Unless you work for Goldman Sachs, times are tough now. They're especially hard on many Bay Area artists, who, let's face it, aren't rolling in cash even when the economy is good. That's why we love it when our annual Masterminds contest comes around: We get to hand out $2,500 grants to local artists to spend any way they want, and we get to feel we're doing something to help the good guys.
That's the cool part. The sucky part is we can't make everyone a winner, which inevitably results in some bruised egos. This year, it was especially difficult for us to narrow the field to a short list of finalists. We're not sure why (we suspect the economy had something to do with it), but we received more than 100 submissions — more than ever before. The quality of those entries was truly inspiring. That's why we have 12 finalists this year instead of the usual 10. Our goal was to have at least one finalist from each of the contest's four broad categories: visual arts, fashion/design, performing arts, and film/video/media.
This year, we will be giving $2,500 grants to three deserving artists. We'll announce the winners at our Artopia event, where all the finalists' work will be on display. It should be a good party, with great art. Hope to see you there. — Ed.
Like most teenagers, Phillip Hua didn't have a whole lot of direction. He knew he liked the art class that he'd taken in high school, but it wasn't until a community college art instructor pushed him to take his creative work more seriously that a path emerged. "She basically told me to go to art school," says Hua, now 30. "So I did."
At San Francisco's Academy of Art, Hua dabbled in many forms, taking painting and drawing classes. He got the most inspiration, though, from a job at a frame store. "I was working so much with the degradation of materials," he says. "I got the idea that if people spent nearly as much time on the environment as they did preserving their work, the world would be a different place." From that insight on the nature of time-sensitive materials, Hua began playing around with newspapers. He started a series of trees painted on Wall Street Journal pages — working with the juxtaposition of the economically minded publication and the icon of nature — that used the yellowing surface to great effect.
Hua's recent Mission District installation as part of the S.F. Arts Commission's Art in Storefronts series also plays on the withering effects of time on certain media. "Consider It" uses wilting flowers and phrases stenciled onto objects ("Stand up" appears on the seat of a red chair) to make a statement about America's unexamined consumer culture. While it was a nice break, he says, to not worry about producing saleable art from his disintegrating materials, he aims to return to his wallworks on a much larger scale. Same capitalist, environmental critique, just supersized.
While it would be inaccurate to say that painter and multimedia artist Joshua Hagler, 30, is a religious man, he is deeply fascinated by religious men, and faith in general. His interest in religious history around the world was piqued by his own experiences with Christianity. He grew up in a churchgoing small town in Idaho, but didn't become religious until college, where he became a Bible-thumping born-again. Around the same time, his parents' marriage was breaking up, and he converted his father to the faith. Shortly after, their divorce was finalized and Hagler himself fell quickly out of love with his chosen religion, although his father has remained devout. It was a rather strange switcheroo.
But, rather than picking apart Christianity, Hagler became fascinated by the universal qualities of world religions, how each seemed to find different answers to the same basic questions. He does not shy away from the grotesqueries found in many religious tracts. Take, for example, his "72 Virgins to Die For" show at Frey Norris in early 2009, which contained a vividly lurid set of paintings with an installation project. All the work played on virginity's multiple religious meanings, from the literal Islamic promise of 72 virgins in heaven to references to Mormonism. In one painting, "Golgotha," hurled tomatoes look like bloody body parts, sullying the handkerchiefed pilgrims. There's no one historic or religious scene being depicted, but a strange amalgamation and compression of different traditions.
Hagler is currently working on a video-based series that blends fact and fiction. He has chosen four figures from his own life to tell different stories (modeled on the Gospels), and has been interviewing them on camera. The results, though, won't be verbatim quotes; he will boil down their stories to archetypal forms. "The things that stay constant over time, the myths, that is what I find most interesting," he says.
Andrew Schoultz, 34, makes large, swirling paintings depicting elements of environmental and manmade chaos that are more suggestive than explicit. In his words, they are "nondefinite narratives." In his sprawling pieces, "the viewer isn't pressured to draw just one conclusion." But that doesn't mean he doesn't have certain things in mind when he makes them.
The Milwaukee native moved to the Bay Area as a teen, and says he was heavily influenced by underground cartooning and warlike play — he was fascinated by medieval castles, for instance. "The older I get, the more I can see this carryover of the interests I had as a kid being carried out as an adult," Schoultz says. "My interest in fantastical work, storytelling."
As an adult with an art education, Schoultz makes contemporary as well as historical references in his work. Militant figures on horses are reminiscent of Persian miniatures from the early 18th century: "For me, [using those images] is an attempt to be fully integrated into a globalized society." Still, his primary concern isn't to make art "for history buffs," but to "establish a general vibe." As he prepares to ship work for his spring show in Milan, he says he has been working on another issue of global and historical significance: the Great Recession.