Masterminds 2009 Finalists

Meet the 10 Bay Area artists who will compete to win three $2,500 grants from SF Weekly.

If we needed any more proof that there are a lot of great artists in the Bay Area, we got it while judging this year's Masterminds contest. We received more than 70 submissions from local artists, and it wasn't easy narrowing the field down to our 10 favorites. In naming the finalists, we wanted to pick an eclectic mix of people working in different media. From this list, we'll choose three artists who will receive $2,500 grants to spend however they want. Winners will be named Thursday, Feb. 19, at our Artopia event at Project One, where many of the finalists' work will be on display. Hope to see you there.

Peter Raphael Russo
Many of us in the Bay Area have used Craigslist to find cheap furniture. In the spirit of creative reuse, designer Peter Russo went a step further, obtaining junk from the “Free Stuff” section of Craigslist and turning that junk into functional but mind-bending chairs and furniture. One wood-framed chair features a quilt of woven old ties used to make the C-shaped seat. His masterpiece, though, is a sofa that uses sod grass instead of seat cushions and back rests. “My furniture is modern, with somewhat of a mid-century influence,” he says. “I strive for all of my work (both furniture and nonfurniture alike) to be serious but not stuffy, with an eye for detail.” Russo didn’t say how often someone would need to mow the sofa.

Jose Montesinos
This is exactly what DIY filmmaking should be: crude, odd, and rough, but easy to watch and funny. Jose Montesinos seems to have Robert Rodriguez' innate sense of nuts-and-bolts composition and sound, John Waters' egalitarian potty humor, and Russ Meyer's love of butt-kickin' babes. Sharp editing means the pacing is right, and sharp editing is hard work. Montesino's Hell's Kittens, the boner-joke–spitting little sister of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, is currently our favorite piece, but his other work — a kung fu soap opera, for one — shows that he is reliably good at making movies.

Nara Denning
Nara Denning is the girl version of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin; her antique aesthetic is mixed with a real gift for storytelling and some tech genius. Her silent films show off San Francisco in all its blackshadowed glory, buildings tilted impossibly and neon signs glowing from every corner. Shadows and reflections are specialties, often digitally enhanced but never corny. She also draws from an interesting pool of local talent, notably composer Stoo Odom, whose original scores help hold her silent narratives together.

Jasmin Zorlu
Jasmin Zorlu's hats are famous: Erykah Badu has three. Using fur felt and — seriously — fish leather, Zorlu makes hats that recall flappers, freedom fighters, and femmes fatales. Convertible cloches, military caps infested with bows, and her signature Molecular Mermaid Helmet come from a broad background in clothing design, and a special interest in your head. Zorlu is very much an artist with a specific vision, and we're excited she calls San Francisco home. Talent, skill, energy, and hard work mean this independent-minded milliner has a strong future in the fashion world.

Anastasia Winter Schipani
A huge, blackish, embroidered koi pond; a manzanita-branch–based sculpture; and a couple of psychedelic battle pillows inhabit the truly strange world of Anastasia Winter Schipani's art. The longtime local and San Francisco Art Institute alum is obsessed with matadors and bulls and their death fights — not too ladylike. Yet her work is often sewn or even worn, and nothing says “girl ghetto” like cotton batting and shiny thread. Thus Schipani holds a weird place in any art context, and we like that. Particularly amazing are her large-scale tapestries, which draw from the wall-hanging traditions of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, but which are pointedly modern in theme.

Tyson Ayers
Tyson Ayers uses large piano parts to create what he calls a “Sound Cave.” People crawl inside the cave, a tiny space that's also grand, and run their fingers along the strings. He says the cave captures any sounds the person makes “and echoes them back for long periods of time.” Ayers' piano soundboards are specially tuned to the Schumann resonances, a mysterious scale that reflects the music made by planet Earth as lightning strikes. Oh, and Soundboard #5 is tuned to the Music of the Spheres, the “same mathematical formula as the Earth — Moon — Sun.” It's all pretty cosmic, and pretty cool.

Brendan Lott
While many people think of art as a personal expression unique to its maker, Brendan Lott does not – in fact, he outsources his work. Lott trawls photo-sharing Web sites for his source material: ordinary snapshots of people he's never met, many of whom are posed in sexually suggestive ways (a woman showing off her thong, a postcoital threesome). Once he finds photos he likes, he sends them to China, where he pays artists to paint them photorealistically. “These works began as an attempt to bring my practice in line with my life as a person living in 21st-century America — wholly mediated, isolated, digital and decentralized and devoid of manual labor or craft,” Lott says in his artist's statement. “I have no direct input into the development or manufacture of any product I consume. I think this is wonderful.” We do, too.

Juliette Tinnus
Do any serious artists do still-lifes anymore? The answer is yes. Our proof: Juliette Tinnus. But the photographer applies clever twists to the old genre. In some of her works, she combines objects that wouldn’t ordinarily go together, such as tree branches decorated with Post-Its and a bullhorn covered by a legwarmer. In others, Tinnus uses old-fashioned material to make a visual counterpoint: One photo depicts what looks like a classic tabletop still-life except for a crocheted fabric that reads “In a world dominated by technology,” she says, “I feel inspired to return to handmade methods.”

Mari Naomi
Mari Naomi has made a name for herself among comic nerds for Estrus, which she described in a 2007 interview with SFist as “mostly a collection of embarrassing autobiographical comics about my love life.” But while some have fallen in love with her comic, we fell for her paintings and watercolors. Our favorite pieces are her watercolors that combine two of our favorite things: clowns and sumo wrestlers. These sumo-wrestling clowns belch primary-colored balloons as they grapple with each other and assume those funny sumo-style squats. We also admired her works using recycled materials such as the “Broken Heart” series. In “Set Them Free,” Naomi painted comical fishes on the panes of an old window that swim by a collage of love letters and gifts from high school boyfriends in the background of the frame. In her works, she manages to be humorous and vulnerable at the same time, qualities that seem as though they should be familiar to Estrus readers.

Katie Bush
We knew we'd like Katie Bush. when we read her letter to us saying that “her art vagina hurts” after having spent her life “giving birth to a distinct body of creative digital work.” Boing Boing blogger Xeni Jardin describes Bush as “an American artist whose work explores the possibilities of ready-made clip art in a warped, funny, and satirical re-evaluation of the American Dream.” Bush's Web sites and supersized digital illustrations are political, but not preachy, thanks to her bawdy sense of humor. Her most recent exhibition, for instance, was inspired by the recent voter-approved ban on gay marriage. The exhibition's title for this serious subject: “You & What Army! Combative Digital Love Squirts by Katie Bush.” One large-scale triptych shows, in Bush's words, an ominous Mormon church aiming nuclear missiles “at screaming gay baby heads who projectile vomit color onto … lesbian cheerleaders.” In other words, something for everyone.

To see more works by these artists, visit

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