Like many artists, Harrell Fletcher worries about the relative inaccessibility of his work. Most visual art pieces are displayed in chichi galleries, remaining unseen by the Average Joe and Jane truckers, waitresses, and cabbies of the world. Fletcher's solution? He makes these ordinary folks the stars of his work, creating pieces that emanate from and revolve around his interactions with everyday proles. As a result, the quirky videos and photographs that populate his newest show, "Happiness Follows Us Like a Shadow," become exceptional simply because they focus on such determinedly unexceptional people.
Case in point: The Sound We Make Together, a 2003 video in which Fletcher assembled an eclectic mix of Houston groups -- elementary school classes, garage bands, Falun Gong adherents, break dancers, a Baptist choir -- and unobtrusively filmed them as they met, played, talked, sang, danced, and prayed, ultimately generating an affecting portrait of communities in action. Similarly, Fletcher's 2002-2003 photo/video narrative series Scar Photographs takes a look at the bodily wounds of some of the ex-cons, administrative staff, and probation officers of Portland, Ore.'s Department of Corrections, graphically demonstrating the damage many people carry with them, which often goes unseen.
View these works and many more when "Happiness" opens Wednesday at noon, with a reception to follow on Thursday at 6 p.m. and an artist's talk on Saturday at 8 p.m. All events are held at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission to the gallery show and reception is free; the artist's talk is $3-5. Call 626-5416 or visit www.newlangtonarts.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Don't Say Cheese
Myths about vegans abound: They're malnourished. They hate non-vegans. They've never produced a tasty, decadent vegan dessert. Substitute "carnivore" for "vegan" and you can see how silly these notions are (although there really is no such thing as a carnivorous dessert -- unless you count bacon on ice cream). Any way you slice it, chef Eric Tucker can debunk a lot of those rumors, since he works at Millennium restaurant, famous for delicious, upscale dishes that contain no animal products. His new book, The Artful Vegan, shares recipes from the eatery -- including desserts. Tucker answers questions and signs copies starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Book Bay at the Main Library, 100 Larkin (at Grove), S.F. Admission is free; call 557-4238
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Remember My Name
A hometown American Idol
"We Bring It -- You Judge It" is a real old-fashioned talent show, just like Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. But let's get one thing straight -- although the competition is organized by an outfit called Apollo in the City, it's not connected to New York's famous Apollo Theater, home of Showtime at the Apollo.
That said, the S.F. event has a similar appeal, plus an added catty reality-show feature: As hopefuls perform, the paying audience votes on who advances to the next round. Meanwhile, everyone's got his eye on the $10,000-and-a-recording-contract prize. The weekly showcases also feature veteran performers like Pete Escovedo and former Temptation Dennis Edwards. It sounds fun, but beware of tap-dancing children. Smile pretty starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday (and continuing weekly through April 24) at the Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California (at Jones), S.F. Admission is $25; call (877) 276-5564 or visit www.apollointhecity.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Ketchup = Vegetable?
One for the Gipper
You've got to give Peter Robinson points for bravery. Reading publicly from a book called How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life in San Francisco is like serving veal in the cafeteria at PETA headquarters; it might be asking for trouble. Tonight, in what surely will be a spirited Commonwealth Club event, Robinson, a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, discusses how his plan to become a novelist led to writing copy for the Great Communicator instead. (Remember "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"? That was Robinson's.)
Whether the event will be packed with misty-eyed silent-majorityites or glowering ultra-lefties remains uncertain. "The longer I studied Ronald Reagan," Robinson writes, "the more lessons I learned." Partisan politics aside, we hope that's true for all of us. The talk begins at 6 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is free-$15; call 597-6701 or visit www.commonwealthclub.org.
-- Jonathan Kiefer
Behind the Big Podium
A conductor's job is to keep an orchestra on the beat, much like a fancified metronome, right? Wrong! While conductors do indicate rhythm, they're also responsible for reading, interpreting, and keeping up with the entire score for every instrument section, and injecting emotion into the music. Hear more about this demanding but (let's not kid ourselves) glamorous, lucrative, and high-profile job when Maestro Francesco Corti (conductor of San Francisco Opera's ongoing The Barber of Seville) shares stories about his experiences brandishing the baton in Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, and our own fair city. Corti speaks at 6:30 p.m. at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 425 Washington (at Battery), S.F. Admission is free; call 788-7142 or visit www.sfiic.org.
-- Joyce Slaton