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Monday, February 14, 2011

Meet the Finalists in SF Weekly's 2011 Masterminds Grant Competition

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM


SF Weekly's Artopia enters its fourth year of highlighting exceptional Bay Area artists. More than 300 people - a record number - submitted entries this year for our three $1,500 grants. We received a lot of deserving work, and choosing 10 finalists was difficult. The Bay Area has long been an incubator of acclaimed art. Ansel Adams, Richard Diebenkorn, Raymond Saunders, and Ruth Asawa are just a few who have been deemed masters of their craft. Accordingly, "Masterminds" is what we call the Artopia winners. Our finalists can cite influences from far and wide, but their vision is uniquely their own. Painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and a quilter -- a heavy-metal quilter, at that -- are in our Top 10. All their art will be displayed at Artopia, which takes place this year at Public Works. There, the three 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 on Wednesday. Here are the first three:

Mindo Cikanavicius
A photo from the "Lost in Daydreams" series. - MINDO CIKANAVICIUS
  • Mindo Cikanavicius
  • A photo from the "Lost in Daydreams" series.
In a series of Mindo Cikanavicius' photographs titled "Lost in Daydreams," people seem to be hovering in air -- whether it's on the street, in their apartments, or in some other enclosed spaces. In a follow-up series, people are also doing unusual things, such as reading while standing in the middle of an ocean, or wearing a large dunce cap while walking by an industrial building.

"The idea is to convey being lost in thought and being lost in surroundings," says Cikanavicius, whose photos are staged using a combination of professional actors and first-time volunteers. Cikanavicius, who graduated last year with an MFA in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, says cinema -- particularly the films of David Lynch "and his moods and atmospheres" -- influenced his style. He also cites fashion and fine-art photography as influences.

"Lost in Daydreams" was his thesis project at the Academy of Art. Each photo features the same person in three different poses or states of being. To make his subjects appear to float, Cikanavicius had them jump up and fall on a mattress; he captured the jumps in midair, and then digitally excised the mattress from the photos. He would do multiple exposures. He wanted, he says, "to show the person being in three different positions: mind, body, and soul. After that project, I decided to use one person in one image, or a couple of people in one image, but to use props."

Cikanavicius, 34, grew up in Lithuania and now lives in San Francisco. He was trained in traditional photography, though he was first pushed into painting: "When I was a kid, I tried to draw but I didn't get any good results," he says. "I studied photography when I was a teen, and at that time, it was more documenting friends and places -- basically snap-shooting. I had a passion for it. But over the years, I noticed how I can create staged things to convey a creative idea." Cikanavicius would like to get into filmmaking, but his photography already has movie-making elements. As he puts it, "Everything is now directed in my photographs. [What type of] cameras I use is not as important. It's more about ideas."


Jeremy Rourke

A still from Out to See - JEREMY ROURKE
  • Jeremy Rourke
  • A still from Out to See
In the stop-motion film Out to See, a cutout of a man in a trench coat flies along the streets of San Francisco, Superman style, as folky guitar plays in the background, along with these lyrics: "My lady, she pulls those aching shoes from my feet; this city walked all over me, it walked all over me, it walked all over me." Seconds later, the man morphs into a cutout of an old schooner as the lyrics mention "barges pushing out to sea." Illustrations of owls, fish, a 19th-century bicyclist, top-hatted men, and other assorted figures mix with scenes of modern San Francisco that fold into other scenes. Jeremy Rourke made the three-minute movie in December -- four years after he wrote the song of the same name. The marriage of music and stop-motion has become his new artistic mission. "It seems like a nice way to share the music," says the 33-year-old San Franciscan, who has been writing and playing music since he was 18. "It makes it easier."

Since getting into stop-motion films a year ago, Rourke has made six of them from his songs, including Eyes Hearing Stars, whose whimsical scenes include a cutout of an old-time bicyclist riding atop the Golden Gate Bridge. The year before his foray began, he was doing lots of stencil drawings. "I feel like they all fall into the same creative art form," says Rourke, who grew up in Connecticut and majored in English at Northeastern University in Boston. "They're all art."

Rourke has never been formally trained in art, although he remembers making flipbooks as a child, and did illustrations in college. He learned how to do stop-motion films with a computer program. Each movie takes about two weeks to make. At music gigs at El Rio and other Bay Area venues, Rourke has been projecting his films as he performs. He was initially inspired to do stop-motion when he saw another musician, banjo player Laura Goldhamer, perform songs with her own stop-motion films: "If I had just heard the music, it wouldn't have had the same effect of these two images together," he says. "It showed me the power of these two art forms together."


Pablo Cristi
"California Rangers" - PABLO CRISTI
  • Pablo Cristi
  • "California Rangers"
In Pablo Cristi's painting "California Rangers," the actor Erik Estrada is dressed in the uniform that made him a TV star: that of the California Highway Patrol. To Estrada's right is the Lone Ranger on a majestic white horse; to Estrada's left is a tree, from a branch of which dangles a pair of legs. The lynched Mexican laborer adds a disturbing coda to an otherwise colorful tableau of authoritative figures. Pablo Cristi's art frequently mixes pop-culture references with more serious allusions. The works, which combine elements of abstraction, are heavily influenced by the aesthetics of Mexican and Californian mural art, which Cristi has studied and has taught.

Cristi, 34, was born and raised in Los Angeles by parents who fled Chile's military regime of Augusto Pinochet. He received his MFA from the California College of the Arts and lives in Berkeley. He describes his works as "small, tightly refined and rendered figurative areas in these very large abstracted psychological landscapes. ... A lot of what I do has to do with tension between low culture and high culture."

The hanging in California Rangers refers to the lynchings of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans by state rangers in the mid-to-late-19th century. The Lone Ranger was based on the Texas Rangers who patrolled America's border with Mexico. Estrada is a Puerto Rican-American whose character worked for the CHP, which derives from the state rangers, so all three figures relate to each other. Still, Cristi doesn't announce these facts in public showings, nor does he give the long backstories of his other paintings and sculpture, preferring that audiences interpret the works with their own sensibilities and knowledge of history and pop culture. His sculpture work includes a series of porcelain burritos.

"I like to leave ambiguity," says Cristi, who was active in graffiti writing in his teenage years. "I try my hardest not to be didactic or preach anything in my work. ... The topics can be a little serious, so for most of my work I try to put a little humor into it, so it's more palatable."
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