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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Meet More Finalists Competing for Three SF Weekly Mastermind Grants

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge artopia_banner.jpg
SF Weekly's Artopia highlights exceptional Bay Area artists. More than 300 people submitted entries this year for three $1,500 grants that we call "Masterminds." We received a lot of deserving work, and choosing 10 finalists was difficult. Painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and a quilter -- a heavy-metal quilter, at that -- made our Top 10. All their art will be displayed at Artopia, which takes place Wednesday at Public Works. The Mastermind winners will be announced to fanfare and, we know, a great deal of applause.

We'll post short items about our finalists every day this week until Artopia.

Yesterday you met the first three finalists. Here are four more:

Christina Mazza

click to enlarge Buddha Baby is a five-foot-tall painting. - CHRISTINA MAZZA
  • Christina Mazza
  • Buddha Baby is a five-foot-tall painting.
Whether it's sea grass drawn in astonishingly intricate detail with a ballpoint pen or a young girl sketched on a vintage wooden shipping crate with gouache and colored pencil, Christina Mazza's artwork incorporates materials that are taken from unlikely sources.

"The root of what I'm doing is taking things that are normally discarded or overlooked by us, and bringing them to the foreground so that we look at them and appreciate and see the beauty in them," says Mazza, who lives in Burlingame. "To reinforce that message, I'm drawn to everyday materials. Initially, my ballpoint pen drawings were done with Paper Mate pens -- an everyday tool that people use to sign in and out of a doctor's office."

In the last three years, Mazza has received wider recognition, with such honors as a one-month artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum, and a three-month artist-in-residence at Recology San Francisco. She has exhibited at galleries and art spaces around the Bay Area for six years, but her art career is still in its infancy, because for a decade she worked in advertising (after getting her bachelor's of fine art from the Kendall School of Design in Michigan) and then focused on raising a family. A single parent of two sons, Mazza says her maturity (she's 50) and her upbringing and ethnicity (she's half Chinese and half white, and was adopted at birth) infuse her work with ideas that are highly personal.

At the de Young, she worked on a 5-foot-tall painting called Buddha Baby, based on a real-life half-Asian, half-white boy who was born with a hole in his heart. Surgery repaired it and left him with a chest scar. The painting, which has sacred flowers on the boy's feet, is still in progress, but it connected with many de Young visitors, bringing some to tears, even though Mazza had one particular theme in mind. Its message, she says, "is that no matter where people are in life, and no matter how rough the road is that they've journeyed, they can still find their purpose, and to focus on it and explore it. It's never too late. I was born as an artist late in life. No matter when you discover what your path is, you should follow it."

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Laurel Shear

click to enlarge Living Room - LAUREL SHEAR
  • Laurel Shear
  • Living Room
In 2008 and 2009, when Laurel Shear's father, Glenn, was sick with cancer, she would take photographs of him using her cellphone camera. The photos were imperfect -- often with pixelated lines extending from top to bottom -- but they were precious. After she realized that phones had become a popular way to transmit photographs -- of family members, celebrities, crowd scenes and the like -- and that the photos were often technically flawed, she drew a series of paintings that conveyed the same hazy imagery. The lines, drips and scrapes in her paintings, including Father's Day, which shows Shear with her dad, help give the works an abstractness she finds illuminating. The works look almost like mirages of original scenes.

"My interest was in cellphone camera technology and how that's changing our visual language and our culture," says Shear, 26, who graduated from San Francisco State University in 2008 with an emphasis on painting. "It's the immediacy of private moments that become very public."

Shear's paintings depict Saddam Hussein being readied for hanging, model Kate Moss preparing to snort cocaine, Britain's Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform, and other moments that brought scrutiny to people who may have been unaware they were being captured for digital posterity. Shear took some photos of her father without his knowledge. He didn't want to be seen in a state of illness, but she felt their time together might be limited, and these images could be the last she took of him. Glenn Shear died soon after at age 58. "My dad was my biggest supporter of my art work," she says. "He was constantly encouraging me to paint."  

Besides San Francisco State (where she won a scholarship in painting), Shear has formally studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute; Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, Australia; and the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. Growing up in Mill Valley, she knew she wanted to be a professional painter. "When I was little, I was always into drawing and painting," she says. "For me, it's always been, 'I can do this.'" Combining paintings of personal images with ones reflecting the culture at large, Shear says, "allows me to come closer to an emotional understanding of the truth of my own experience."

