Northern California picks from Vanessa Perez Winder

Cliff Notes

Each week, our regional Cliff Notes columnists Mariah Green, Vanessa Perez Winder, Jas Keimig, and Sam Wrigglesworth pick the most exciting events and exhibitions on the West Coast.

Misa Chhan and Lyric Shen: The Petal
Et al. Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Aug 4 to Sep 2 

The contrasting, yet ecologically minded practices of Lyric Shen and Misa Chhan converge with The Petal at Et al. Gallery. The exhibition title gestures towards a sense of earthly fragility and ephemerality. Shen is an artist merging ancient and traditional mediums, ceramics and tattooing, with  contemporary industrial processes using unconventional and found materials. Chhan, a printmaking and textile artist specializing in cyanotypes.In this duo show, Shen’s watery, distorted, near decomposing sculptural objects born out of iPhone photographs𑁋physically rendered using labor intensive hydrographic and pigment printing𑁋are paired alongside Chhan’s cyanotype and naturally dyed fabric works that leave indexical traces of elements of a predominantly living natural environment. I’m interested in the tension and coexistence between these artists’ otherworldly use of manmade and organic materials and how this might give rise to their transcendence.
Reflection: What feels transitory or impermanent? What do you think lives in the boundaries between life and decay?

Esteban Raheem Abdul Raheem Samayoa: Ain’t No Dogs in Heaven
 pt. 2, Oakland, CA
Aug 5 to Sep 9

Sacramento born and Oakland-based artist Esteban Raheem Abdul Raheem Samayoa stands as one of my earliest and most cherished artist discoveries in the Bay. I’ve been fascinated by how he intertwines autobiographical and familial history, fashion/personal adornment and his  relationship to dogs. All of these themes are explored through a surreal application of charcoal, acrylic, airbrush, or vinyl emulsion–an obvious ode to California in the  90s and early 2000s. 

Ain’t No Dogs in Heaven, his solo debut at pt. 2, will be presented throughout three galleries with each room dedicated to a different era of Samayoa’s identity. “Pops” showcases Samayoa’s most recognizable high-contrast black and white images,“Esteban” features the artist’s first color paintings in oil pastel inspired by folk art aesthetics of his Mexican and Guatemalan heritage, and  the show culminates with new sculptural and installation works representing a new sense of self awareness as “Raheem Abdul Raheem” following his journey to Islam this last year.

While I admittedly have a soft spot for the artist’s signature monochromatic style with its narrative nostalgia, dreamy qualities, I am elated to witness a more experimental body of work by Samayoa. 

Reflection: Who have you been before? What is the iconography of your growth?

Fight and Flight: Crafting a Bay Area Life
Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco, CA
April 15 to September 10

Fight and Flight, guest curated by Jacqueline Francis with assistance from Ariel Zaccheo at the Museum of Craft and Design, brings together craft works by a diverse group of 23 local artists whose practice is deeply rooted in the Bay Area. The show’s title references the human response to threat while instead acknowledging it as a cyclical process, a notion made in consideration to how truly challenging it is to live here. It’s no secret that San Francisco is the most expensive city in the U.S. or that the Bay in general has gone through mass gentrification at the hands of “tech.” The ramifications are material conditions here can not only make it difficult to build, but beyond that, to sustain, a part of why I think there’s bad journalism being penned about the art scene being relegated to the shadows of places perceived to have more opportunity, LA, NY, etc. 

These are some of the realities of being here, and yet, I know and believe that living with intention here remains one of the most beautiful and inspiring experiences. There is a unique and gritty resilience in the Bay that gives life to an evolving and eclectic web of people, landscapes, and revolutionary ideas. Being in the shadows isn’t even necessarily a bad thing, I think it actually allows us the freedom to be authentic and unburdened by convention.

I found out about this show way too late, but I am eager to go see how these ideas will unfurl in the exhibition and how they might be elevated by the specific craft mediums used by artists such as Liz Hernandez, Angela Hennessey, yétúndé ọlágbajú, Cathy Lu, and several others. 

Reflection: What helps you stay?

Mario Ayala, rafa esparza, and Guadalupe Rosales: Sitting on Chrome
SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA
Aug 3 to Feb 19

There is something so profoundly interesting to me about artistic production that comes together collaboratively through chosen kin. The synergy of shared goals and artistic concerns can create a divine force; diverging from what I think are more Anglicized conceptions of “the artist” as a solitary individual. For me, it resonates instead with a kind of distinctively Latin American methodology of approaching creative expression as a social endeavor that is enriched by the participation of community.

rafa esparza is one of the people I feel embodies this inherited practice best, as he invited real-life friends and frequent collaborators Mario Ayala and Guadalupe Rosales to join him in this exhibition. A common thread intrinsic to each of their individual practices for years now as Chicano, LA based artists raised in Southern California, together they build an immersive multimedia, multisensory, and hybrid experience. An exploration of personal and collective histories of lowrider vehicles and lowriding people, they consider the social and political implications of (queer) cruising and navigating public space. 

I’m quite honestly a big art fan of all three artists. I might have traveled to LA earlier this year just to see esparza transform himself into a lowrider-cyborg bike (a project Ayala and Rosales originally also assisted with), so I’m so pleased to have this show presented here. I’m hopeful it will spur more interregional dialogue and cross-Californian connections around the preservation of a vibrant and resilient culture. 

Reflection: What is your own relationship to automobile and machine technology? Alternatively: What are you unable to build without your friends?

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