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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Street Artist Apex on the Haight/Masonic Mural and Art Thriving on Neglect

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Untitled (Blue) - COURTESY OF APEX AND 941GEARY
  • Courtesy of Apex and 941Geary
  • Untitled (Blue)

Born and raised in San Francisco, Apex has been doing street art since 1992, when he was just 14. Now, at age 34, he's one of San Francisco's veteran practitioners -- someone whose spray-paintings are instantly recognizable. Loops, lines, and half-circles converge into a nucleus, which often splits apart at the outer edges. With bold colors, and intricate shading and paint strokes -- like that of an Impressionist painter -- Apex's creations stand out from outdoor walls around San Francisco, and also at 941Geary gallery in an exhibit called "Reflected" that continues until January 5.

See also:

Fall Arts: This Year, S.F. Galleries Are World-Class

Diamanda Galas Calls Street Artist Novy "An Opportunistic Infection"

Untitled (Blue) - COURTESY OF APEX AND 941GEARY
  • Courtesy of Apex and 941Geary
  • Untitled (Blue)

SF Weekly spoke with Apex about the exhibit, his large mural at Haight and Masonic (created in August), and the state of street art in a city with dwindling spaces for artists. Apex, whose given name is Ricardo Richey, has exhibited in galleries around the Bay Area, including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and has been an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.

Your new exhibit gives you a large gallery space where you could do anything you wanted. You created 12 large paintings, and 12 small, framed variations of the same bright images, along with a dark grid pattern on the floor and walls. What's the story behind "Reflected"?

The architecture of the gallery dictated a different presentation and approach. With all the raw wood and brick, and because the space is so open, I wanted to engage the viewer more -- to have the viewer participate more. The wall and the floor all have a continuing pattern, and it starts in the center of the floor and works its way out -- mirroring itself, to go with the theme of the show. The space is so big I wanted to darken the space, and then have bright canvases. On their own, they're bright but also subtle and soothing. It makes the space small, even though you're aware the space is big.

The intricate forms in your art remind me a lot of fragmented letters, architectural patterns -- even freeway ramps from a distance. There's a reason for that, right?

I love every field of architecture -- from landscape architecture to urban design -- and lines that occur in nature and the lines that are man-made. If you stand on the street, you see a city one way. If you're flying over a city, you see it in a different light. Both are different levels of abstraction in my mind. With my work, it's all about how far I can abstract the root of where it comes from. And then when it breaks down, what do I get? What new ideas come from that? That's the most interesting thing for me. When people say my work reminds them of different things that I personally enjoy, it lets me know that not only is my painting signature in the work, the work is deeply related to who I am as an artist -- that those interests are coming through the work. I have a wide gamut of interests. No one who has ever said, "Oh, I see this in your work," was completely wrong.

Up next: Is it a good time to be a street artist in S.F.?

Your large mural on the corner of Haight and Masonic -- on the outside wall of a clothing store -- was commissioned by the store. Thousands of people see the mural every day. It's an intense work.

I've worked with the clothing store from the time they started five years ago. They rotate the wall a couple of times a year. They said, "Let's do something new with you." When I was painting that, it was great to have people participate in it as they were going to work or getting off work. As the mural grew, people could see the different layers and enjoy it. The work on the street has to compete with so much other visual stimulation out there. The mural catches your eye and brings you in. I try to give you more to look at and to contemplate as you look at the work.

There's symbolism in the mural. The store is at Haight and Masonic. Masonic starts in the hills as Roosevelt Way, and Haight Street going west leads to Lincoln Way. Those are named after presidents, who were probably Masons. Things that I'm into, like sacred geometry, the Masons were into. The mural has a nod to them, with a Fibonacci sequence, and in the center, a Merkaba star.

For years, you had a studio space in the mid-Market area of San Francisco. You had to leave recently because the building was sold and is being turned into a tech office.

My studio there was amazing and way too cheap for what it was for too long. I knew that, with everything in the city, time changes and things change.  I'm looking at another space in the area. That area is saturated with everything in our society. There's always some wall that stands out to me like a sore thumb -- like, "I want to paint that." Luckily, there are people who enjoy my work and ask me to paint a location.

Is this a good time to be a street artist in San Francisco?

Street art thrives on neglect. That's where it's born. And that's when it thrives -- when there are neglected walls. In the city right now, there's not too much room of neglect. Every little area is being dialed in and built up and cleaned up -- which I think is great. In that way, it allows for more murals to be highlighted, and people to ask for murals. So on that end, it's great for street art and great for me -- someone who's already participated in street art for a fair amount of time. But for artists who are beginning, there's not a wide range of things to practice on. That rawness is always how something new and fresh begins, in every walk of life. New street artists are still picking it up -- it just has a different feel to it. They're creating something new based on the availability of what's out there.

Untitled (Red) - COURTESY OF APEX AND 941GEARY
  • Courtesy of Apex and 941Geary
  • Untitled (Red)

"Reflected," featuring a new series of spray-painted art from Apex, continues at 941Geary gallery through January 5, at 941 Geary (at Larkin), S.F. Admission is free.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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Jonathan Curiel

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