I am about to spend a few days in Los Angeles touring UCLA, cruising Culver City, sniffing-around studios, and visiting friends. I’m quite looking forward to time away from the Bay – as much as I love it here, one needs to leave its chaos when given the opportunity – but it also puts into perspective how, chances are, I’m beginning my final year in San Francisco.
I have a hard time even remembering when I first arrived here, I have to count back the years on my fingers, though the beginning of my love affair with The City is crystal clear – at first I despised this place. San Francisco has been good to me and I have only a few sour things to say about my home, nothing unexpected from living the city-life, criticisms mostly about poor governance, rapid gentrification, and poor rapid transit. Still, I long to leave.
My hopes, predicated on an even more cantankerous statewide governance of the University of California, draw me south, where I can do some serious research at a major institution and etch my place in the LA art scene, one that loyally spits out work I admire and wish to be close to.
When I fantasize about leaving, I quickly fear the absence of fog. Something so common and reliably ethereal. A cool, grey blanket, as a friend recently described it. How true. And, only the pinnacle of so many uniquely San Francisco moments that pepper our every-days. How lucky to be a San Franciscan.
Errg…alas, what’s a man to do?
This conundrum of cities reminds me of artist Alexis Manheim‘s work, color in frenetic movement. Her work “California!” is truly a portrait of this fine state and its dichotomies: smoke and fog, enigma and wonder; valleys of fire and coasts of blue; a sharpened sun throwing chromatic shadows; anger, tension, eruption; unity, fascination, order. Manheim’s work is especially delicate, her use of pastel – tender pigments hovering against the paper – creates a contrast of materials we rarely see from contemporary San Francisco artists. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing paintings with their flat media permanently affixed, instead we accept this composition is transitory. Without the safety of the frame’s containment, a Santa Ana wind would whisk away the color-in-line from “California!” with the same quickness that it spreads fire across the Los Angeles National Forest. We see a row of houses aflame in her work, recalling the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake, kindled from the abscessed ground underneath in the lower-center of the composition. Everywhere, and everyhow, the little strings of life keep all the color together – fine lines of ink and graphite interconnect and secure all this motion like unconscious freeway seat belts.
Living in California is nothing if not delicious. Perhaps living on the precipitousness of geological destruction electrically influences our Golden lives. (How California new-agey… ) Here, Manheim’s imagery speaks the delicate words in my heart. Between the captivation of color and the ruin of regret is the valley of volition. Here, with so many beautiful places to be wonder, it’s an enigma to stay put. It’s also hard to think about saying, “So long.”
Above: California!, Pastel, ink, graphite, acrylic on paper, Alexis Manheim 2010