Noe Valley Voice October 2008

Open Studios: A Key to Neighborhood Art

By Corrie M. Anders

Art collectors looking for a new piece to hang over the livingroom sofa will find myriad choices this month when local artists open their studios and galleries to the public.

The occasion is the 33rd annual San Francisco Open Studios, a citywide event that provides a venue for both emerging artists and established professionals to showcase their talents.

The nonprofit organization ArtSpan sponsors the event, which starts Oct. 4 and runs for four consecutive weekends. The third weekend, Oct. 18-19, has been slotted for Noe Valley painters, sculptors, ceramicists, and photographers to invite art enthusiasts--and the just plain curious--into their studios.

Approximately 60 artists in the 94114 and 94131 zip codes will participate in the two-day event. (The nearby communities of Glen Park, Mission, Castro, Eureka Valley, Duboce, Bernal Heights, and Portola also will participate.) Prices for their work cost from under $100 to several thousand dollars.

ArtSpan has published a free guide that provides a citywide list of all artists and studio locations. The guide has been distributed in Noe Valley at Bell Market, Cover to Cover bookstore, and Streetlight Records. Art fans might want to start their exploratory journey on Sanchez Street, where nine artists will be showing in studios from 22nd to 30th streets.

Here's a sampling of Noe Valley artists.

Donald Gray

Sculptor Don Gray, 41, is an Open Studios neophyte. He's an electrical engineer whose biotech firm builds DNA-sequencing machines. For the past six years, he's also been making kinetic sculptures out of recycled and reclaimed materials.

"I like people to approach my work and have a little bit of questioning about what it is I'm trying to get a reaction out of people," says the artist, who sometimes collaborates with his wife, Karen.

Gray has one piece that he calls "Monster in a Box." It's an old NATO ammunition box stenciled in yellow with a Scandinavian language. Plug in the ominous-looking box, and it starts to vibrate and move around, before a monster's hand reaches out and then retracts.

Another is "Ebu the Destroyer," so named because the work resembles a giant "evil bug." The welded metal sculpture was made from old pickaxes, pipefittings, fire extinguishers, and lag bolts left over from a Burning Man project.

And what would it cost to own one of these sculptures? The artist says he's so new at his craft, "I haven't worked out prices yet."

Studio: 926 Sanchez Street

Cecilia Welden

The paintings of Sanchez Street artist Cecilia Welden are as vibrant as Gray's are mechanical. Her paintings -- abstracts and figurative works on masonite and canvas--are made with layers of oil paints, beeswax, and shellac.

"I like the translucency of it. I like working in layers," says Welden, a four-year veteran of Open Studios shows. "When you're done with it, you just want to touch them. They're so luscious."

Welden says many of her pieces are inspired by "my observations of atmospheric and chemical reactions," such as storm clouds, smoldering sunrises, smoke, rust, and oxidation. Color plays an important part.

Welden, 31, who has an arts degree, says her works cost from $20 to $1,000, but typically run in the $300 to $400 range.

Studio: 935 Sanchez Street

Dan McHale

Forty-eight-year-old Dan McHale has been painting "off and on for most of my life." But his professional career steered him toward traditional animation in film and television, and illustration.

"I enjoy painting a lot, and I've been putting more energy into it in the last three years," says McHale. He is enamored of cityscapes and has just finished a series of paintings of Hamm's Brewery, a former San Francisco freeway landmark. One of his favorites shows a neon Hamm's sign in the shape of a frosty glass filled with beer.

"I really enjoyed working on that series," says McHale.

McHale says he's taken by the realism of 20th-century painter Edward Hopper, but confesses his own style is still evolving. "I guess by dint of producing enough work, some kind of style will emerge."

His pieces are priced from $100 to $2,000, though many are in the $400 range.

Studio: 220 Vicksburg Street

Dianne Platner

It's not unusual for authors and job hunters to save their rejection letters and resumes as a record of their perseverance.

Artist Dianne Platner, 60, went one step further. She took several decades of those letters and cut them into paper dolls. Then she strung them together into ceiling-to-floor strands, which six years ago became one of her first pieces of installation art.

"I was going to burn it all," says Platner. But the piece symbolized a transition and was her way of turning failure into success. (She now works as a production designer for an independent book publisher.)

Since "Paper Dolls," Platner has created several installations that have received wide notice in San Francisco. Her "Encampment," 75 miniature shelters made of cardboard signs she collected from homeless people, was displayed at City Hall in 2003. Last Veterans Day, she unveiled "4,000 Lights," the updated version of her "3,000+ Lights" (2006), an interactive memorial at Dolores Park honoring American soldiers killed in Iraq.

Because of the artwork's size, Platner will show her installations in Trinity Hall at Bethany Church. "Encampment" includes a video giving people's reactions to the piece. "You look at those shelters, and you understand the problem differently," she says.

Among her other works-in-progress is "Pennies," which examines the value people place on lost coins.

Platner's pieces don't lend themselves to the marketplace. "I've never sold a piece. They are a personal statement."

Studio: 1268 Sanchez Street