Bay Area is a geographical region that stands out as a distinct cultural space known for its vibrant and progressive art scene. Not just in recent years, but going more than six decades in the past, Bay Area artists developed unique artistic styles regarding the dominant styles in other parts of the US. Bay Area is located in Northern California and encompasses metropolitan regions of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, including smaller urban and rural areas in their surroundings. Among the versatile artistic practices developed and practiced there, Bay Area Figuration is one of the best known. Developed in a period of dominance of Abstract Expressionism, creatives of Bay Area Figuration rejected abstraction and returned to figural representations. Among its first representatives were David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Rex Ashlock, Elmer Bischoff, Wayne Thiebaud, and James Weeks. Bay Area Figuration influenced development of figurative art which would be one of the most dominant art styles in West Coast.
In what follows we will introduce some of the most fascinating street and studio artists from Bay Area. Their work is aesthetically distinct, intriguing and playful, but also critical of contemporary society and reflective of different predicaments we are faced with every day.
Editors’ Tip: Bay Area Graffiti: ‘80s – ‘90s
The book Bay Area Graffiti: ‘80s – ‘90s represents a concise history of San Francisco Bay Area Graffiti scene, with veteran graffiti writers SFaustina and Jocelyn Superstar as its authors. They focus on the street art from the early 1980s to late 1990s with numerous photos to illustrate these works. Researching street art for over 40 years between them, the authors created this book with significant experience behind them, and the outcome is more than just an overview of the scene but an insider’s look into relevance and prominence of this art form in Bay Area. The book also includes interviews with a range of artists such as BIGFOOT, ESKIMO, MQ and REVOK.
San Francisco’s graffiti queen, Eclair Bandersnatch is compared to Banksy due to her art’s sharp take on contemporary society. She lives and works in the city that went through significant changes because of the economic crisis. A few years back, the Mayor of San Francisco offered tax cuts for start-up technology companies which soon changed the city from bourgeoning art center into wealthy monoculture of techies. Bandersnatch comments on these class changes as well as on gender issues in the stencils she sprays around the city.
Featured image: Eclair Bandersnatch's artworks. Images courtesy of the artist.
HUEMAN (Allison Torneros) works both outdoors and in the studio. With degrees in Design and Media Arts from UCLA, she experiments with forms and styles but with a critical bearing on the human condition. Starting with spontaneous splashes of paint, she creates refined and delicate compositions that posses motion and dimension. In her own words: “I am constantly seeking balance: between the beautiful and the grotesque, the abstract and the figurative, and that golden moment between sleep and wake.”
Featured image: Hueman - Boheme, San Francisco, 2015. Image via huemannature.com
San Francisco Bay Area artists Alynn - Mags (Amanda Lynn and Lady Mags) have over two decades of painting experience. Famous for their mural technique which includes the combination of large-scale spray paint and acrylic brush paint, Lady Mags creates abstract watercolors that Amanda Lynn includes in her illustrations.
Featured image: Alynn-Mags - Untitled. Image via streetartsf.com
From teaching yoga, Charmaine Olivia turned to oil painting which was not a completely unfamiliar medium for her. Starting from an early age with her aunt who was an artist, Olivia learned how to develop a palette, and - as she would say - was not afraid to play and experiment with it. Indeed, her portraits of beautiful and often famous women are full of vivid color. Her paintings are sometimes eerie and unsettling, but they never fail to be playful, fun, and poetic.
Feature image: Charmaine Olivia -Kudra. Image via juxtapoz.com
Monica Canilao works in different materials, often found and recycled for the purposes of her art. She creates paintings, drawings, murals, and installations with themes of home and community living. As she explains: “I use found materials because I believe that older stuff is already deeply imbued with spirit, story, and memory. I pick up remnants and little scraps of things every place I go and archive them in my studio, or hang them on walls, or place them in make shift alters for later use…. my walls are a scrap book.”
Featured image: Monica Canilao - Mural in the Market. Image via monicacanilao.com
Similarly to other contemporary artists, Andrew Schoultz works both in studio and outdoors in creation of his paintings, murals and installations. His imagery is often difficult to decipher due to its heavy layering with symbols and iconography. Preoccupied with problems that our world is facing, Schoultz creates chaotic worlds from various materials, referring to environmental, social, and economic issues.
Featured image: Andrew Schoultz - Untitled. Image via arrestedmotion.com
A mask with long beard that has been popping up around America is a staple of street artist GATS, which is short for ‘Graffiti Against The System’. Although the identity of GATS is unknown, his work is easily recognisible through systematic representation of masks. The masks are not a plain expressive tool, but hold deeper meaning for the author. They resemble important persons that are part of his world, and in recent years he added a layer of social activism to them, representing faces of those killed by police brutality.
Featured image: GATS - Mural in Oakland, 2011.
Kaleidoscopic forms of Zio Ziegler’s paintings and murals are both primal and cryptic. He uses wild scenes created in his mind and through referencing in style some previous art movements such as Cubism, creates a journey into some other world.
Featured image: Zio Ziegler - The Invention of Time. Image via galafo.com
Inspired by different visual sources such as Coen brothers films, decorative prints of Aubrey Beardsly and paintings of Francis Bacon, Milwaukee-born painter Victor Reyes creates brightly-colored graffiti. After moving from his home town to California in 1990s Reyes got motivated by the local graffiti scene and started to experiment with letters, textures and colors. Moving from streets to gallery spaces Reyes continues his study of form, but preserves the visual characteristics of his graffiti in his paintings as well.
Featured image: Victor Reyes - Untitled. Image via artofreyes.tumblr.com
Engaged like many other streets creatives with contemporary problems, Eddie Colla uses his stencils to create a visual message that will interfere with corporate take-over of public spaces. As he explains, corporations spend a ridiculous amount of money to put their products in public view, and he cannot compete with them. However, his interventions in public space create a rupture within the commercialized domain that should belong to people. His often acerbic criticism of society landed him an unwanted attention when his stencil was printed out on Walmart’s T-shirt, and sold out as Banksy’s work. As a response he created a screenprint with Walmart’s logo reading “Introducing the Anti-Establishment Left Wing Subversive Vandalism Collection.”
Featured image: Eddie Colla - GFL II. Image via spoke-art.com All images used for illustrative purposes only.