The Clarion Hotel in down town Oakland is a modest hotel tucked away two minutes from the Bart Station in the city centre between a parking lot and another apartment complex. Coming off the train at the Bart Station however, I headed off in the opposite direction and took another 30 minutes to locate the hotel. I had already failed to get off the train initially when I was supposed to, so I had ended up going all the way to Richmond and then back-tracking the stops till I got back to 12th Street, Oakland City Centre.
After checking in I spent 2 hours of Friday night walking around a 2 block radius of where the hotel is. My first impression of the City centre was that it was full of characters I would easily find interesting enough to draw. My experience in Auckland, New Zealand however has thought me that, often, if not always, street characters disappear at first light. The ones that remain at day time are often the less moody, sleepy looking, walking talking down and outs who really can't care less that another day has come and the world is moving on from yesterdays struggles all around them. You will find them perched on a park bench or at a bus stop or near a trash can. These characters are often more quieter and less aggressive.
I have always said these characters are like totem poles. Carved by necessity and a will to survive, they entrench themselves to a corner of the street; often unintentionally so. But it is their spirit and will to live. Their ability to survive in these cosmopolitan melting pots that are bigoted by time and money and driven by a system, a system that often they have lost their all to that draws me to them. These fellow human beings are a testament to the vigorous human spirit, the unending and unbendable will to survive and the sincere strength to live another day. In documenting them, my aim has always been to explore and understand this determination and will. Often, I have wondered if I would be able to survive if ever I was put in their shoes.
Saturday the 11th found me meeting up first with Kevin Chen and later Andrea Martin from the De Young. Kevin and I visited the The Bulb, in Albany. Graffiti, sculpture and installation art can be found all around this landfill peninsula. The two seated figure sculptures and the standing man sculpture that looks like it just stepped out of the sea were my favorites. After grabbing some lunch we later visited the studio of December artist in residence at the Kimbell Gallery, Street Color.
It was interesting to visit the creative space that she works in and to chat to her about her intentions for her residency and how she was preparing for that amidst her other engagements.
The Oakland Museum was next up on Sunday. After checking out of the Clarion, I headed southeast along 13th Street towards the Museum. I spent the first hour and a half looking at works that are currently part of the show Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California. The exhibition featured four creative communities at decisive moments in the history of California Art. I was particularly drawn to the works byDiego Rivera. My introduction to Diego Rivera and his work was by way of a reading book that I had bought at a pawn shop or what we call a second hand shop. It was truly an amazing experience to be physically in a space, walking around looking at his paintings, studies and drawings as opposed to reading about them from a book. I then ventured on to the History Section of the Museum. Among all the interesting exhibits there, the John Ehn (1897-1981) pieces are by far my favorite pieces. I guess this is largely because of the fact that the common medium throughout the series that was on display was cement, paint andsilica.
I returned on Sunday to San Francisco rejuvenated and feeling ready to begin planning for the start of my residency. Oakland in general was a very enjoyable visit. I did not get to draw at all and thats only because I felt too self conscious about pulling out my sketch book and drawing in public although I know no one would have bothered if I did. I am now drawing characters that interested me during my time there from memory. That in itself is an exhilarating experience for me as it allows me to draw the things that impressed me the most, the characteristics of place and subject that have lingered to live on in the recesses of my mind.