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Masterminds 2011: SF Weekly Recognizes Local Artists 

Wednesday, Feb 16 2011

Page 4 of 5

Four years ago, when Ben Venom visited a quilt exhibit at the de Young Museum, he was one of thousands of people who fell in love with the intricate designs and patterns that comprised The Quilts of Gee's Bend.

What happened next surprised Venom and the people who knew him: He combined his lifelong adoration of metal music with his new interest in quilt-making — creating artwork that incorporated pieces of T-shirts that once advertised bands like Metallica, Slayer, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC. His heavy metal quilts are counterintuitive, he says, since the stereotype of quiltmakers (kind, older women) and quilts (used for quiet moments at home) goes against the prevailing image of rock fans, the singers to whom they flock (generally, raucous men) and the type of music played (loud; really, really loud). Still, the quilts are like the music they portray, he says.

"It's a little over the top, but at the same time it's entertaining," says Venom, 33, who has a master's in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, where he teaches continuing-education classes. Each of his quilts features a design and a name that is comical or, depending on your view, offensive. His first quilt, Listen to Heavy Metal While You Sleep!, is a patchwork of shirts in the shape of a skull with jagged teeth that sits atop what looks like a cross. "A quilt is obviously something soft and not very harmful, but the makeup and imagery on my quilts are very strong and scary and devilish," says Venom, who grew up in a religious environment in a conservative city outside Atlanta, Ga., and now lives in the Mission. "I see them as opposing forces."

While he was growing up, Venom recalls, his mother was an active sewer who would mend family members' clothing as it suffered wear and tear; he says he still calls his mom for sewing advice. Listen to Heavy Metal While You Sleep! took three months to finish. Perhaps the hardest part for him is relinquishing his treasured T-shirts, which he'd collected for years. Metal fans who see Venom's quilts often chastise him for using what they consider to be priceless artifacts. Venom says they now have a longer lifespan in his quilts, which appeal, he says, even to people who don't have a clue who Ozzy Osbourne is.


For HATE, James Shefik hand-carved birch into matchsticks.

At 5:30 a.m. one day, James Shefik was in his car at the Bay Bridge toll plaza, on his way to work, when he saw a 18-wheel truck bearing an ad that announced: "Drink responsibly." He says, "Somehow, 'Hate responsibly' just hit me all of a sudden. I thought, 'This is really good.'" The moment happened in December 2009, prompting the sculptor and mixed-media artist to incorporate those words in a darkly humorous work made out of pieces that look exactly like matchsticks.

For Shefik, inspiration comes from disparate sources, including social affairs. In the wake of 9/11, he made what looks like a bomb that has been mailed. The explosive device, covered with Cesar Chavez postage stamps and a post office date stamp, features sharpened pencils sticking out through the brown wrapping. Shefik says this absurdist work was a response to a governmental airport notice that warned passengers not to bring bombs onto planes. In general, he says, "much of my work deals with how easily swayed we are and how fast we're moving (as a society), how we're losing things, like things made by hand, and the ability to think and work in an old analogue way."

Shefik, who is about to turn 50, has focused seriously on making art since 2003, but he has worked with paints and wood most of his professional life — first as a carpenter building stage and theater sets, and for many years now as a "scenic painter" doing work on movie, TV and trade-show sets. He did painting for the set of Milk, which starred Sean Penn.

"I've been drawing all my life," says Shefik, who was raised in Carmel and lives in Oakland. "I was always good with my hands and good at drawing, but I never had much to say." That changed as Shefik got older, and he has exhibited his work at professional spaces several times in the past year. Hate Responsibly, whose matchsticks are designed to show "how words and emotions can instantly burn into people," has since been sold, along with a similar work that features the word "Worship" on the hull of a battleship. There's more where these pieces came from, says Shefik, who describes himself as a "sensitive, curious pessimist."


Still from Aaron D. Guadamuz’s animated short film Yuichi: The Beginning of the End.

Dots. Hundreds of thousands of dots. For two years, Aaron D. Guadamuz made each dot by hand, for an animated film about a postnuclear world navigated by an electronics expert wearing an antenna helmet and dark glasses. A man named Yuichi and his dog search for the part that will make his TV work, then encounters a giant flesh-eating fish and a two-headed oddity with a blowtorch. Yuichi: The Beginning of the End, which takes place in Japan, is set to edgy sounds and music that help accentuate the funny, postapocalyptic scenes. The movie is only eight and a half minutes long, but it's an epic length by hand-design animation or stop-motion standards, says Guadamuz, which is why it took two years (and two million dots) to make.

"I stayed indoors and a lot of people haven't seen me for a couple of years," he says, half-jokingly. "I put everything aside and just knew I had to sit there and do this." His wife is from Japan and has a family member who inspired the title character.

Guadamuz, 36, grew up in San Mateo County and moved to San Francisco in 1998, and teaches experimental animation at the Academy of Art University. He has drawn actively since he was 17, but began focusing seriously on animation just five years ago. He worked at Napster, helping design software script that allowed visually impaired people to use the music-sharing site. And for several years he worked for animator Bruce Bickford, best known for collaborating with Frank Zappa. It was Los Angeles experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger who told Guadamuz to pursue his dot-drawing film with the utmost seriousness.

About The Author

Jonathan Curiel


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