Human blood, water color, gold leaf, coffee, wax, and graphite — what do these things have in common? They are all materials used in artworks viewed at October’s Art Murmur. Many of San Francisco’s art openings are slated for the first Thursday of the month and, following suit, several emerging Oakland art galleries have established the first Friday of the month for their gallery openings. Unlike San Francisco, where stylish hipsters wander around galleries schmoozing and drinking wine, Oakland’s streets are riddled with art students drinking malt liquor disguised in paper bags, dropping loose change in the accordion cases of street corner troubadours placidly serenading gallery crawlers.
Our first stop was Buzz gallery, which adjoins the popular Mama Buzz café on Telegraph Avenue. The walls of the gallery were painted with a pink, circle-heavy design, and artist Zefrey Throwell’s drawings hung unframed on the painted walls with a similar pinkish color scheme. Illustrated quite beautifully, one would not necessarily notice the dark brown lines in the drawings were blood until reading the tags listing materials used, which also contained the paragraph-long titles of the drawings. Many contained images of pelicans, animals, and human figures. The title card on a drawing featuring the recurring pelican backed by a golden moon read “So elegant, yet one must never forget that the pelican of Baffin island is carnivorous at heart and won’t spare you, no matter how sincere your prayer.” After some research, I’ve learned that Throwell has written a mythical narrative about a mind-controlling pelican, and the drawings are illustrations of his capricious tall tale.
As we rounded the corner to the next gallery, I noticed an impromptu exhibit of text-laden art pieces on 5″ x 7″ cards taped to the outside wall of the building. Some cards had drawings, some had gum stuck to them, and some had sayings such as “God, vegans taste good on the grill,” and “Make out, not art”. An incense-burning hippy sat on the sidewalk nearby the card display selling handmade purses, and a bus outfitted as a gallery sat waiting for us up the street. The bus gallery had a sign outside stating its mission: “Institutionalizing Institutional Critique since 2006.” Though I wasn’t bowled over by the presentation of the artwork on the walls of the bus — lit by flashlights tied to the ceiling with scarves — I appreciated the alternative art-viewing experience and the guy in the back of the bus who played an electric guitar while singing an improvised song about it being a lovely Friday.
Next stop: Ego Park gallery, showcasing large-scale fish-eye photographs of young Arab citizens. Each photo was equipped with a small MP3 player and two sets of headphones playing audio of the person in the photo discussing cultural issues.
We moved on to the cavernous Esteban Sabar gallery, and I had my doubts when I saw that the first room was populated with puff-paint cityscapes by Sue Averell, titled as numbered “Unstill Life” pieces. However, as I traveled further into the endless rooms, I was impressed by a number of the other artist’s works. Liz Amini-Holmes’ unmistakably Chagall-inspired acrylic paintings, Douglas Light’s “Psyche Series” of abstract oil paintings, and especially Patricia Gillespie’s mixed media works with colorful figures of women pushing shopping carts and ironing that were vibrantly painted, cut out of a hard material, and mounted on quilted canvases.
Our last stop was the Rock Paper Scissors Collective where artists looked down upon us from a loft loaded with faux fur rugs, a giant pixilated photo of Jerry Springer, and a television playing “The Neverending Story.” There were socially active baby clothes for sale among other lefty gear, and a participatory altar where one could donate a dollar and choose a cigarette lighter out of a basket attached to the altar. I noticed a note next to the altar instructing us to choose a lighter intuitively and the note proclaimed that the mantra printed on the lighter we chose was meant for us. It also said that once we picked up the lighter, we were committed to convening on 23rd and Telegraph at 9:30pm to chant our mantra. The lighter I selected was decorated with the words “to know” which I interpreted for myself as “to know when it’s time to call it a night,” so I returned the lighter to the basket and headed for the train.
Though I love the glitz and glamour of openings at San Francisco art galleries, Art Murmur boasts artwork in its rawest and most approachable form. The date’s the same each month and it’s a quick trip on BART. Don’t forget to pick up a paper bag for your necessary libations, and, if you really want to fit in, wear a fake moustache (not kidding).