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article imageOp-Ed: San Francisco's Catherine Merrill is 'A Passion for The Figure' Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 7, 2016 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - Strolling along Irving Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, locals have noticed the establishment of the San Francisco Woman Artists Gallery.
This past summer, in June, one Sunset local in particular saw a visually striking vase at the window by ceramic artist Catherine Merrill. "It was like a Picasso," said James Casey. "I have never seen anything like it. This is something an art collector would want to buy to invest in," he added.
Casey contacted the Sunset Beacon Newspaper in his enthusiasm for the art piece and noted, "This new gallery is where the old 'five and dime' used to be. Has the paper done an article on this?" As it turned out, "Yes, the Sunset Beacon did a story on the gallery," said editor Paul Kozakiewicz. After many years in other places in the City, the gallery has now found a new home on Irving.
This of course is happy news for artists like Merrill who told this reporter while on assignment for the Sunset Beacon, "I decided to join the San Francisco Woman Artists Gallery because it relocated to the Sunset District."
Merrill was among the three artists who had showcased their work in the "Artist's Salon" at the gallery. She was encouraged to join the gallery some time ago. But as she explained, "I was hesitant then because where the gallery had been located on Sacramento Street, the space for me and my work was just too small." Yet, when she heard that the San Francisco Woman Artists Gallery was moving to a larger space she reconsidered.
Having a seemingly ordinary spot, like a storefront or an old warehouse, be transformed into a venue for art or into a performance space is not uncommon in San Francisco's changing urban landscape. With real estate values sky high and available space at a premium, any space under-utilized these days can easily find people willing to remake it into whatever is needed. So, what had been a long-standing five and dime retail, has become a very suitable venue for visionary artists such as Merrill.
Merrill's work is more than just functional pottery which she does sell on a regular basis. Merrill's specialty is large pieces, or as she described it, "Life-size scale type. I work with live models and have always been fascinated by the human form." Merrill's theater and modern dance training serves her well in ceramic compositions.
This is the vase that Sunset District resident James Casey saw in the gallery window that day this p...
This is the vase that Sunset District resident James Casey saw in the gallery window that day this past summer. Entitled "The Siege" by ceramic artist Catherine Merrill, Casey considers it worthy of an art collectors' attention. "It's like a Picasso," he said.
Courtesy of Catherine Merrill
In her work on 'The Siege' — the ceramic piece that Casey found so striking — Merrill had the model pose three times. And from those poses, she painted directly on to the vase. "I like making details and complex compositions on something like a vase because it's an infinite picture with no borders or frame. You can look at it from different angles and it is a varied perspective, almost like another picture."
"The Sunset District is wonderful," said Merrill. "I am so glad they moved the gallery here. The Sunset has everything, really. And, this neighborhood still has that 'old time San Francisco neighborhood feeling to it. Neighborhoods like the Sunset are vital." The former five and dime store front space is ideal for artists because as Merrill points out, "It gives the Sunset District a tremendous cultural resource."
As a store front it gives artists lots of exposure to foot traffic. But as a gallery and cultural space there is much potential and provides the community with a venue. While Merrill lives in The Mission District, she spends lots of time at the gallery and considers The Sunset like a second home.
Originally from the Midwest, Merrill is an alum of the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, MO. "I had the opportunity to study with Ken Ferguson," she said. Ferguson was chairman of the ceramics dept at KCAI for over 30 years and during that time became a leader in the craft.
Exhibit features Merrill and five other local artists from Sept. 16 to Oct. 16  2016
Exhibit features Merrill and five other local artists from Sept. 16 to Oct. 16, 2016
Courtesy of Catherine Merrill
After graduating from Kansas City Art Institute, Merrill made her way back to San Francisco. She has lived many places during her life and was fortunate to be able to live in Hawaii for a while. But with her family grown, life is now more focused on her art. Merrill wanted to settle in a place that is eclectic and full of potential. "I had been to San Francisco before and while I am firmly rooted in my Midwest upbringing and education, I sensed San Francisco was the best place for me and my work." In 1994 she moved to the City and has seen it change.
"It's heartbreaking what's happening to all the neighborhoods in the City. It's tragic," she said. "Cultural spots and resources are being chased out in favor of luxury condos, what does that say about us as a people?"
Merrill believes the way people can keep their neighborhood from gentrification is to support the arts.
She is not alone in her views. Surreal artist Cynthia Tom agrees. Like Merrill, Cynthia and her circle of artists on Bryant Street have been struggling to stay in the Mission District.
One very important supporter of Merrill's work is Back To The Picture art & framing shop on Valencia Street, in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District. Merrill has been a customer there for many years. Manager, Derek Hargrove explained, "Catherine also has been a great help to us in putting together shows. It is a way for us to help artists and the community. We have gallery shows every other month or so."
On Sept. 17, the gallery at the Back To The Picture shop will be having a reception for Merrill and five other artists. Entitled "A Passion For The Figure" the exhibit will feature Merrill's work along with fellow artists Fernando Reyes, Michael Ruiz, Tsungwei Moo, Stephen Namara and Julie Marsh from Sept. 17 to Oct. 16.
"Having places like the San Francisco Woman Artists Gallery and Back To The Picture shop is a way for the people, artists especially to push back (against these gentrification forces), little by little."
For more information about ceramic artist Catherine Merrill at Back To The Picture art & framing shop and gallery, visit the artist's web page.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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