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Dog Bites 

Wednesday, Aug 12 1998
Art for the Masses
Dog Bites had lived in San Francisco for several years before making it to Fisherman's Wharf, so imagine our surprise when, visiting the waterfront on a book-buying errand (well, that's our story, and we're sticking with it), we found a thriving art scene.

In fact, the galleries on and near Beach Street organize monthly "ArtWalk" tours. They sell a great deal of art in all price ranges. By and large, their customers are happy. But the galleries don't get much respect, because the customers are -- well, mostly they're the type of tourists who go to Fisherman's Wharf.

Each week, the Buena Vista Cafe hosts the regular meeting of the Beach Street Art District, a group of Fisherman's Wharf art gallery directors who want, among other things, to address the respect deficit. The group, mostly made up of women, has been convening since last November to talk shop and discuss their problems. They don't pretend they will be selling anyone a Monet or Manet any time soon. Just the same, they insist, the art galleries of Fisherman's Wharf are worth visiting. They even have their stars.

Dave Archer, for instance -- known as the father of deep-space art -- exhibits his work in the Dave Archer Deep Space Fantasy Room of Yountchi-Rieger Fine Art, 3040 Larkin St. Archer's tricky nebula patterns are created using raw bolts of electricity. Over the course of a 30-year career, his credits have included sci-fi book covers and background work for Star Trek films and Howard the Duck. For some reason, he sells a lot of paintings to Canadians.

Then there is Thomas Kinkade, whose mistily floriferous landscapes exhibit in more than 20 galleries bearing his name, affording the Kinkade family a nice home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Kinkade's Wharf Gallery on Beach Street (one of two in the city) doesn't even sell originals anymore, says director Kim Uno. It doesn't have to: Limited-edition reproductions are flying out the door. (Like new cars, however, Kinkades aren't necessarily a great investment; a quick scan of the Chron's classifieds turned up Kinkades for $3,900, significantly less than the $7,000 they sold for new.)

And of course Dog Bites adores the Keane Eyes gallery on Larkin. Margaret Keane, who is best-known for her renderings of enormous-eyed children, has been widely imitated by everyone from anonymous hacks to rock poster king Frank Kozik, who rendered Keane-eyed versions of Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler, and local artist Paul Mavrides, who once executed a big-eyed portrait of Mao Tse-tung titled Sensitive Mao.

The galleries claim their market isn't just tourists. Molly Gaskill, director of the Beach Street Gallery, says her biggest clients include people she describes as unpretentious millionaires. (Q: How can you tell a millionaire is unpretentious? A: "They go to work in sandals. This is not for the elite.")

Also, Dog Bites was apprised, other famous names drop in and purchase art at Fisherman's Wharf. "Tom Snyder's been in," says Linda Rieger from Yountchi-Rieger. "John Ritter. Dusty Baker."

"Hale Irwin, the golfer," Julie Gagnon adds.
Molly Gaskill declines to name her famous customers, but is quick to note that when Dennis the Menace artist Hank Ketcham showed at her gallery, the line stretched down the block. And she thinks the gallery's exhibit of funk musician George Clinton's art will attract similar attention.

The Beach Street Art District gallery owners call each other -- often every day -- and ask how business is going. They refer clients to one another. And they meet at the Buena Vista. "It is kind of like a support group!" exclaims Linda Rieger.

And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Carroll
It has not been the type of week that raises Dog Bites' self-esteem. First, we received this voice-mail message:

Hi, I've got a tip for you. This is Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle. You better lay off on those columns on me, or I'm going to have my newspaper sue you and take away your houses and everything. So please don't do any more of those columns about me. Thanks, this has been Jon Carroll.

Now, if this was in fact Jon Carroll -- which we sincerely doubt -- we think he should know that Dog Bites does not own a house. Dog Bites, in fact, feels lucky just to be able to pay rent and the telephone bill, sometimes even in the same month.

We began to be troubled by obsessive thoughts of Jon Carroll's mortgage, Jon Carroll's house, Jon Carroll's garden, Jon Carroll's whole boomer-blessed life. Why him? Why not us?

Then we got this angry note from Owen McGowan, who says:
I hope you can take this like a man (or whatever) [note to Owen: we'll stick with "whatever"] but Jon Carroll is very funny, very clever and the leading causes of failure to understand and thus enjoy his column are lack of intelligence or lack of education or both.

Well! Seldom has anyone summed up Dog Bites' personal deficiencies so succinctly. But in the interests of full disclosure, Owen, we must also add to your list messiness, absent-mindedness, an occasional tendency to skip the gym in favor of after-work beers, and a nail-biting habit so entrenched that manicures are forever out of the question.

After this broadside, we found it hard to get off the couch for several days. So we were greatly relieved to receive this note from Jeffrey C. Goldman, who obviously shares Dog Bites' unhealthy obsession with Jon Carroll's column.

So I was thinking that since moving from Boston a year ago, I have attempted to read Jon Carroll every day. I have not yet decided whether reading his columns is worse than, say, when mean people make it hard for students to attend political conventions in Seneca Falls. Although, yowsa. An idea: how about? A contest to see who can write the worst (best?) Jon Carroll-type column; the winner could get, I don't know, what? A subscription to the Chronicle?

Hey, look, what's that sound? It's
We would try to top Mr. Goldman's effort, but we're still getting over the other stuff.

As told to Laurel Wellman

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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