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Will Cloughley

click to enlarge Cloughley's book, Red Rock, Black Sun, is contained in a wooden sculpture. - WILL CLOUGHLEY
  • Will Cloughley
  • Cloughley's book, Red Rock, Black Sun, is contained in a wooden sculpture.
The video project Will Cloughley is working on connects back all the way to his Texas childhood in the 1940s, when he took trips with his parents to the deserts and canyons of the American Southwest. Now 72 and residing in San Francisco, he still returns to those natural settings, especially the area around Sedona, Ariz., which inspired him to write and draw the book, Red Rock, Black Sun. Making a video from the work will add a third dimension to the two others that have already been done: a limited printed version, which features fancy graphic-novel images and writing; and an elaborate sculptured version that includes a hand-crafted, wooden-covered edition of Red Rock, and a sculpture -- essentially a fancy bookshelf -- that has walls and ridges resembling those from Arizona's Red Rock area or the Grand Canyon.

The book-sculpture-video phase of Cloughley's career began only a few years ago, but he's as passionate about it as anything he did before, which includes teaching writing at the college level, and producing multi-image shows for concerts and other events. Meetings with two other artists influenced his new direction. "I met sculptor David Dion, who has a studio in the Hunters Point Naval Base, and realized that his wooden sculptures have been inspired by the same kind of formations of Red Rock canyon country, and that's he'd gone to school in Arizona and had done something like 25 solo backpack trips into the Grand Canyon," he says. "And I had met Howard Munson, who's a veteran book craftsman, and became aware of the artists book scene in San Francisco, and began to learn how to handcraft books."

Cloughley, who moved to San Francisco in 1969, says all his art has a "metaphysical" edge. He has done photography, graphic design, and art design through his production company, Synapse, which specializes in light shows featuring his designs and those of his partner, Sondra Slade. Cloughley has an MFA in creative writing from Iowa State University. Writing and drawing have always been a cornerstone of his existence, but his Red Rock project -- which has been praised by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others -- lets him express his love of nature in a different art form.

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Ben Venom

click to enlarge Am I Demon? - BEN VENOM
  • Ben Venom
  • Am I Demon?
Four years ago, when Ben Venom visited a quilt exhibit at the de Young Museum, he was one of thousands of people who fell in love with the intricate designs and patterns that comprised The Quilts of Gee's Bend.

What happened next surprised Venom and the people who knew him: He combined his lifelong adoration of metal music with his new interest in quilt-making -- creating artwork that incorporated pieces of T-shirts that once advertised bands like Metallica, Slayer, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC. His heavy metal quilts are counterintuitive, he says, since the stereotype of quiltmakers (kind, older women) and quilts (used for quiet moments at home) goes against the prevailing image of rock fans, the singers to whom they flock (generally, raucous men) and the type of music played (loud; really, really loud). Still, the quilts are like the music they portray, he says.

"It's a little over the top, but at the same time it's entertaining," says Venom, 33, who has a master's in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, where he teaches continuing-education classes. Each of his quilts features a design and a name that is comical or, depending on your view, offensive. His first quilt, Listen to Heavy Metal While You Sleep!, is a patchwork of shirts in the shape of a skull with jagged teeth that sits atop what looks like a cross. "A quilt is obviously something soft and not very harmful, but the makeup and imagery on my quilts are very strong and scary and devilish," says Venom, who grew up in a religious environment in a conservative city outside Atlanta, Ga., and now lives in the Mission. "I see them as opposing forces."

While he was growing up, Venom recalls, his mother was an active sewer who would mend family members' clothing as it suffered wear and tear; he says he still calls his mom for sewing advice. Listen to Heavy Metal While You Sleep! took three months to finish. Perhaps the hardest part for him is relinquishing his treasured T-shirts, which he'd collected for years. Metal fans who see Venom's quilts often chastise him for using what they consider to be priceless artifacts. Venom says they now have a longer lifespan in his quilts, which appeal, he says, even to people who don't have a clue who Ozzy Osbourne is.

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Jonathan Curiel

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