Monday, December 12, 2011

Map of Guadalupe

Today is the feats day for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Back in 2007 I made this image of Her entirely out of maps from many of the place she watches over. It’s 12”x24”. There are also prints available of this piece on Society 6.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When Creating Art is an Act of Historic Preservation

Over the years, while working on collages, I began to see how using source material from a certain period could “date” a piece. I do not mean to imply that by “dating” a piece it’s somehow out of fashion. But rather I am using the term “dating” in the sense of freezing time. When I use older source material in a contemporary piece, I am creating something akin to a time capsule. So much of the material I use is destined for landfills and recycling bins. When I repurpose the material for a work of art, it in turn also becomes preserved in a way other than the placing it in a drawer or mylar envelope.

A collage can be a way to preserve various ephemera. Even after a little cutting, you are setting the material in some sort of glue for the ages. But when I start cutting, there is usually little of that kind of preservation going on. I tend to work with small pieces — thousands of small pieces. But even after I cut material into little pieces and reconfigure it, what I still do preserve is the color. And color can really change over time. Some shades of a color are very distinct to a certain time.

For example, when you see a distinct shade of a color it can trigger a memory. The color may bring an image to mind or specific point in time. It happens when you see a color like the original blue on a classic car and immediately realize that particular blue was only used on cars during the 1960’s. Memory triggering color may also be associated with clothing, household objects, old photos or printed material. It might be the shade of baby blue or pink that reminds you of a vintage telephone. There are distinctive shades of red and blue that were used as backdrops in advertising photos in the 1950’s. The olive green and harvest gold kitchen appliances of the 1970’s are unmistakable. Dig deep in the closet and something in a very bright yellow or purple (or both) might fall out. It’s probably a shirt that hasn’t seen the light of day since Daddy Bush was president.

As I cut up things like old maps, atlases, vintage postcards and discarded magazines and books my first purpose is just to make a work of art. I work in the present. But, I also understand that I am preserving color palettes that are disappearing.

Some examples of some Palette Preservation can be seen above and much more is at

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Big Pink Dinosaur

How can you not love a big pink dinosaur? I went down to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to have a second look. This time I took along my neighbors, 4 and 6 years old. They agreed — the dinosaur is cool. The dinosaur is made out of hundreds of recycled pink plastic bottles. The installation is the work of the team of Indian artists Thukral & Tagra. It’s my favorite part of YBCA’s current show The Matter Within: Contemporary Art of India.

Friday, November 11, 2011

International Mail Art Exhibition

It’s time for another show up in Vancouver at the Richmond Art Gallery. Last year it was Artist Trading Cards, this time the theme is mail art. The three 5”x5” mixed media pieces above are from the Trailer Series that was mailed up to Canada

More about the show is below and on the gallery website.

Richmond Art Gallery

7700 Minoru Gate

Richmond BC, V6Y 1R9, Canada

November 18, 2011 – January 15, 2012

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 17, 7–9 pm

Artists from all over the world have contributed their work for the Richmond Art Gallery’s International Mail Art Exhibition and Swap. This exhibition is intended to be a cultural exchange, where artists exhibit their works and receive new works as part of a swap. This shared enterprise is free from the rules of the art market, and yet we asked artists to respond to the theme of “economy” in all its forms.

Mail Art (aka Postal Art) is an art form where artists exchange artworks and correspondence through the mail to one another. The historical roots of Mail Art can be traced back to the artist Ray Johnson and his New York CorresponDANCE School that formed in the 1960s. Based on the principles of barter and equal, one-to-one collaboration between artists, Mail Art has become a worldwide cultural movement for artists to share visual art, poetry, or any other art form through the postal system.

Below is an image from the show's opening

Monday, October 17, 2011


One of the roles an art museum can play is exposing the public to artists and work that they are unfamiliar with. The blockbuster shows with the big names we all recognize serve a different purpose. When the Picassos are packed up and take a trip around the world, it’s an opportunity for everyone who can’t make it to Paris to see famous works of art. At the same time, as an artist, I often find myself truly appreciating a museum when I get exposed to something completely new to me. Yesterday I went to the de Young and saw a show of work from the photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard. It is a good example of why I visit museums.

