Cardon, Shell: Synesthesia on Canvas

Shell Cardon: Hear with your Eyes – Visual Rock ‘n Roll
September 6 - October 13, 2007
Reception Thursday, September 6, 5:00 to 7:00pm

MM Galleries, 101 Townsend Street @ 2nd, Suite 207, San Francisco, CA 94107, phone: 415.543.1550, Tuesday - Friday: 11am - 5pm, Saturday, 12pm- 4pm and always by appt.

No, synesthesia is not a fancy art term. It’s an involuntary condition that describes the phenomenon of attributing colors and personalities to numbers, days of the week or sounds.

Shell Cardon has not been diagnosed with this creative condition but the description of her artistic process and subject matter suggests that she is happily afflicted.

Shell’s paintings capture the simultaneous feeling of joy and mortality that you get in your gut when you think back to those seminal character-building “first” moments in your life: the first time you stood at the top of a diving board and gulped as your friends egged you on (High Dive), discovered the onomatopoeia of a comic strip’s “THWACK!” (Flash Gordon), tasted the explosion of watermelon candy in your mouth (Jolly Rancher) or heard your first earshock of the Stones (Gimme Shelter).

Her paintings beg to be touched. The layers of acrylic paint beckon like an orphaned inflatable toy in the swimming pool- same high gloss, same bold friendly vivid color, same plasticky pillowy surface.

You’ll immediately recognize the strong impact of 60’s pop art and op art in her work. Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol are influences. Imagine Roy Lichtenstein’s signature benday dots viewed under a microscope.

Shell has taken a circuitous route to becoming a full time artist. Born into a family of “doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs” in a conservative Washington D.C. suburb, she attended law school after UCLA undergrad because that was what she was supposed to do. After graduating from Loyola Marymount she dutifully entered the practice of law.

But she exercised her creative side nights and weekends moonlighting for a decorative arts painter who she helped do elaborate murals in home interiors. This experience introduced her to what would later become her medium of choice, commercial latex paint.

After years of this rote, she came to her senses and quit the law. She chose to enroll in San Francisco’s Academy of Art in order to study fashion. There she perfected her figure-drawing skills and fully intended to become a fashion designer after graduation. (Gladys Perint Palmer, Executive Director of the Academy’s School of Fashion is a strong influence.) Although she didn’t end up in the business of fashion, this part of her artistic nature is thriving. Shell was short listed as one of the city’s three best dressed women by San Francisco Magazine in the September ’07 Fall Arts + Fashion issue.

She is a regular at independent G&R Paint on Sutter Street where she spends hours with the guys mixing the exact right shade and sheen of custom color. She doesn’t use brushes but instead pours the paint directly on the canvas. It is hard to imagine this diminutive figure leaning over a 4’x5’ canvas with a heavy paint can in her hands, perspiring in the heat of her L.A. studio and carefully allowing just a few tablespoons to stream out. Her pieces take ages to dry because the pools of color can be up to seven layers deep.

However her time consuming process, plus the capricious So-Cal humidity, do not slow her down her output. There is a wait list for commissions and her work is already featured in the art collections of many of San Francisco’s bright young things including Kimberly and Nicolo Bini, Alex Turner, Renee Singh, Alex Chases, Christina and Jad Dunning, Joel Goodrich, Charlot and Greg Malin and Jennifer Madjarov and Matt McCormick.

Shell’s new alliance with MM Galleries was chosen for many thoughtful reasons: its affiliation with (now departed) founder Michael Martin’s MMG Foundation which funds art programs in the public schools, her friendly rapport with the new co-directors Kit Schulte and Marina Cain and the gallery’s partnership with other San Francisco home-grown artists including Henry Jackson and Rex Ray.

Fortunately the Symphony has shifted its opening from its traditional Wednesday after Labor Day to later in the month. Now you’ll have plenty of energy to do both the opening of the Opera on Friday and the reception for Shell the night before, Thursday September 6th from 5:00-7:00 pm.

Gallery 1988: 80’s Time Warp Replicates in Lower Polk Gulch

Gallery 1988, 1173 Sutter St. at Polk, San Francisco, 94109, Hours Tues-Sat 12-7pm, phone 415.409.1376

Welcome Gallery 1988, San Francisco’s newest arrival on the scene. The grand opening in April was just as much a SF debut for G1988 as it was a homecoming for Co-Director Katie Cromwell, who grew up in Marin County and is an alum of The Branson School.

