BY KIMBERLY CHUA AND RIGOBERTO HERNANDEZ
Mud wrestling, craft shows and a roller disco costume party are business as usual at CELLspace, but on Saturday the art venue did something out of the ordinary—celebrated one of its visiting residents.
Sherry Wong’s show, “Play All,” showcased her paintings as the first graduate of the International Artist Residency program that CELLspace launched this year.
“I could have never done this in New York,” Wong said of the residency in San Francisco. “All your friends help you put a show together and volunteer and are just there for you.”
The 13,000-square-foot arts venue located at 2048 Bryant St. started Project 2048 to bring artists from elsewhere to live in one of the four resident spaces for four months.
Several of Wong’s new friends were on hand for the night’s festivities, which the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence kicked off with a blessing. Guests were then treated to a contemporary dance performance and a fashion and drag show before the floor was opened up for dancing.
Wong said she came to San Francisco to escape the difficult art environment in New York.
“The art market there was crashing, things weren’t selling well and it was expensive,” she said. “I was like, ‘I need a break.’ Because of the career drive you panic and you look at yourself and ask, ‘How can I make it? How can I survive?’”
So she and Alissa Anderson, fellow artist and friend of ten years, embarked on a week-long cross-country trek to San Francisco.
“It’s not like New York,” Wong said. “We have 400, 500 galleries — it’s a whole system set up. There are tons of artists here, but there is less of an art world community.”
Nevertheless, she said, she’s found plenty of support at CELLspace.
So much that what should have been a visit will likely become a permanent stay, she said.
Francisca Ribeiro, a photographer from Portugal, is the other resident at CELLspace and will be showcasing her work next month.
“I love my friends here,” Wong said. “They make me happy, because I was clinically depressed in New York. Here people are career-centered too, but they have other things going on for themselves.”
While Wong has mostly done self-portraits, during her residency she painted her friends. The switch honored their importance in her life, but also demonstrates the diversity of her San Francisco community.
“When it’s tough times, what they do is kind of like look around,” she said. “It’s not inward like in New York — the show is reflecting of that.”
Many of the roughly 200 guests in attendance considered this — sometimes staring at their own reflections on canvas.
Five of Wong’s friends who have worked in companies like Google, YouTube and IBM were featured in the painting, “The Court of Rufus.”
“We’re actually representing technology and sort of the nerd factor,” said Ellen Beldner, whose dog Rufus was front and center. “It’s not just art — it’s also technology.”
They said it was a complete surprise to see the finished product after hearing that a photograph taken at a barbecue was going to be turned into a painting.
“The paintings are really interesting and the crowd is great,” Kelly Bowles said of the entire event. “It’s a nice time and it’s great to see the painting that you’re in.”