Meatyard died young n 1972 and his work has remained somewhat obscure. The show at the de Young has over 50 photographs and is titled Dolls and Masks. He staged his photos. Many contain dolls and the models often wear masks. He usually used his wife and children as models for the masks. The photos are typically set in overgrown gardens and ramshackle, decaying buildings. If one was to classify his work, the term Southern Gothic immediately comes to mind. Some of the photos feel as if they are meant to illustrate the works of writers like Carson McCullers or James Purdy.

Dark images of broken dolls and rubber masks on children could be a recipe for a disturbing body of work. At first glance, the first word that comes to mind is creepy. But that reaction quickly evaporates as you look closer at the work. Perhaps because he worked with his own family, there is something innocent about Meatyard’s work. It’s hard for me to express why, but this work comes off as oddly pleasant. On the other hand, I can imagine if Meatyard’s contemporary Diane Arbus had come down to Kentucky. If she taken photos of the same subjects. I am certain I would have had that uncomfortable reaction I usually do to her work.

Even though I just discovered Meatyard yesterday, I keep going back to this photo I took a few years ago. It's of an abandoned doll down the street from my apartment. That day I may have been channeling. The Meatyard show runs until February 2012 and it’s one I need to see a few more times.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Finding The Art of Wayne Quinn

Last month I went to the annual sale put on by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. I usually avoid this, as some of the book buying and hoarding public can be pretty vicious. Some volunteers advised to come on the last day when things would be more mellow. They were correct, by Sunday everything was priced at one dollar and there were still plenty of books. There was a crowd, but in general it wasn’t too crazy. And I did find some more atlases for further adventures in map art.
I think the real reason I was meant to go to the book sale was to find this one overlooked book titled The Art of Wayne Quinn. The book was published in 1977. It was from a San Francisco publisher house called New Glide Publications. Online there is no reference to New Glide except in listings for books for sale – all published in the 1970’s. Probably their most notable book was Word is Out, a companion book to the documentary of the same name.
The Art of Wayne Quinn has 95 pages of excerpts from the artist’s journal with color images of about 20 oil paintings, including detailed images. Quinn was a realist. The clothing and hairstyles in some the portraits are clearly from the 1970’s though there is an out-of-time quality to much of his work. Clearly ignoring many of his art contemporaries, Quinn worked in a style that seems more in place among America’s Regionalist Artists of the 1930’s. It’s work that brings to mind such artists as Andrew Wyeth and Grant Wood. One can imagine if Grant Wood had lived to a ripe old age and finally fled Iowa for San Francisco, these would have been the sort of paintings he would have been doing in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Finding the book, made me curious to learn more about Wayne Quinn. The book itself offered little biographical information other than that he was born in 1941 and raised in Upstate New York and had lived in San Francisco since 1963. 35 years after the book was published, the internet would provide me with some answers. Wayne Quinn was nearly nowhere to be found except for this one brief blog posting.
Considering Wayne Quinn was nowhere to be found online, lived in San Francisco, and was born in 1941, I assumed the worst. I found Quinn’s 1987 obituary from the Bay Area Reporter on the GLBT Historical Society’s database. The obituary was brief with few details. Two of his friends have recently added a few remembrances of Quinn.
Further searching on his full name, Wayne Douglas Quinn, these items online:
  • A reference to an honorable mention award he won at an art show in Palm Beach in 1973.
  • I did find reference to another book of his work called Fourteen Line Drawings published in 1973.
  • He also did a painting of Mt. Sutro.
  • His work was shown at the Jehu-Wong Gallery. The Upper Market gallery operated from 1971-83. Some documents from the gallery as well as two of Quinn’s paintings are listed in the Smithsonian’s archives of American Art.
  • One of his paintings is at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art.
All said there was not very much information out there. If you come across this blog entry and have things to share about Wayne Quinn, please let me know. The book was a real find, and I’d like the opportunity to preserve Wayne Quinn’s memory. He is an artist who should not be forgotten.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't Step on the Cracks

Superstition & Exquisite Corpse is the show I am in this month at the Tangent Gallery in Sacramento. I have the piece called "Don't Step on the Cracks" in the show. It's a 12"x12", mixed media photo collage (see above).

