined with the largest concentration of theatres from the Art Deco period in the country, many of these places are abandoned, or now operate as pawn shops, stores for cheap t-shirts, music venues, or Hispanic B movies. Our favourite was one which had been converted into a church – Catedral de la Fe Theatre – an appropriate transformation given its movie palace past. The grandeur of these theatres has remained untempered though regardless of their current dilapidation. There definitely was a strong connection between what Kim was showing us and her work. Within this though, were some amazing little gems.

Catedral de la Fe Theatre, Los Angeles

The Grand Central Farmer’s market was chock full of good inexpensive fare, from Mexican to South East Asian. Like everything else that we’d seen previous and upcoming on our walk, there was a real authenticity to the place. Close to here is also the Angel’s Flight Railway-the shortest tram line in the country and once a favourite location for a number of Noir films shot in the 40s and 50s. Not far from here, is the Clifton Restaurant (Cafe): a fantastic and kitschy step back to another time.

Clifton's Restaurant, Los Angeles

Grand Central Farmer's Market, Los Angeles

After our tour, we talked a little more extensively about Kim’s work, and in particular about her new project, Jackrabbit Homestead, a photo essay on California’s Pioneertown, located near Joshua Tree’s National Park.

After spending some time with Kim, we did our own tour of downtown, and were pleasantly surprised with what we found. It was nice that within a city that is so car dependent that one can still find things to discover on foot . There is a rich history to downtown L.A. that has been overshadowed over the years by the  Hollywood of amusement parks and shopping districts which cater to conspicuous consumption.

Portland

July 3, 2008

With seemingly very little effort, Portland is undoubtedly one of America’s coolest cities. Everywhere you look, Portland exudes a cultural confidence often reserved for larger, older, more established locations. There’s probably plenty of people from Portland that would be the first to argue otherwise, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s unpretentious and unassuming. There’s also a ‘do it yourself’ attitude throughout the arts community which was great to document. One of our favourite sightings was a sign simply stating “Keep Portland Weird” located in the Laurelhurst district , home to one of our featured artists, Brittany Powell. We thought that summed up Portland and its joie de vivre quite nicely.

Streets lined with craftsmen homes dating from the 30s, Laurelhurst has on display a number of examples of its art deco building past; such as the Coca Cola plant, and the Laurelhurst theatre (one of Brittany’s picks, it shows repertoire films and serves beer. Very nice).

Laurelhurst Theatre, Portland

Laurelhurst Theatre, Portland

Coca-Cola building, Portland

Coca-Cola building, Portland

Home to a mix of interesting businesses from tapas eateries , funky barber shop (link and description), cozy pubs and unique dessert shops (a few selects from our host include, The Farm-a restaurant in a converted farmhouse, or “Le Pigeon”, an eclectic French restaurant) Le Pigeon is indicative of the tongue and cheek names of many Portland establishments. Others include: Le Happy, The Betty Ford Lounge, Lowbrow Lounge, Franks Alot Hotdogs, and Virginia Woof Doggie Day Spa. There are also some great examples of Portland’s art-deco architectural past in the Laurelhurst Theatre and the Coca-Cola building.

Franks Alot Hotdogs

Bettie Ford Lounge

We couldn’t resist checking out the Kennedy, an old high school that’s been converted into a hotel, theatre, and numerous restaurants, all housed in former classrooms. Restaurants on-site include “The Detention Room” and the “Honors” bar. Of course.

Kennedy School

A few short blocks from there, is Alberta Street, a vibrant community with a lot of cheap eats and authentic and interesting shops. Good people watching too. We met a guy on the street who was on his way to a bike polo match. Other locals we met told us that we had just missed the Alberta Street arts Festival.

Alberta Street

Alberta Street

Cafe on Alberta Street

Cafe on Alberta Street

Alberta Street Don Pancho Restaurant

Don Pancho Restaurant, Alberta Street

Alberta Street

Alberta Street

Plazm magazine founder, Joshua Berger, took us to a number of places of interest, including Portland’s famous burnside skatepark. Evidently it’s the main location for Gus Van Sant’s latest film, Paranoid Park. Next stop was the Voodoo Doughnut shop whose “magic is in the hole”, is certainly memorable with such items on the menu as “triple chocolate penetration” and the “blood filled voodoo donut”.

Voodo Donuts

Voodo Donuts

Voodo Donut's Menu

Voodo Donuts Menu

As we walked down Burnside Joshua regaled us with stories of Portland’s historic music scene and a few clubs that contributed to its making. We stopped in on Chloe at Reading Frenzy, an alt-zine shop located close to Portland’s famous Powell’s Books. This was one of Joshua’s picks, and the store is located along a popular block downtown near Powell’s on Oak street.

Joshua’s summation of Portland as a place that’s known for “beer, books and stripclubs” was duly noted and corroborated by a number of individuals we chatted with on the streets. And we love you Portland for all three of those wonderful things. Even the stripclubs.