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Masterminds 2011: SF Weekly Recognizes Local Artists 

Wednesday, Feb 16 2011
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PABLO CRISTI

California Rangers by Pablo Cristi.

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."
www.pablocristi.com


CHRISTINA MAZZA

Buddha Baby by Christina Mazza is a 5-foot-tall painting.

Whether it's sea grass drawn in astonishingly intricate detail with a ballpoint pen or a young girl sketched on a vintage wooden shipping crate with gouache and colored pencil, Christina Mazza's artwork incorporates materials that are taken from unlikely sources.

"The root of what I'm doing is taking things that are normally discarded or overlooked by us, and bringing them to the foreground so that we look at them and appreciate and see the beauty in them," says Mazza, who lives in Burlingame. "To reinforce that message, I'm drawn to everyday materials. Initially, my ballpoint pen drawings were done with Paper Mate pens — an everyday tool that people use to sign in and out of a doctor's office."

In the last three years, Mazza has received wider recognition, with such honors as a one-month artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum, and a three-month artist-in-residence at Recology San Francisco. She has exhibited at galleries and art spaces around the Bay Area for six years, but her art career is still in its infancy, because for a decade she worked in advertising (after getting her bachelor's in fine art from the Kendall School of Design in Michigan) and then focused on raising a family. A single parent of two sons, Mazza says her maturity (she's 50) and her upbringing and ethnicity (she's half Chinese and half white, and was adopted at birth) infuse her work with ideas that are highly personal. At the de Young, she worked on a 5-foot-tall painting called Buddha Baby, based on a real-life half-Asian, half-white boy who was born with a hole in his heart. Surgery repaired it and left him with a chest scar. The painting, which has sacred flowers on the boy's feet, is still in progress, but it connected with many de Young visitors, bringing some to tears, even though Mazza had one particular theme in mind. Its message, she says, "is that no matter where people are in life, and no matter how rough the road is that they've journeyed, they can still find their purpose, and to focus on it and explore it. It's never too late. I was born as an artist late in life. No matter when you discover what your path is, you should follow it."
www.mazza-usa.com


LAUREL SHEAR

Living Room by Laurel Shear.

In 2008 and 2009, when Laurel Shear's father, Glenn, was sick with cancer, she would take photographs of him using her cellphone camera. The photos were imperfect — often with pixelated lines extending from top to bottom — but they were precious. After she realized that phones had become a popular way to transmit photographs — of family members, celebrities, crowd scenes and the like — and that the photos were often technically flawed, she drew a series of paintings that conveyed the same hazy imagery. The lines, drips and scrapes in her paintings, including Father's Day, which shows Shear with her dad, help give the works an abstractness she finds illuminating. The works look almost like mirages of original scenes. "My interest was in cellphone camera technology and how that's changing our visual language and our culture," says Shear, 26, who graduated from San Francisco State University in 2008 with an emphasis on painting. "It's the immediacy of private moments that become very public."

Shear's paintings depict Saddam Hussein being readied for hanging, model Kate Moss preparing to snort cocaine, Britain's Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform, and other moments that brought scrutiny to people who may have been unaware they were being captured for digital posterity. Shear took some photos of her father without his knowledge. He didn't want to be seen in a state of illness, but she felt their time together might be limited, and these images could be the last she took of him. Glenn Shear died soon after at age 58. "My dad was my biggest supporter of my art work," she says. "He was constantly encouraging me to paint."

About The Author

Jonathan Curiel

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