This is the second location for Gallery 1988. Since opening its Melrose flagship in 2004, G1988 has established its reputation as a purveyor of kitschy 80’s themes that evoke childhood nostalgia including plush animals, skateboarding, early video games, TV cartoons, and Disney. The name hearkens back to a good year for Los Angeles: the Dodgers and the Lakers were champions, Yo MTV Raps was born, and the gallery owners were about to hit puberty.

At the opening party of the current show, Skate Life: Skateboard Inspired Sculptures and Paintings by J. Shea and Freddi C, Katie’s mom and sis were serving beer from the cooler-keg and her dad was hanging back just behind them looking over the scene (her supportive family comes to all of the openings). The guests were a mix of skateboard industry types, graf guys and friends. The collaborative show (up through August 21) features J. Shea’s sculptures of miniature boarders made of Model Magic doing tricks off Freddi C’s camo street-scene painted plywood boards. The figures are loaded with personality and movement and the landscapes are strongly influenced by J. Shea’s background in textile design. ($60-$2,500)

Katie started out as an art major at the University of Southern California, inspired by the talent of her mother, Jean Cromwell, an artist and graphic designer. (She is not related to legendary Trojan track coach Dean Cromwell.) But after taking the mandatory survey art history course required for the practice of art curriculum, she was hooked. When making the decision to switch her studies, her parents asked her to curate a professional career for herself at the same time, and a business plan was born.

After graduation she learned the basics working as a gallery assistant for a short time at Louis Stern Fine Art in West Hollywood. She started her gallery in 2004 with her college sweetheart, Jensen Karp. Jensen did not have an art background, but being a cult rapper and a collector of 80's pop culture memorabilia, he did have his finger on the pulse of youth culture. Living together and starting a small business together took its toll on the relationship. They’ve since broken up and successfully transitioned to be amicable business partners.

When they secured their space off the beaten path in an old Saks Fifth Avenue store on Melrose at La Brea, they weren’t sure of what their focus would be. They knew there was a need for affordable original art and that there was a young customer base who didn’t bat an eye at spending big bucks for fancy designer handbags, so why not introduce this crowd to art? Serendipitously, Acme Game Store moved in next door only one month later and was targeting a similar clientele. A beautiful friendship developed.

Katie and Jensen started out by showing artists who they knew from running around LA, then showed those artists’ friends. In fact, mining those "favorite links" lists that artists post on their websites is the primary way they find new artists. G1988 still has relationships with all four artists featured in their first show: Plastic God (Doug Murphy). ESM (Kerri Sakurai), Nikki Van Pelt and Topher.

Then, a freelance journalist doing a story on next door neighbor Acme happened to stop by the gallery and the idea for what would become their big break was hatched. Writer Jon Gibson, Katie and Jensen worked together to curate “I AM 8 BIT,” art inspired by classic videogames of the ‘80s. (Think portraits of Donkey Kong’s Mario and head shots of Ms. Pac Man.) Limited edition prints are still available:

The opening was timed to coincide with E3 Expo, the annual video game convention, and Jon excercised his media contacts to publicize the show. At the same time, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was showing video game art in a show called "Into the Pixel."

Over 1,500 people showed up for the opening night reception. Not only were most of the paintings sold, Gibson secured a book deal with Chronicle Books. Acme Games closed after about a year, but G1988’s good fortune with neighbors continued when Golden Apple Comics took over the space.

After making the decision to move back to SF and open a second location, Katie looked for affordable gallery space for months. Natoma and Valencia streets were considered, but Sutter at Polk won out because of StrangeCo, with whom G1988 now shares space. Artists and galleries (including G1988 and Fifty24SF Gallery) collaborate with StrangeCo. to make limited edition, vinyl toys.

The Belvedere native’s commitment to the neighborhood is not lip service, she is also a TenderNob resident. She lives a just few blocks away near Bell Market and walks to work with her companion, Finnigan, a miniature Doberman.

Future G1988 shows will feature San Francisco artists Nathan Stapley, Scott Campbell, and Rueben Rood. Jensen and Katie intend to cross-pollinate artists between the two locations.