Tangent Gallery is at 2900 Franklin Blvd. in Sacramento. The opening reception is Saturday, October 8 from 6-10 p.m. The gallery is open Saturday's 12-3 (or by appointment).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Art at A.P.E. - 2011

This weekend is one of San Francisco’s better art weekends. It is time for the annual Alternative Press Expo (A.P.E) in San Francisco. A.P.E. gets bigger every year and might be reaching the point where it is too big. It’s filling most of the Course Exhibition Center now.

I always get some new art at A.P.E. and it’s good opportunity to meet the artists too. Officially A.P.E. is am alternative comics and graphic novels shoe. But the event would be better described as being a show for artists who do alternative comics and graphic novels with an emphasis on the art and artists.

I found quite a few things that I like including some of the artists listed below:

  • Jenny Parks had some of the best cat art and clearly takes the prize for cats meet Dr. Who with her Doctor Mew series. You’ll like it, even if you don’ t care for Dr. Who.
  • I love sushi art and I love glitter art. And when you can bring them together. I met Charlene Kelley who works in glitter and even had a few pieces of glitter sushi art.
  • A new letterpress printing company called the Oakland Printing Company was showing some beautiful work including some hand-bound books with covers from retired army blankets.
  • We met Los Angeles artist Lonnie Millsap selling his very funny books My Washcloth Stinks and the new I Hate my Job!
  • I bought a copy of Fuck You Sun from the artist Rigel Stuhmiller. She illustrated the hilarious book by Matt Cole. If you’re out all night and never say goodnight to the moon, this is the walk-of-shame storybook for you really bad kids.
  • My favorite find had to be Casey Storm’s very demented zombie hats. I am pretty much over knitting. But then there is this incredibly creative and hilarious work. The hats have an eyeball that pops out and hangs by a sinewy red yarn tendon from the eye socket. Guaranteed to scare the more sensitive kids on the playground.

A.P.E. is all weekend and if you haven’t had your fill of art, open studios begins this weekend as well. If you’re finding this blog after the fact, go to A.P.E.’s website and be sure to mark your calendar for 2012.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Urban Repurposing – Sunday Streets as Conceptual Art

Fulton Street - Sunday Streets - September 11, 2011

I have to confess that I had a lack of enthusiasm for Sunday Streets when it started back in 2008. I kind of assumed it was just another street festival. San Francisco loves its street festivals. You can find one happening just about every weekend for nearly six months of the year. And while they vary by theme and neighborhood, they all begin to feel the same after 20 years. Actually, that was my reaction after living five years in San Francisco.

Sunday Streets is a very different thing altogether. With Sunday Streets you get a whole piece of a neighborhood closed-off to traffic. Usually about 20 blocks are emptied. Street Festivals are much more compact and usually very crowded. It’s a different energy at Sunday Streets. While there are small crowds of activity at different spots, there is none of that get-me-out-of-here feeling most crowds give me.

A few friends have asked me “What’s there to do?” It’s hard to answer. It’s more just about hanging out and enjoying the space. Running into friends and neighbors. There are tables here and there from different community groups and there are some fun activities for kids. There is some music and dancing. But unlike the street festivals, the bands that choose to play, might find their biggest crowds come from toddlers. Yesterday, across from the police station on Fillmore Street a band called Rin Tin Tiger was playing (good band name). Their Facebook Page indicates they often get hassled by the police for playing on the street. It was nice to see them getting to perform without trouble across from the station. It’s kind of the essence of what Sunday Streets is all about — repurposing the streets for play.

If you have ever perused the library’s historic photo collection, one thing you quickly notice is how empty the San Francisco’s streets used to be. I live on a busy street with three lanes of traffic. It’s one of San Francisco’s one-way, “freeway” streets. Photos of the street from the 1920’s show a street with plenty of parking spaces and few cars. Could the City of the past be the City of the future? Not that I see Sunday Streets as being anti-car — it’s more about showing us an alternative. Streets without cars.

