KQED: Sugar Sugar at Gray Area Gallery

by Kristin Farr | Original article can on kqed.org.

Gray Area Gallery is a baby gallery, less than two months old. Their second exhibition, Sugar Sugar, is cute and quirky and makes you want to pinch its cheeks. I was drawn to the group show because of Steven MacDonald, a local artist who creates stitched illustrations and sculptures on his Singer sewing machine. Three of MacDonald’s skateboard decks with embroidered fabric treatments were featured in the show, along with one of his embroidered cuckoo clocks with a design reminiscent of a paint-by-number book. A handful of framed works are also on display, including a tiny embroidered fawn in a gaudy gold frame. MacDonald uses a palette of metallic gold fabric and red thread that makes his work appear sumptuous and precious. Though it wasn’t included, he is famous for embroidering a fabric-covered, life-sized military tank.

For this textile-themed exhibit, Manuel “Gonz One” Gonzalez created a site-specific installation of his Audio Monsters, creatures that look similar to the Japanese television character, Domo-kun, and are made of vinyl and fur with amplified speakers hidden in their mouths that hook up to iPods or radios. At the opening reception, the monsters served as speakers for the DJ — a true interdisciplinary collaboration.

Many of Sugar Sugar’s artists have creative day jobs. It’s nice to see what happens when a commercial artist has the opportunity to make art for the sake of art, rather than success or a paycheck. Fashion designer, Kylea Borges created large, thread-covered cocoons that were clunky and beautiful. Hannah Stouffer, a designer for the artsy t-shirt and wallet company, Poketo, created animal illustrations suggestive of Victorian fabric, and architect Stephanie Choo’s framed assemblage pieces incorporated soft, round forms rarely found in structural designs. Disappointingly, I missed two of the artists’ pieces — most of Katja Ollendorff’s abstract fabric works had been sold, and Chris Golden’s video installation was unavailable because he’d taken his projector home.

Scott Barry’s corner installation resembled an altar with an afghan blanket laid out in front of a television. Surrounding the T.V. were some vases with faces on them and the words, “Holy Ghost” painted on the wall in Spanish. It seems that all the recent group shows I’ve seen incorporate at least one of these meditation-type corner installations. I can’t tell if many artists are currently exploring this format, or if I’m just seeing Barry’s work all over the place.

A rebirth of L.A.’s Hear Gallery, Gray Area was opened last November by Josette Melchor and Carrie Martin. Holding it down underground in San Francisco, they strive to provide an all-inclusive “safe space” for artists and gallery crawlers. Sugar Sugar’s curator, Catherine Kaleel, seemed genuinely and justifiably proud of the new digs and gave me a tour of the resident artists’ studios and the newly painted roof mural. Nestled between Slim’s and the DNA Lounge, right above Bowzer’s Pizza Place, they’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 6:00pm to Midnight to dovetail with the hours of other nightlife venues on that particular SoMA block. For emerging collectors, Gray Area’s art is affordable, even on a teacher’s salary. The gallery also smells terrific.

Gray Area is like an undiscovered indie rock band. When their exhibits start selling out and blowing up, you can be one of those self-righteous people who say, “I was into them way before they were famous.” Gray Area is located at 371 11th Street in San Francisco.

Hurry and check it out! Sugar Sugar’s closing reception is January 13, 2007.