From Sicily to Emilia-Romagna: a two month painting trip

NOTE: I will be exhibiting the paintings from this trip to Italy in my studio the weekend of December 6th and 7th from 1 pm to 6 pm. 


An old Italian once told me  "We are Arab in the south and German in the north."

 This is only a slight exaggeration. Our two month journey last summer from Sicily in the south to  Emilia-Romagna in the north  ( by way of the Aeolian Islands, Naples, Rome, finally coming to rest on a farm near Florence, ) confirmed the enormous range and variety of what is called Italian Culture. 

                     Stromboli erupting, as seen from Ginostra on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands

                     Stromboli erupting, as seen from Ginostra on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands

The  south, with its Baroque Spanish architecture and the terra-cotta rooftops scattered in a volcanic landscape, could almost be Mexico. Except that Mexico doesn't have Greek temples. Nor people who, more than two thousand years after they were vanquished by the Romans, still consider themselves Greek.           

          Garlic Merchants, Catania, Sicily                                                      From our terrace in the Spanish Quarter, Naples

          Garlic Merchants, Catania, Sicily                                                      From our terrace in the Spanish Quarter, Naples

Lugo amid the fertile plain that surrounds the river Po in the northern province of Emilia-Romagna exudes a sense of well being and orderliness more characteristic of northern Europe. Many here are practicing Catholics who also insist that they are Communists. Neighbors often share their cars. 

                                                      The main square of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna

                                                      The main square of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna

Florentine youth, eager to be on the the cutting edge, have embraced American culture with gusto. On this visit much of the graffiti was in English. One noteworthy message asked: "If this is tourist season, why can't we hunt them?"

                                                                                 Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy

                                                                                 Piazza Santo Spirito, Florence, Italy

I was scandalized to find hamburgers on the lunch menu at 'Pops', a popular youth hangout in Piazza Santo Spirito, until I tasted their truffle hamburger which was exquisite.  Italy has a history of absorbing from cultures around it and converting them into something uniquely Italian. 

                       Our painting group's base twenty minutes from Florence: Querce Seconda, Romola, Tuscany

                       Our painting group's base twenty minutes from Florence: Querce Seconda, Romola, Tuscany

 I encourage you to to experience the full variety of cultures we encountered by viewing the video of our journey . It is designed to inform and entertain you, so set aside forty minutes. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy "From Sicily to Emilia-Romagna, Through Artists' Eyes" 

The music of Hugo Wainzinger and Al Fabrizio is a marvelous addition to this video. If you like their adaptations for guitar and mandolin, you may find more of their music  - and buy their CDs at:  www.heartstringsmusic.com

 

View the Entire Mission District Series

I have just posted all the images from my successful exhibition at Alley Cat Gallery. Click here or on "In the Mission District" link, above, to view them.

Carnaval Time In The Mission

Carnaval Time In The Mission

My studio will continue to be open on Last Sunday of the month (1 - 6 pm May 25th & June 29th) in my absence. Click here or on "Visit Studio" above for detailed information.

Prints of the Mission District Series will be available again after I return from Italy. The two weeks before Christmas I will be returning with a sequel to this first exhibition at Alley Cat Gallery.

Mission Series Part 4 - Upcoming Exhibition

The Mission District Series at Alley Cat Books: April 4 - 28, 2014

Alley Cat Books

Alley Cat Books has a large, well lit, art gallery at the back of the store.  I will be showing my Mission District Series here from April 4th - 28th, 2014. To accommodate all the paintings in this Series, the exhibition comprises two shows. There will be two receptions:

1st Reception: Fri, April 4, 6-8 pm. At 7 pm singer, songwriter organizer Francisco Herrera will sing.

2nd Reception: Fri, April 18, 6-8 pm. At 7 pm Alejandro Murguia, poet laureate of San Francisco, will read excerpts from a work in progress titled 'Mission Noir'

This show is dedicated to the memory of my friend and neighbor, the late, great, underground cartoonist, Spain Rodriguez. / Ten percent of proceeds from sales will be donated to Accion Latina.

MISSION DISTRICT PART 4

It was during the memorial for my friend and neighbor, Spain Rodriguez, at the Brava Theater that I decided to start this Mission District Series. So he was on my mind as I set up to paint this picture of the Brava Theater.

As if on cue, a fight between women erupted inside "Pops" bar next to where I was painting. As the fight reached a crescendo, I saw three  Amazons running down York Street towards the bar, long, dark hair streaming behind them. They charged inside. Things got even louder. Then there was an uneasy silence, followed by, "You won't try that again, bitch!"

They were out the door, running back up York when I heard one of them shout, "I hope they don't say nothing about Samoans!" The police arrived a few minutes later. No one seemed to know who these women were.

The whole event was pure Spain Rodriguez.

The homeless hang out on York. It's near their encampment under the freeway.  Three of them found their way into this first painting.

The Brava Theater

There's a lot of history on this corner. The Brava used to be the York Theater, many locals still call it that. The St Francis Cafe (founded 1918) attracts a large crowd of  young adults. It is where "the Morabito brothers who owned a lumberyard nearby often lunched ... and, as legend goes, hatched the idea there in the late 1940s to buy the franchise forthe Forty-Niners." (Courtesy of Mission Local)

Pops which offers bacon in its Bloody Marys is a popular hipster dive. Improbably, right next door is the excellent and attractive Mexicana Bakery

"Pops"

I did three paintings at this intersection as one short, rainless, winter day followed another. I could have done more. But I decided it was time to move back up 24th.

I returned to La Palma. In this second painting I decided to focus more on the small  truck painted with the eagle bearing a Mexican Flag. It parks on this corner every weekend. The owner sets up a long table crowded with used tools and other items. He approved of my painting. "You have painted my truck with a big smile!" he observed.

