When few years ago I ended up for the first time in the “city” of Cork in southern Ireland, I didn’t know what to expect from it, from its people, from its art scene, from its pubs or even from its weather. I learned how to appreciate it, and was always surprise by the quality of the arty events and the creativity of its people. I met Leslie there, she was also studying Art History, and you could tell right away she was a learned person with a lot of potential and her very own style. She is cool, arty and there is definitely something a bite retro about that girl. She is now living in California, and was nice enough to share with us some cali arty vibes by introducing us to Oakland Art Murmur. I’m sure you will appreciate that post as much as I did.
By LESLIE SPILLANE
When I moved to Oakland, people reacted in one of two ways: “But isn’t that where all the murders happen?”, and “cool! Oakland has the highest concentration of artists in the US outside Brooklyn!”. Luckily I haven’t had any experience of the first statement, but the second certainly seems to be true.
Not just artists either, but galleries, open studios, art strolls, collective spaces, arts universities, museums and a whole host of other facilities. All of which come together for ‘The Art Murmur’, a monthly first Friday gallery walk which is a whole lot more than just a walk. The website claims its mission is to “increase awareness of and participation in the visual arts in Oakland through collective marketing and public programming”, but for most of the local residents, and visitors from San Francisco and all over the Bay Area, it is one huge crazy art party.
Most of the activity happens up and down the Broadway and Telegraph, the main streets of downtown Oakland, where art galleries open their doors between 6 and 9pm, often providing free food and wine and occasionally music. There is another cluster of galleries and warehouse spaces around Jack London square, and when I went there last week with a friend, there was also a collection of food trucks, stalls and live entertainment along the boardwalk. Up at the other end of town is the street festival ‘Oakland First Fridays Arts Festival’, with a stretch of street blocked off from traffic and overrun by local artisans, stalls, interactive art, pop-up venues, street vendors, food trucks, and entertainment. For several hours this little area becomes overrun by colorful people in fancy dress, hawking their handmade clothes and art and trying to get your attention, your money and your participation.
I’ve been twice now, and still haven’t managed to make it to all of the galleries or shops that are open for the occasion. On my first visit I arrived early at the street festival, early enough to get my tarot cards read for free, and a portrait drawn by a young girl who was just there to practice her skills. I also got to chat to a man with a very cool refurbished bicycle that was trailing behind it a six foot high wall displaying his steam punkish paintings, a mobile art gallery. Then there was the stand-up comedian on a card board box, the people queuing up to try out the mirror glasses, that immersed you into a 3D video game style environment as you walked around like a zombie on a grey carpet with hand held out as if about to bump into some invisible walls, and girl with a wooden box strapped around her torso, which you could open and reach in to get some kind of promotional leaflet or present, I wasn’t quite brave enough to find out about that one. That’s not to mention the many people wandering around in fancy dress, or the man displaying his ice sculptures, or the DJs playing reggae and dance music all up and down the street. After an hour or so it became too crowded to get close to any of the food or art booths and I decided to fight the crowds queuing up outside all the galleries and open studios nearby.
My second time going I decided to start from the other end of town, at Jack London square, sitting out on the promenade with all the sail boats swaying on the water and the sun setting over the palm trees, it was a much more calm experience than the street festival. A little too calm, as my friend and I indulged in cheap local beer and vegan burgers with sweet potato fries and were entertained by a mind reader and women dressed as fairies and some kind of tree creatures, we forgot all about our actual purpose there, which was the art. By the time we did get around to some of the galleries in the area, the art was being taken down and the music being turned up. In one space, a group of people mingled about on the plush sofas while a few others danced unselfconsciously to a DJ playing a mix of electronic and hip hop. It was more like a house party than an exhibition, except for each of the small rooms off the main space were open and filled with art. I always prefer open studios to gallery space, seeing the tools the artist uses; the pots of brushes and scraps of discarded paper, leftover sketches and their selection of art books; random newspaper clippings tacked up on the walls all enhance the experience of looking at the artwork itself. This is not an object that sprung fully formed onto the whitewashed wall, but an object of intense time and labour, that had to go through many forms and evolutions to be presented before us.
In Loakal was an exhibition of two very different artists; “Between Light and Paint” features the large digital photographs of light trails taken around the beaches and deserted landscapes of the Bay Area at night, while “2wenty X Gregory” was a series of sinister anamorphic heads on canvas grinning eerily like branding from a post-apocalyptic world.
Swarm gallery had an eclectic selection of paintings, sculpture and photography. From pop art photo realist paintings of sexually suggestive underwear shots, to twee landscapes painted on the inside of paint box lids, this large collective studio warehouse is a typical example of the variety of styles, mediums and talent on offer in Oakland.
The main exhibition space featured a joint exhibition of works by Leigh Merrill and Cybele Lyle. “FICTIONAL/FAMILIAR” features two and three-dimensional work drawing on architecture, photography, and everyday objects that invade and distort the viewer’s sense of space both physically in the large photo sculpture What’s yours is mine to the continuous panels depicting bland suburban neighborhoods half monotonous reality half surreal dreamscape. Very little of the original landscape, architecture and objects remain unchanged here, in the translation from formal motifs to the artists’ subjective lens.
Cybele Lyle uses large-scale panels, openings and photo-based imagery to create illusionary convergences of architecture and landscape. “She invites viewers to contemplate and theoretically enter the constructed space from all angles. Lyle’s work moves between individual and collective experience, connecting her personal narrative to broader social concerns. What may be experienced here is less the act of perception, and more an act of engagement, as her “mirror of reality” simulates an alternative environment where all perspectives are welcome”.
Masako Miyazaki’s large sheets of crumpled paper smudged with charcoal struck me at first as studies of cartography, the dimpled colour gradient drawings of mountain formations in children’s school books. That is until I spotted the large her delicate pencil drawings of similarly crumpled paper side by side with the their physical subject destroyed the first impression of these large sheets as geological and reduced them back to marks on paper again.
On the more playful side were Jane Elliott’s 3D paintings, wooden dioramas titled ‘About Mayfair/ My version of a graphic novel’, in which each piece will feature parts of a story about the future. Vignettes of events taking place in or around The Mayfair Hotel. The pieces are made from layers of plywood painted in the style of graphic novels so that when facing the piece, you don’t realize they are made up layers of sets like in a traditional puppet theater.
My favorite find was the work of Quinn Grady. With his beautiful little collages of print and photographs documenting the history of San Francisco neighborhoods, thoughtful artist’s lengthy artist’s statement about the changing economic and cultural trends in the city in which he was born and raised, and how his art reflects philosophically on themes of loss, regeneration and urban decay, along with three large scale lithography prints, I was expecting an intelligent, beardy old soul. Instead my friend and I were approached by a young scruffy guy in beany hat and baggy jeans with out of focused eyes and gurning jaw of someone having a little too good of a time. My friend engaged him in a rather lengthy and drawn out conversation about his work process, but we did get to see the lithography plates he etches in such painstaking detail and got a photo of him to boot.
It would take more than the three hours of open galleries to make your way through all the spaces open to the public on an Oakland First Friday, and even longer for me to list all the amazing art and artists that I saw in my time there. I suggest you check out the website for links to galleries, artists and upcoming exhibitions, and if you are ever knocking around the West Coast at the beginning of the month, come to Oakland and see it for yourself. After the galleries close is when the real fun begins, with every bar in downtown Oakland boasting a great line up of live music, DJs, and all the young trendy artists our to have a good time.
Check Oakland Art Murumur webiste HERE for more information.