The removal of cars and emptying of streets for other purposes, even occasionally, transforms the space. San Francisco has many people who feel they are quite clever heading up to the Nevada desert and installing an urban space called Burning Man every year. For me, the real act of art is creating open space out of urban streets.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Monster Pals

Some Collage Monsters I created earlier this week for the 2011 Project have inspired a bigger piece, this one is 10"x10". Prints are available from Society 6.

Zine Fest 2011

The annual Zine Fest that happens in San Francisco is becoming an event that is getting a permanent spot on my calendar. It’s growing, yet is still small enough to feel accessible and manageable. I am not a fan of massive events. Labor Day Weekend is one of my favorites in San Francisco. It feels like half the City is at Burning Man. The rest of us have the place to ourselves and get to have this really cool event.

There were some familiar artists at this year’s Zine Fest but quite a few I had not seen before. Some of the highlights of this year’s event include:

  • The disturbing and very wrong (and hilarious) work from Poopy Lickles.
  • After recovering from that, at the next table was the cool mail art from Jennie Hinchliff.
  • I really like Charlene Fleming’s work. She is filling small sketchbooks with beautiful San Francisco illustrations. A few are available as prints. Hopefully there will be an art book in the future that is essentially a reproduction of one of her sketchbooks.
  • I couldn’t tell if Ray Sumser had crashed the event. Not that anyone seemed to mind. He was set up outside with his rather obsessive and wonderful work titled The Comicosm. (But I am never one to criticize obsessive behavior when it comes to art).
  • If I were going to select a Best in Show award it would go to Josh Ellingson. I just loved the image (seen above) from his BART poster series. You can buy a print from his website.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Have I Invented a Glue?

This all started with a visit to SCRAP back in 1997. Among the treasures in my bag was a piece of Plexiglas. I decided to play around with it and started by doing a collage front-to-back so the final piece had this embedded feel. Typically collage is all about building from the back to the front, layers on top of layers. I was reversing the process. When one paints and collages on Plexiglas or regular glass it goes front-to-back. The mixed media process was a fusion of Victorian glass painting and collage. I called it Reverse Collage.

That one experiment with Plexiglas led to a whole series of work. It included over 100 reverse collages. Most were small, 6”x6” and usually installed in a grid pattern. They were shown in a few galleries, sold many of them and I even did a demonstration at the de Young Museum as part of an artist in residence series.

Okay, I confess, I do google myself. It’s interesting to see who is linking to my website and where I am turning up. About 10 years back I started coming across a few word origin websites that credited me with inventing the term Reverse Collage. I was bemused and a bit flattered. Now, when you google Reverse Collage, I still come up. But it seems the idea has spread through the world of crafters. There are websites, youtube videos and instructions all over how to do reverse collages. But wait, there’s more…..

Last week I came across a product called Reverse Collage Glue from a craft supply company called Aleene’s. I was simply amused. What an unnecessary product. Any clear drying glue will work just fine, products like Golden Medium or GAC or even plain old Elmer’s.

As the “inventor” of Reverse Collage I can say there is no need for any special glue.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ray Turner and Long Beach

Recently I wrote about seeking out smaller museums when on the road. Well I have to add the Long Beach Museum of Art to the list. Last weekend I visited Long Beach for the first time. The setting of the museum itself is a winner. It was warm and sunny (definitely not San Francisco in the Summer). The museum sits on a bluff overlooking a beach and the expanse of Long Beach Harbor with the Pacific as a backdrop. It’s a two building museum with an historic Arts & Crafts house and an architecturally appropriate contemporary museum building that houses most of the collection.

