Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Completed pieces for the Millennia Mail Art Project continue to trickle in.  This week it was #37 with art and text contributions from four Kiwi artists: Robin Sparrow, Sue Watson, Wendy Smith and Jane Jeffs.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Vaillancourt Re-imagined

The Vaillancourt Fountain in Justin Herman Plaza gets no respect.  The Canadian artist Armand Vaillancourt titled the piece Québec libre! when it was installed in 1971.  The City sent out a crew to remove the title from the fountain and did so numerous times after the artist himself repainted it — so much for respecting an artist’s work and artistic intent.  Today the piece is universally known as the Vaillancourt Fountain in San Francisco.  It also has a poor reputation in part fueled by San Francisco’s legion of self-appointed art critics and hack newspaper columnists.   I LOVE the fountain, it’s one of San Francisco’s best works of public art and, of course, looks best when water is gushing through it.

Now, I would never be so disrespectful as to suggest modifying an artist’s finished work, but I would love to see some changes made to the setting for the piece.  When the fountain was installed in 1971 it was placed in front of the Embarcadero Freeway and off ramps wrapped behind the fountain.  Today the freeway is gone and the space is more open and welcoming. 

Let’s re-imagine the Vaillancourt Fountain, or to be exact, Justin Herman Plaza.  Currently the fountain uses fresh water.  Imagine if an underground conduit pumped saltwater from San Francisco Bay into the fountain.  Imagine if we remove some of the concrete perimeter.  We could create a shore around the fountain filled with tide pools and native marsh plants.  The fountain’s basin would even start to fill with native wildlife.  Water could flow in and out, and like a natural salt marsh, act as a filter for bay water.  Imagine restoring a small piece of Justin Herman Plaza to the state it was back before 1849.  When there were tidal flats instead of skyscrapers.  We successfully restored Crissy Field now it’s time to bring a bit of nature back to the concrete jungle at the foot of Market Street.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eric Fischl: The Best Show of 2012

I know it when I see it.  Every year I see, what for me, will be the best show of the year. Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting at the San Jose Museum of Art takes the prize.  It is only March, and I might get to see something better in 2012, but I am pretty certain we have a winner.

I first discovered Eric Fischl about 10 years ago, saw a few paintings and now have his work in a few art books.  Since that time, I have been wanting and waiting to see a retrospective of his work.  I rarely get down to the San Jose Museum of Art, and, when I do, I am never disappointed.  Today I was, well, amazed.  I was expecting nothing more than an opportunity to see a few rooms full of big, bold paintings in person.  Work I only knew from the printed page.

Certainly I could have read more about the show beforehand.  The website has an excellent description and a video interview I recommend.  Yes, I recognize that I am suggesting you read up on the show, when I didn’t.  Over the years I have developed a serious case of hype-fatigue when it comes to museum shows.  So many museums go from blockbuster to blockbuster, hyping each show up like the latest action movie out of Hollywood.  I tend to tune out the press and just go see the art.

The folks in San Jose haven’t, by any means, hyped the show.  Sure, it’s been promoted, but with this exhibit, the energy is put into curation.  The show really lives up to the title, yes, you can just view the work on its own, but what is offered is true insight into the artist’s process.  There are plenty of big paintings.  But there are also studies, prints, watercolors, maquettes and photography that all lead up to those bigger paintings.  If you were new to Fischl’s work and only saw some of the small watercolors or the maquettes he starts with, you’d be impressed with those as finished work.  But this exhibit gives you a much, no pun intended, bigger picture.  There is also a short piece of film included where Eric Fischl discusses his process.  When I feel compelled to watch a film as part of an exhibit (something I never do), well, that alone says how much I think of the show.  The only thing missing, and I really have no complaints, but I would have liked to see an even bigger show and more of those massive Fischl paintings.

You have until May 12th to see the best show of 2012.  So head down to San Jose soon.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Go West (on the Eastern Span)

Eastern Span, 5.5” x 4.25”, mixed media on paper and the new and old Eastern Span

We know it has to be replaced and it should have happened years ago.  The new Eastern Span is almost ready.  Still, I will miss the old bridge.  I remember that first ride across the upper deck as a kid and seeing San Francisco for the first time.  Every time I drive west on the upper deck I know I am almost home to my magic City.  it is especially welcoming after a long road trip.  Above is a piece from a series of handmade “souvenir” postcards of our good old Eastern Span.  76 years, it’s time to retire.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wired City

Wired City #3, 5.5” x 4.25”, mixed media on paper

When it comes to San Francisco, there are certain iconic images that are recognized around the world, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge, followed up by cable cars and rows of Victorian houses.  But for us locals, there are different and local iconic images that we associated with our City.  We have Sutro Tower, the MUNI logo, and wires, lots of wires.  You look up in San Francisco and you are as likely to see wires as you will see fog.  Those are the wires that “ruin” many a tourist’s photo.  The wires that perplex Germans who tell me they “thought San Francisco was a modern city…” San Francisco wouldn’t be San Francisco without its wires.

The wires are full of contradictions.  A modern high tech city with wires strung everywhere.  We are a wire-filled city where more and more of its residents forgo landlines and only have cell phones.  A city where we are less likely to have cable TV, in part because we are too busy to watch TV and in part because Sutro Tower gives many of us great reception for free.  A city where even the über-rich in Pacific Heights can look out their windows at a leaning telephone pole and a nest of wires. 

With that in mind, above is one of a series of four handmade “souvenir” postcards of our Wired City.  They have been sent out for various upcoming shows in Italy, France, the U.K. and the U.S.