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Masterminds 2011: SF Weekly Recognizes Local Artists 

Wednesday, Feb 16 2011

Page 3 of 5

Besides San Francisco State (where she won a scholarship in painting), Shear has formally studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute; Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, Australia; and the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. Growing up in Mill Valley, she knew she wanted to be a professional painter. "When I was little, I was always into drawing and painting," she says. "For me, it's always been, 'I can do this.'" Combining paintings of personal images with ones reflecting the culture at large, Shear says, "allows me to come closer to an emotional understanding of the truth of my own experience."


The wooden sculpture (top) opens to reveal Will Cloughley’s book, Red Rock, Black Sun.

The video project Will Cloughley is working on connects back all the way to his Texas childhood in the 1940s, when he took trips with his parents to the deserts and canyons of the American Southwest. Now 72 and residing in San Francisco, he still returns to those natural settings, especially the area around Sedona, Ariz., which inspired him to write and draw the book, Red Rock, Black Sun. Making a video from the work will add a third dimension to the two others that have already been done: a limited printed version, which features fancy graphic-novel images and writing; and an elaborate sculptured version that includes a handcrafted, wooden-covered edition of Red Rock, and a sculpture — essentially a fancy bookshelf — that has walls and ridges resembling those from Arizona's Red Rock area or the Grand Canyon.

The book-sculpture-video phase of Cloughley's career began only a few years ago, but he's as passionate about it as anything he did before, which includes teaching writing at the college level, and producing multi-image shows for concerts and other events. Meetings with two other artists influenced his new direction. "I met sculptor David Dion, who has a studio in the Hunters Point Naval Base, and realized that his wooden sculptures have been inspired by the same kind of formations of Red Rock canyon country, and that's he'd gone to school in Arizona and had done something like 25 solo backpack trips into the Grand Canyon," he says. "And I had met Howard Munson, who's a veteran book craftsman, and became aware of the artists book scene in San Francisco, and began to learn how to handcraft books."

Cloughley, who moved to San Francisco in 1969, says all his art has a "metaphysical" edge. He has done photography, graphic design, and art design through his production company, Synapse, which specializes in light shows featuring his designs and those of his partner, Sondra Slade. Cloughley has an MFA in creative writing from Iowa State University. Writing and drawing have always been a cornerstone of his existence, but his Red Rock project — which has been praised by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others — lets him express his love of nature in a different art form.


Running Through the Range by Hugh Leeman.

"Street artist" is one way to describe Hugh Leeman, but so is "T-shirt artist," since he runs a program in which at-risk people sell shirts with images of his art. The sellers keep all the profits in the arrangement, which was modeled after San Francisco's Street Sheet program. Leeman's art showcases people who are themselves from the streets — like Blue, the harmonica player who performs at the Powell Street cable-car turnaround; and Benz, the goateed, baseball-cap-wearing man who Leeman painted with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Benz passed away a few years ago, but his likeness remains one of Leeman's most popular designs — whether it's on a T-shirt or the kind of wheatpaste poster he puts up on walls around San Francisco and beyond. Leeman says his work makes his subjects more visible to people who might not think twice about them.

"I've found throughout my life that some of the poorest people I've met are quite frankly the most generous people I've met," says Leeman, who lives in the Tenderloin, where he meets many of his subjects. "There is something altruistic that I'm doing, in giving back to the community and helping people, but I'm definitely getting something out of it, including their friendship."

Increasingly, Leeman's work is appearing in galleries and other art spaces, as at the Artbox Gallery in Indiana (he grew up in the state). Still, street art remains his central passion. Lately, he has been putting matrix bar codes on his street posters, which lets people with smartphones connect to a website that funds the T-shirt project. (For two years, Leeman paid for the program himself.) Last month, attorneys representing the DreamWorks movie studio asked Leeman's permission to include his street posters in a scene of a Meryl Streep movie that was being filmed in Los Angeles. Leeman has never visited L.A. Someone had downloaded the free poster images from Leeman's website, printed them, and put them up on Melrose Avenue. "It was cool," says Leeman, who declines to give his age or have his face seen in public photographs. But he will say he has never been formally trained in art, graduating only from high school: "You sit at home and you're designing your web site, and you think, 'Who the hell is going to care?' Well, somebody did."


Ben Venom’s quilt, Am I Demon?

About The Author

Jonathan Curiel


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