G1988 is not the first art gallery in the neighborhood. Pioneers Justin Giarla of Shooting Gallery and his partner Andres Guerrero of White Walls (835 and 839 Larkin at O’Farrell) have been friendly and welcoming to the newbie. There’s also funky Space Gallery, the art bar on Polk at Sutter.

But …ahem…, we’re not calling it "Lower Polk Gulch" any more. This notorious section of Polk has been rechristened “Polk Village.” If you need proof, just take a look at the awning of O’Reilly’s Holy Grail (formerly the historic Mayes Oyster House). This rebirth was midwifed by the Polk Corridor Business Association and real estate developers Vanguard, transforming old SRO hotels into condos for seniors (note the proximity to St. Francis Hospital) and yuppies alike.

Stark Guide looks forward to watching Gallery 1988 and Polk Village grow up together.

Artsource Consulting: Make Time for a Quickie at 101 Cal

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM, August 6-September 21, 101 California Street Lobby, curated by Artsource Consulting

On your next lunch hour in the financial district be sure to stop by 101 California and visit the lobby installation curated by Artsource Consulting. The atrium lobby is a soaring space infused with light and life. Walk through the revolving door and you are transported to an equatorial paradise, surrounded by potted palms and flourishing orchids.

Artsource is a ten year old fine art consulting firm whose impressive client list includes HP, PG&E and the U.S. State Department's art in embassies program.

Benicia Gantner's futuristic lush vinyl landscapes were designed for and are perfectly suited to the soaring verdant greenhouse space.

Karen Weiner's mixed media sculpture and works on paper are an imaginary world of miniature house perched on trees. Luxury birdy vacation homes or is this how we'll all be living once sea level rises?

Gantner, Benicia: Lush Vinyl Landscapes

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM, August 6-September 21, 101 California Street Lobby, curated by Artsource Consulting

Benicia’s work is astonishing because from afar it looks as if it were made without the human hand. High gloss vinyl film is meticulously sliced into snowflake-intricate floral patterns, evoking a stylized version of 19th century Arts and Crafts decorative arts master William Morris.

These are huge works that were made for this space and perfectly echo the riot of plant life and sunshine streaming in. Centered above the elevator bays is an enormous triptych, Sun Stream + Green, which has hanging folds of yellow sun over the contrived, overgrown landscape. Bloom 1 (pearlescent gray cast acrylic) and Bloom 2 (a vibrant pea shoot green) flank the Sun Stream altarpiece over the security desk. Benicia has made three strong pieces that stand out with confidence in this imposing space while still remaining true to her delicate style.

Benicia uses plexiglass mounted on wood frame often in her work, but at 8’ x 12’ “Sun Stream” is the largest piece that she has ever produced. When she first started making these carefully choreographed landscapes she cut the plastic strips by hand. Now that demand for her work has increased, she uses a sign maker’s plotter after creating the original stencil template. In fact her materials are traditional sign making supplies which she can't find locally and must import from L.A. (Fun fact: Benicia and Tauba Auerbach, whose work is also also influenced by commerical sign making, both went to San Francisco University High School.)

Are you thinking that the name Benicia sounds familiar? You’re right, the artist is not only a San Francisco native but is a descendant of Francisca Benicia Carillo de Vallejo and her husband the General.

Benicia has had quite a few noteworthy achievements herself including kicking off Berkeley gallery Traywick’s 10th anniversary year with a solo show in January '07 and being honored as a finalist for the SFMOMA SECA Award (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) last year.

Weiner, Karen: The Ultimate Imaginary Housing Project

8:00 AM - 6:00 PM, August 6-September 21, 101 California Street Lobby, curated by Artsource Consulting

Vermont based Weiner is represented by ZieherSmith in NY, and just had a one person show at Sixspace in L.A. Walking through the smaller space in the southeast lobby reminded me of a miniature version of It’s A Small World at Disneyland. A crop of tree houses rises up from felt and calico stuffed leaves and lily ponds. Intricate miniature houses of all sorts from ski lodge to double-wide are perched on birch tree trunks. Mixed media collages on the walls sport humorous scenes of birds carrying household appliances and consumer goods, another shows the little houses piled into an ark. Apparently the birds will survive The Great Warming even if we don't.