Sunday at La Palma

In the mornings before working on La Palma, I passed by Rene Yañas' house. Rene, who is a important cultural figure in the Mission (see Mission District Series #3, below), has lived in this house on rent control for 35 years. He is facing eviction under the Ellis Act. The house is set back behind a screen of vegetation. " I used to enjoy caring for this garden." Rene told me, "But since the eviction order I've really lost interest."

He posed for me so I could put him in the painting.

Rene Yañas Leaving his Home

I noticed Mike Ruiz's installation of a skeleton and crosses commemorating the demise of Latino institutions in the Mission, some time ago. I decided to capture this scene before it was removed, especially since Accion Latina is a major force in the Mission. Home to the bilingual newspaper El Tecolote, it also promotes youth and cultural programs including the Encuentro del Canto Popular which takes place early December every year at the Brava Theater.

Accion Latina

Please scroll down to view earlier posts about this ongoing Series.

Mission Series Part 3: Dia de los Muertos

Upcoming Exhibition at Alley Cat Books: April 2014

Alley Cat Books

Alley Cat Books has a large, well lit, art gallery at the back of the store.  I will be showing my Mission District Series here from April 4th to April 28th, 2014. Reception April 4th 6-8 pm.

As the days grow shorter and the shadows longer I have been working my way back down 24th Street from Balmy Alley:

Harrison and 24th Streets

La Victoria and St Peter's

La Palma

Day of the Dead 2014

The November 2nd Day of the Dead Procession and Celebration of the Altars in the Mission was the largest I have ever witnessed. Led by the Aztec Dancers it wound south on Bryant. At Galeria de la Raza where a mural illustrates a funeral parade for 'La Mision'  in a casket, it turned up 24th Street proceeding all the way to Mission Street where it moved north. The sheer number of celebrants, easily in excess of 15,000, rivaled Carnaval. City authorities seemed unprepared for these numbers. But the crowd was peaceful, many bearing candles with faces painted to resemble skulls. Elaborate banners declaring "No Evictions in the Mission" set the theme for the evening.

Anti-eviction mural on Galleria de la Raza (Detail)

Among the participants, we spotted Rene Yañez who started this procession in the seventies. Rene, a major cultural figure in the barrio, was a founder of the Mission Cultural Center and the Galeria de la Raza,  He is now facing eviction. His eviction proceedings have galvanized the Mission, and were  one of the reasons this year's event was so large. Activists I have spoken to in the Mission are insistent that there needs to be a moratorium on further Ellis Act evictions as well as all evictions in the 24th Street corridor. The Latino community has done much more than introduce Latin American traditions to San Francisco. It has adapted them, with the input of both Latino and non Latino artists, until they have entered the City's mainstream. For example, the Day of the Dead, which originates in Mexico as a fusion of indigenous and Catholic culture, morphed in San Francisco during the creative ferment of the seventies  into something wonderful and strange. And yet, my friends in Michoacan would still recognize it.

Dia de los Muertos altar in the windows of Studio 24 - Galeria de la Raza

Balmy Alley: on the Red Road

As I turn onto Balmy Alley from 24th Street the dulcet tones of Violeta Para singing "Gracias a la vida" drift from a backyard. Her voice transports me back more than thirty years to a time of great solidarity between the artists of the San Francisco Bay Area and Latin America. In those years, the Nicaraguan Cultural Center was located in a low building at this entrance to the alley (Deep blue wall on left). I stop on my way down the alley to talk with Andrés. Sculptor, painter, bicycle and car repair man extraordinaire, he is always so busy in front of his garage that I chose to paint him twice into this first picture.

Balmy Alley #1

Further along, I stop in front of the first of twenty-three murals that were painted in 1984 to protest US intervention in Latin America, and to welcome the refugees from these conflicts who were pouring into the Mission. This mural by Miranda Bergman and O'Brien Thiele illustrates the conflict in El Salvador and the the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. It is the only one of those twenty-three murals that has survived into the present.

Balmy Alley # 3: Miranda Bergman and O'Brien Thiele restore their mural.

Miranda and Brian are restoring it. I've spent several  enjoyable afternoons painting across from them as they begin by stabilizing the old wooden surface. We lament the fact that, even though the national solidarity movement in the eighties did succeed in blunting US aggression in Central America, our foreign policy today is even worse. Indeed,  some of the same people who instituted the death squads in El Salvador were enlisted to establish "the Salvador option" in Iraq.

Miranda and O'Brien are seeking funding for this major restoration. I recommend that you go to indiegogo and make a contribution, no matter how small, to this extremely worthwhile project.

Balmy Alley # 4

Perhaps one of the reasons this mural survived all the others from that period is that it is painted on two massive sliding doors of a hundred year old stable. In the days when horses were the principal form of transportation, Balmy Alley was  lined with stables. It is said that  the alley was named after a race horse called Balmy. The alley opens out onto Garfield Park where they used to hold the races.

Further  along, on the right hand side, is a recent mural that deals directly with the current issue of gentrification. Its gritty, darkly humorous style is reminiscent of underground comics.

I find it ironic that this mural  is almost directly across from a nine unit apartment building that is evicting its approximately sixty tenants under the Ellis Act. A foreign investor has the bought the building and plans to convert it to condominiums. The tenants, many three generation families who have lived under rent  control in this building for thirty years, were given three months notice.

Balmy Alley # 2: Three months notice for around sixty tenants.

Three bright youngsters lament the fact that they will have to forgo scholarships to private schools in the city if their family has to move to the East Bay to find affordable housing. Another gentleman tells me that his wife and daughter cry each night at the thought of leaving their apartment and their jobs in the Mission.