The current highlight of the museum is an exhibit called Ray Turner: Population. Long Beach artist Ray Turner has a created a series of portraits of the people of Long Beach. They are all done on thick plates of glass and installed in a grid. Phenomenal painting plus a grid — I was in heaven. If this show was up in San Francisco, I’d have to see it three or four times before it left town. Like so much great painting, photographs just do not do the work justice. The show is only up in Long Beach until September 11th. From there it travels to a museum in the Midwest. This is a work in progress and I hope it can make a stop up in the Bay Area sometime in 2012.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Favorites at the Museum

I’ve been a regular museum visitor all my life. One of my habits is always to “visit” my favorite paintings on each visit. I can’t go into the de Young without saying hello to Elmer Bischoff’s Yellow Lampshade. I have a handful of must sees every time I pop into the de Young. I miss Charles Burchfield’s Spring Flood. They haven’t had it up since the new museum opened. If they don’t want to display it, I would gladly give it a home.

I have a few favorites at pretty much any art museum I regularly visit, even museums beyond the Bay Area. I was just down in Los Angeles at the LACMA. I took the opportunity to introduce my nephew and young cousin to a few of my friends at the museum. Thomas Hart Benton’s The Kentuckian is a perennial favorite.

If I wasn’t an artist, I’d want to be a curator. I would love an opportunity to curate some museum shows. I have a head full of ideas. Maybe one day the world will come to see Tofu’s Favorite Works and then everyone can endlessly analyze why I chose what a chose for the show. But I am getting ahead of myself, I haven’t even designed the coffee mugs for the gift shop.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy 75th Birthday Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park celebrates its 75th Anniversary today. I still tend to call it “The Monument” recalling that it was only recently changed from a National Monument to a National Park. I’ve been visiting once or twice a year for nearly 20 years now. And it’s nice to acknowledge the 75th Anniversary, but the place is timeless. So much of my inspiration emanates from Joshua Tree. My artwork would not be the same without Joshua Tree National Park.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art Museum Road Trips

I am a road tripper. I have traveled all over the Western United States on numerous road trips. It’s a style of travel that I enjoy. It gets me to national and state parks as well as many historical sites. My other interest when I travel is art. Unfortunately many travelers only think of art museums when visiting the biggest cities. I know plenty of people who will visit national parks, but they only think about going to art museums when they are in cities like San Francisco, New York, London, etc. When you’re on the road, I think it is important to seek out art museums.

Most of my favorite “road trip” museums are smaller than big city museums. Many of them are located in smaller cities. I would never advise anyone to take a trip to Reno or Boise for the purpose of just going to the art museum. But, I would definitely say you don’t want to miss either museum if you find yourself in Reno or Boise These are both small city museums with solid regional collections. It’s an opportunity to see work by artists that often have been overlooked by big city museums. Smaller museums also get traveling shows that usually feature less well known and emerging artists. The big cities get the blockbusters, but some of the most interesting art I have seen has been in these far flung museums.

Sometimes these small cities are not that small. Many large cities are normally not thought of as destinations to visit art museums. Portland, Phoenix and El Paso all have solid art museums worth taking a look at. Many people pass through El Paso on their art pilgrimages to Marfa, Texas. Marfa is amazing, but it’s a shame more art lovers don’t spend a few hours in the El Paso Museum of Art. It’s also a striking architectural space in a converted Greyhound Bus Terminal.

Often the small museums are in small cities known for their wealthy retirees. Museums in places like Palm Springs, Palm Beach and Santa Barbara all have collections of big name art donated by wealthy local patrons. Because these museums usually only have one piece by a major artist, their collections are often overlooked when large traveling shows are curated. The collections in these smaller museums rarely find their way into art books as well. Santa Barbara has quite a few treasures of this kind, and you’re going to have visit if you want to see paintings like a fantastic George Belllows streetscape.

Finally, many of these small city museums are in cities that are near or even adjacent to bigger cities. Museums located in cities that are overshadowed by bigger cities are usually overlooked. Only the most determined by art travelers seek them out. Tacoma shares an airport with Seattle but few visitors to Seattle take the time to visit Tacoma’s two art museums. Sacramento and San Jose are cities with good art museums that are both overshadowed by San Francisco. And right across the Bay in Oakland is one of the West Coast’s best art museums. Many San Franciscans have never been, even thought it easier to reach the Oakland Museum on public transportation than many San Francisco museums. In Southern California one my very favorites is the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Already overshadowed by the bigger museums in Los Angeles, then when art lovers do trek to Pasadena they are more likely to seek out the better-known museums in Pasadena. Having visited all the museums in Pasadena, it’s the PMCA that has me returning and going out of my way when I am in Southern California.

