After School Projects
As I approached receiving my BFA there were some decisions that had to be made. There was the question of whether or not to go on for a MFA degree. To get into the MFA program at the SF Art Institute, for me, would’ve been a simple and seamless process. The University of California Berkeley was also very eager to accept Art Institute graduates into their MFA program. It was all very enticing then reality sets in. Did I really want to continue going to school for another 2 years and most importantly, where would the money come from?
Originally, when I took a hiatus from school and worked to save money, I had saved enough to pay for my education. During my last 2 semesters there was a rather steep tuition increase and I found my savings to be inadequate. I was forced to take out a student loan. By today’s standards a $1,000.00 loan is nothing but back in 1970 it was real money. I just couldn’t see getting further into debt especially in a field where I knew I would most likely not be able to earn a living. I was also anxious to set up my own studio and throw myself into the wonderful and magical world of art.
My studio was in a small warehouse in a seedy section of San Francisco called “South of the Slot” or “The Mission District”. A true wonderland that included the bus depot, tattoo parlors, cheap bars, winos, but most importantly spaces with cheap rent. The space was primarily one big room with 15’ high walls. It had 2 toilets but no bath so with the help of a friend I converted one toilet into a shower. There was no heat (the previous tenant caused an explosion so the heater was missing). San Francisco does get cold in the winters but when you’re young you can tolerate little things like no heat. I don’t think that I had my paint freeze more than twice then thaw out and start to run.
Living in a decaying industrial section of a major city can at romantic. It conjures up images of the poor suffering artist. After awhile the bloom of romance fades and what is left is the stark reality of day-to-day living. It begins to seep in through my pores and a subtle change begins to take over my psyche. This part of the city was dark, dirty, and brooding and it slowly began to affect my thinking. Slowly my painting began a transition towards a much more gritty style that reflected my environment. This is not all bad. I was beginning to see beauty in strange places. The color and shapes of manhole covers and sewer grates. The color of oil slicks in puddles after the rain. The multiple layers of posters and handbills pasted up on old walls and sections torn away to reveal the original surface. The sound of church bells, amidst all the traffic sounds, announcing the Angelus, the mid-day prayer of the Catholic Church. This was an ever-changing kinetic sculpture on a grand scale.
The downside was that this was a very depressing area. My OCD makes me prone to depression so living in this area only compounded things for me. Still, there was the romance of the starving artist living a tormented life for the sake of his art. One of my artistic role models at the time was the American painter, Jackson Pollack. A wonderfully creative person but a deeply troubled soul. Perhaps he wasn’t the best of role models for me. But when I was young I figured that I could survive anything so I just forged ahead. At this time I was literally thinking outside of the box. My paintings not only used industrial materials but I abandoned the traditional square and rectangular surfaces and began experimenting with different shapes. The colors were darker and more brooding (just like me) and the sizes and shapes would not fit neatly into most homes. I would apply the paint randomly and then study the chaos and then try to bring a sense of order out of it. An engineer friend of mine, decades later told me it was the law of entropy in reverse. I always did have a notion that the artist was an observer. One who watched the chaos of life swirl about. On occasion the artist reaches out and grabs bits and pieces of the chaos and eventually reassembles these pieces into a whole and calls it art.
These paintings are all from the early 1970’s in San Francisco. They are all done on painter’s drop cloths using a variety of industrial paints, lacquers, and metal powders. The irregular circle and the triangle are both about 72” high. The winged painting is about 72” high with a 96” wingspan. The diamond shaped thing with the tentacles is made from canvas webbing that I got at a sail making shop. I stained it and painted it a little as one whole length, cut it into pieces and wove it together and painted it some more. I am guessing it was about 18” wide.