Certainly tourist sites like nearby North Beach, Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, and Union Square have an artist or two painting. But on the corner of Polk and Union Streets?
"I like painting landscapes," said John Paul Marcelo.
When I asked him what was it that attracted him to the two-story store front building on the opposite corner; "its the contrast between the blue of the sky and the shade of yellow on the building," he said. In the late afternoon early evening sunlight, that particular Saturday on May 25, Marcelo captured the subtle glimmer of light in his rendering. He described himself as a "plein air painter."
He was eager to tell me about his participation in an upcoming exhibit at Studio Gallery on Polk called, "94109 - Local Artists Picture The Neighborhood."
"We have been tossing around the idea for the show for a couple of years, and we're just delighted to make it a reality," said Jennifer Farris, speaking on behalf of the gallery. She and her husband Rab Terry own Studio Gallery. "We invited a bunch of our artists to participate, and we've been blown away by the response," she said. "Between 50 and 60 of our artists will participate in the show."
"Some of the artists will paint right on the street, (like Marcelo) and others will be taking reference shots and completing pieces in their studios," she said. "As the artists finish pieces and drop them off, we'll put them on display in the gallery on special shelves built to display wet pieces." "We had five pieces dropped off on the first day, said Jennifer, so we're off to an excellent start."
The exhibit seems to fit Marcelo's ambitions. He hopes to document live-scenes with his painting and told me he seeks to capture the contrast. "I like to work outdoors, on site, taking in the scene, talking and interacting with the people," he said.
Originally from Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia College
with a focus on fine art, graphic design and photography. I asked him if he would use his photography skills to document what he perceives. "No, I want to put it on canvas. So, I would be documenting life - scenes from real life by painting them," he said. "I don't work from photographs."
He mentioned that he spent time at Cabrini Green and painted what he saw there. There was something about the place that moved him to paint, to express its essence in painting, not in photographs. "I thought I would pursue a career in graphic arts and advertising," he said. But after college he was restless to express his artistic vision and inclinations. Painting scenes like Cabrini Green was not something for an advertising career portfolio.
"I just want to be able to pick up and go wherever I am inspired to be and paint," he said. He always wanted to see the ocean, so he aimed for California. "I did the Southern California thing, went to Venice Beach, Los Angeles. After a couple of years of that, longer than I had expected I headed for San Francisco and have made the Bay Area my home-base," he said.
"I first had a little studio apartment in the Upper Haight-Ashbury District," he said. "But after working, painting I needed more space to do my work." Marcelo, through the contacts of some artist friends, then found a space over in Oakland which provided the room he needed to do his landscapes and 'plein air' perspectives. Last November of 2012 Marcelo and four other artists presented an exhibit called, "The Plein Air Story" at The Joyce Gordon Gallery
In the 10 years since graduation in 2002, Marcelo has painted and followed were ever the inspiration has lead him. Despite the perils of being an artist in which a tight budget always makes things challenging, Marcelo has managed to travel to places like India. Like his experiences painting at Cabrini Green in Chicago, he noted the contrast. "On the last day of my trip as I was heading to the airport to leave India I noticed an old man begging in the street and nearby was a child begging. And, I thought to myself, this child will most likely grow up to beg on the streets as so many in this place do," he said. He thought it sad that so many people in life do not know or experience anything more than what their circumstance sets before them.
"My work is an entire spectrum of painting," he said. "Some of my subject matter often emphasizes urban decay," said Marcelo. "Some of my work documents some of the devastation I witnessed in post-Katrina New Orleans." He is sensitive to environmental and industrial impacts. "In stark contrast, he said, I also had the opportunity to paint the peaceful countryside of Galena, Illinois near the Iowa border." Being a little closer to nature there helped me decide to go immerse myself with the mountains, desert, and the ocean seaside of California."
Marcelo mentioned how important it is that people recognize what is around them. We both noted how easy it is for people to take things for granted. "As an artist I like to blend in as I am doing my work." Marcelo talked about how much he would like to go to Hawaii, visit the island of Maui and perhaps paint the beauty that is "paradise."
If things go well and he is able to sell some paintings, no doubt that will be his next trip. As we chatted a few people gathered to ask Marcelo about his work. A woman asked, "is that painting you doing, is that for sale?"
For more information about the 94109 - Local Artists Picture the Neighborhood" exhibit call Studio Gallery at 415-931-3130. Located at 1815 Polk between Washington and Jackson Streets, the opening reception for the exhibit will be on Sunday June 2 from 2 to 6 PM and will be on display until June 9th. Visit website for details.