Below is a list of the museums mentioned above with links to their websites:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why Maps?

Why do you like maps?

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question….

I have always incorporated old maps into my mixed media work. in 2001 I started making pieces that were exclusively made of maps. People are always curious about my “obsession” with maps. I just like maps. Well no, I love them. It’s a simple answer, and I find that anyone else into maps usually just nods with approval.

Below are some details about my relationship with maps.

How long has this been going on?

Even as a child, I was attracted to maps. It’s hard to remember a time when I did not own an atlas. I could spend hours at the library looking at the collection of atlases. Even my interest in history is connected to maps. By the time I was eight I began drawing imaginary maps. I spent hours of leisure time through my teens drawing imaginary maps.

It’s hard to say where this interest in maps originates. I am definitely a spatially oriented person. I have an innate sense of direction yet am terrible when it comes to remembering names and faces. My spatial memory is quite strong. For example, I could draw an accurate floor plan of the apartment I lived in between ages two and four.

There is a natural relationship between maps and travel and I have always been drawn to travel. Before I had the opportunity to extensively travel, I travelled through maps. One might even say I approached maps as works of conceptual art.

What are some of the reasons you like using maps in art?

There are a number of ideas that emerge in my work and there are some basic reasons that I prefer maps as a medium:

  1. I like the “control” of the work when I exclusively use maps as a collage source.
  2. I like using the places on the maps for their symbolic significance. Many times I choose specific places in a piece.
  3. The recycled/repurposing nature of using old maps has a great deal of appeal. Often maps, particularly road maps, can be infused with a great deal of energy from the previous users.
  4. The impermanence of the information on maps fascinates me. Names change, borders move, small towns disappear or get swallowed up by bigger towns, small towns become cities in a matter of a decade or two. And even the physical features are not permanent. Rivers dry up, coasts erode, volcanoes blow their tops. When I use an out-of-date map in a work of art, I am taking that former-reality and giving it a permanent place in time.
  5. There are universal and similar patterns that appear in traditional art throughout the world. I use maps to express the patterns in an alternate medium. Many of the patterns I use in my work are influenced by and can be found in the art of different and diverse cultures around the world. I have been influenced by everything from American Quilts to Japanese Textiles to Native American Rugs. Some of my pieces are non-traditional mandalas.
  6. Working with maps in the way that I do is personally very beneficial. The reaction that I usually hear, is that my works of art are very calming. Personally, my entire creation process can often be a very calming and centering experience for myself. Preparing and cutting then gluing down one small piece after another is, at times, nearly trance inducing.

I continue to create map-based work and am exploring new patterns and configurations. This year I also am working on an ongoing piece called the 2011 Project. Many of the mixed media pieces include maps. The project is also giving me an opportunity to experiment with new media beyond maps including vintage postcards, photos and other ephemera. Examples of my map work can be seen on my site,

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Map of San Francisco – 10 Years Later

10 years ago this summer my living room was a mess. A large canvas (50”x40”) was on the easel. The floor was a sea of small bits of map. I was in the middle of creating a new map of San Francisco.

I had decided to render the City in a detailed map where each city block would be represented by a piece of map from someplace else. I wanted the piece to reflect the immigrant nature of our City. To that effect, certain places dominate various parts of the map. For example there are a lot of pieces of China in Chinatown, the Mission contains pieces of Latin America, Bayview has pieces of the U.S. South. True to San Francisco, there are pieces of all sorts of places throughout the map. There are also hidden little messages. For example, the block where the Transamerica Pyramid stands is represented by Cairo. And if you’re a serious history buff, you’ll know where to look for a piece of Sydney to represent the notorious Sydney Ducks.

In 2001, when I was in the middle of this piece, I realized that I never would have undertaken the task had I truly understood the amount of effort that would be involved. Often when I am the most pleased with my results, they are the pieces that that end up being far more involved and a greater challenge than I had anticipated.