Bean There, Candied That

Jason Mecier has a métier, and it's mosaic: beans, pasta, yarn, candy, junk, and pencils combined in a kitsch-art wonderland

I have powers pinto beans can only dream of!

-- Happy Noodle Boy

There's not much to distinguish this Victorian from all the others on this modest slope of Potrero Hill except for the metal gate, which is handmade and conspicuously artful amidst the otherwise tatty façades. In San Francisco, this should be hint enough. Beyond the gate, a long dark corridor (known as the "poster hallway" for the collage work that runs overhead and down its length) leads under the main house, to a farm cottage overlooking a small garden. Stepping out of the shadows into the private world of Jaina Davisis not unlike suddenly stumbling into a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale: In this secluded sun-patch, wildflowers and untamed plants stretch their tendrils across the garden path; china-plate mosaics glimmer along the fences; weather-bleached murals adorn the walls; and mounds of polished stones and freshly packed earth mark the budding of fresh idyllic endeavors.

"Lots of people have keys to the house," says Jason Mecier, unlocking the cottage door. "There's always something to do, work to be done. In the house, in the garden, in the garage. This is how Grandma keeps her artist friends employed."

"Grandma Davis" is actually an attractive woman in her early 30s, but the pet name is pleasingly appropriate. Frequently attired in floral dresses and big hats, the self-proclaimed "eccentric heiress" displays no uncertain fondness for baking fresh pies and cookies, which she serves up to those she has occupied with creative projects. Consequently, friends come and go, dropping in to work, to talk, or simply to admire the latest enhancement.

Today, though, Davis is away and the house feels as if it has been deserted by one of Tennessee Williams' crumbling ingénues. Shafts of dusty sunlight creep across the living room floor, imbuing the peculiar jumble of junk-store bargains, graceful antiques, and pop art with the texture of aging newsprint. In one corner of the room, a gleaming Victrola stands forgotten, with its lid raised and its hand crank poised like an invitation; in another corner, a Domino's Pizza box made entirely of sequins offers a sparkling pie, long dried up and ornamented with sequined cheese and sequined pepperoni created by Kate Fenker. Upstairs, rooms reflect the infatuation and whimsy of various artists: a bathroom painted like a piece of 18th-century porcelain; a music room seasoned by opium; an attic room that reflects sunlight like a blood-red gemstone; another inlaid with a river of smooth stones and painted sky blue; a guest room reminiscent of a Victorian orphanage; Davis' own simple bedroom sporting garish carpet from Las Vegas' Circus Circus; and others, all sparsely furnished and in various states of completion. But these rooms are not my destination. Rather, it's the hallway leading to these rooms that I've come to admire, a work that has taken Jason Mecier five years to complete.

Thirty-four-year-old Jason Mecier was born into a crafty California family and duly inspired by his grandmother, whose weavings, stained glass, and driftwood sculptures are displayed throughout the Mission flat he now shares with artist boyfriend Adam Ansell. One of his earliest pieces of work, a tiny mosaic of kidney beans and pinwheel pasta, is nestled discreetly between the mantel and the utility shelves on his side of the home studio, which is designated by a proliferation of hot-glue gun refills, plastic bins, and vintage Hamburger Helperpackaging.

"I guess that was the beginning," says Mecier with an unassuming shrug. "I did it with my grandmother when I was 5."

Easily the world's pre-eminent creator of bean-and-noodle art, Jason Mecier is a large man with the smile and temper of a bashful child, and an uncanny knack for capturing pop-culture ephemera through beans, pasta, yarn, candy, and everyday detritus. His celebrity portraits have been a staple of San Francisco's kitschy-art set for more than a decade; his tactile representations of Mary Tyler Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Tammy Faye Bakker, the Golden Girls, the Dukes of Hazzard, Pamela Anderson, Belva Davis, Carol Channing, and Helen Gurley Brown have adorned walls in Glama-Rama, La Luz de Jesus, Adobe Books, Intersection for the Arts, Southern Exposure, ArtRock, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; commissions include countless concert posters (everyone from the Spice Girlsto Willie Nelson), birthday portraits (for Björket al.), album art (check out the Flying Lizards), and a disturbing vegetable-and-dip platter made to resemble Martha Stewart. And still he is underappreciated.

"It can be a little depressing," says Mecier, speaking of his recent attempt to meet Farrah Fawcett upon completing a 9-by-12-foot reproduction of her famous swimsuit poster, composed completely of original Fawcett merchandise, for a Yerba Buena exhibit. "I scrambled to get the posters ready on time, drove all the way to L.A., hung out at the bookstore all day, stood in line for hours, and they wouldn't even let me show her the poster. You know, if I were famous, like Andy Warhol or something, her people would be contacting me, but as it is I'm just a creepy celebrity stalker. She's still my favorite, though." Other celebrities have been more encouraging. An effusive card from Tammy Faye Bakker expresses interest in Mecier's wish to make a portrait out of Bakker's used makeup containers.

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