SF’s Art Explosion opens its collective studios to public

Art Explosion Studios/Courtesy

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When you look at a piece of art, you see only the finished product. You don’t see the paint, the clay, the film, the space in which the art is created or the artists themselves. Art Explosion Open Studios gave art enthusiasts a chance to see the art of creation at the opening Friday night.

Art Explosion Studios is San Francisco’s largest artist collective, housing artists and their work since 1994. Its Fall Open Studios was a chance for the public to not only admire and purchase paintings, sculptures, even jewelry from the artists, but also to the see the environment in which the art is created and perfected and even to talk to the artists, if they so chose.

It is a surprisingly intimate experience to be looking at someone’s work while they watch you view it. You want to be able to appreciate the art without feeling forced to like the pieces you would never be drawn to, if not for the person standing, arms crossed or smiling sweetly, in the corner. This exhibition, however, never felt like it was organized around smothering the artists in praise — it was simply an opportunity to tell the person that painted the beautiful portrait that you loved it or thank the artist as you left their space, even if you didn’t enjoy their minimalist linework.

Weaving through the various studios among the plentiful landscapes, one could be drawn to the portraits in particular. Painted and photographed eyes grabbed attention in a way that portraits of San Francisco bridges just could not. Sculptures were also eye-catching, as the three-dimensional figures seemed to reach out into the crowd. Clay renditions of hands were especially popular, as they seemed to beckon you closer.

In one studio, the artist Dannielle Sergent had created floral portraits in which, on a block-colored canvas, she had arranged paintings of flowers to create a face. Next to the art, she had hung vials of perfume so the crowd could use smell and sight to absorb her art. This mixed-media piece would not have been possible if her audience had not enjoyed it in person.

We rarely think about what goes into making the art we see when we go to art exhibits or galleries. Fall Open Studios gave visitors an up-close look into the tools artists use to create their work, and these tools had a beauty to them in and of themselves. Paint brushes strewn across counter tops created patterns, paint palettes dried with modern art, half-finished sculptures observed you as you walked around. Looking into an artist’s studio space is an intimate experience rarely given by art galleries, and understanding where the art comes from adds to our enjoyment. There was something about seeing how the products were made that made them feel more complex.

Fall Open Studios also gave the community a chance to chat with the artists, most of whom ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-40s. While the stereotype for artists would make you think all would be standing, noses up, in the corner as you wandered through their space, most were instead warm and welcoming. The majority were more than happy to talk to you about portraits of their ex-boyfriends — where they shot their pictures, how and when and why for all of their art. Tell Tim Svenonius you enjoyed his book of whale sketches, and he would light up and explain his motivation. Tell Travis Nichols you liked his painted guitar, and he would tell you exactly how he spray-painted and splattered it into creation.

Meeting artists and seeing their studios broke the stereotype of art being a frivolous pastime, instead making art feel like a career pursuit. These were not all people coming from money, making art because it was a luxury they could afford. These were professional artists who worked exceptionally hard to make ends meet and, with the help of Art Explosion Studios, had an affordable place to work on their craft. Being inside the studios, art felt like a viable career, and those in the field like happy and fulfilled professionals.

Art Explosion Fall Open Studios was a way for the artists to interact with the community as much as it was a way for the community to thank the artists. It gave the public a chance to fall in love with local artists’ work and a unique chance to look inside the studios where the art was created. Art Explosion Studios demonstrates that it is exceptionally important to support local artists, and Fall Open Studios made it that much easier to do so.

Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected].