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Thursday, October 6, 2011

SF Open Studios: Don't Call Paul Madonna of All Over Coffee "a San Francisco Artist"

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 9:00 AM


One doesn't expect to visit an artist's studio and be afflicted with apartment lust (unless one got to visit Monet at Giverny or Damien Hirst's suite at Claridge's). But Paul Madonna, we learned thanks to SF Open Studios, lives and works in a beautiful Victorian in the Mission with high ceilings and curved walls. It seems perfect that Madonna lives in a quintessential San Francisco flat, considering he is the artist and writer whose ink drawings of the city's famous and obscure corners are serialized in the Chronicle's All Over Coffee, a City Lights-published book of the same name, and a new book titled Everything Is Its Own Reward. Although his work includes drawings of other cities -- he even showed us a stack of sketchbooks of his travels through Asia awaiting development -- most of the work showcased in the two books and the serial depicts this city.

One wants, as a native, to claim him as a "San Francisco artist," a Herb Caen or Raymond Chandler.

The cover of Everything Is Its Own Reward
  • The cover of Everything Is Its Own Reward

His drawings capture not only the physical details of the aesthetically breathtaking place we call home, but somehow the tone of it as well, in precise but unfussy lines and delicate shading, with epiphanic bits of dialogue and philosophy floating over the images ("For all my running, I mostly fall down/ For all my falling down, I can sometimes stand/ and I do it all to do it again").


The drawings, whether of a streetcorner in the Mission or of a tourist landmark, all speak to San Francisco's position of grace, of never having had to sacrifice its serenity and charm in the name of urban progress.

An image from All Over Coffee - PAUL MADONNA
  • Paul Madonna
  • An image from All Over Coffee

Yet Madonna insists that his work is not city-specific, and that in fact "People from other places actually understand my work better. San Franciscans say, 'Oh, it's so San Francisco -- and we love San Francisco!' but other people will regard it independently of this love for the city itself, and actually pay more attention to its parts, read it more closely."


Madonna and his wife were gracious and intrepid hosts to the strangers who came to meet the artist and nose around in his supplies and strain against their nascent kleptomania to keep from stealing the odd brush or moleskin notebook from the stacks on the shelf. He explained some of his process, including what kind of paper he likes (the kind in which the texture isn't too apparent) and a demonstration of his massive drafting table. He was patient with tongue-tied bloggers and even talked a little of upcoming projects in which text features more prominently than image.


Madonna might not want the "San Francisco artist" label, we're not sure we can keep from claiming him as our own.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Larissa Archer on Twitter at larissaarcher) and like us on Facebook.

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