Scent of a Butterfly. By Tuan Tran, in exhibit at Art Explosion. Photos for this story by Mabel Jiménez.

Art Explosion, a yearly open studio event, kicked off Friday night as  some 140 Mission artists welcomed snoopers, buyers and browsers into their studios at three main locations – one on Alabama Street, one on Harrison, and a third studio on 17th Street. All are within reasonable walking distance.

Still, it’s a bit overwhelming to sample so many different perspectives and mediums all in one night. Though the music, wine and food at the opening bash did help fuel my wandering, I decided to stick to one location and cover the last two on Saturday.  

I began by taking a stroll through all three floors filled with art in the location at 744 Alabama. Perhaps the best way to explore such a volume of work is to keep moving even when you see something you really like, making sure you explore every corner and studio. Once you have an idea of what is there, you can make the best use of your time and come back to the work that stood out to you the most.

Paintings and drawings are unquestionably the bread and butter in this space, and these can be found in every style and size: from those concerned purely in the aesthetic, to those which are nothing if not political. Paintings that resemble photographs in their detail, as well as those filled with angry strokes and made in minutes. In other words, there’s something for everyone.

Among all the  paintings, drawings and illustrations, were scattered exceptions, such as jewelry, sculpture, clothing, photography, maps, and a few others that defy all classification.

Shelley Monahan creates paintings based on family snapshots. She removes elements from the photo, such as the faces of the grownups. “I’m interested in helpless creatures,” said Monahan. By removing the faces of adults in her paintings, the children are “left to fend for themselves.”

Her interest in helplessness is also reflected through the imagery of dead animals. Though the idea may sound gross, Monahan’s dead fox carved on a silver serving platter is actually both delicate and peaceful. The carving is not very deep, and so the designs didn’t immediately stand out when I first walked into her studio. However, these pieces are the kind that reward the patient observer, and more and more details begin to emerge, gradually building a sense of awe.

Monahan also creates sculptures using doilies, held into shape with wax. Her piece of a rabbit with red yarn for intestines made with this technique is in keeping with the theme of helpless creatures. Including elements that are symbolic of classic femininity and domesticity, such as the doilies and the serving platters, is not a coincidence. She likes “combining feminine identity with the grotesque,” adding that sometimes she feels very attracted to her own femininity, and at other times, repulsed by it.

At a nearby space in the building, is the work of Antjuan Dewande Oden. His paintings are an explosion of bright colors and bold, isolated strokes. Every painting has a meaning and message. You may not be able to decipher it all in one afternoon, but for Dewande, it is all about the message. “Everything is political, everything is an issue… the way you take out your garbage and put it out on the street, that’s an issue too… to how you choose to dress.”

Most of his paintings contain historical references that most minorities in America are familiar with: colonization, stereotypes, civil rights leaders. His White Washing series is especially witty, and this painting of Christopher Columbus, shown below, is part of the collection.

Some of his paintings have a myriad of shapes and details, and he will spend years on a piece, while some others, like the one he poses with up top, he paints in a matter of minutes. However, perhaps a less political, and more personal piece, is the painting below, of his daughter. It took him two years to complete it, because he “kept changing her … thinking about her experience” as a child born to a multiracial dad and a German mother.

The work of Tuan Tran is hard to define. They are not paintings or sculptures, but gathered materials, all of which are recycled, down to the frames. These objects are the materialization of ideas about God and existence.

A large round mirror, framed with the images of various deities, placed on top of CDs, held together with string in beautiful patterns, aims to answer the question, where is the real God? “Everyday we wake up, every day we go around wondering, who is the real God?” asks Tran. “If you want the real God, just look at a mirror, there is your God. Man created God right, so there you go,” adds Tran, noting that all cultures have held beliefs on a deity or deities.

Another piece pondering the divine is God’s DNA, made up of real test tubes filled with the images of deities and colored string. It plays on our idea of DNA as what defines who we are, and applies this concept to Gods and how humanity tries to define what God is.

Adrienne Leifer began making jewelry in 1999, and today she draws much of her inspiration on “whatever supplies I have sitting around.” Rather than always coming up with a design and buying the required supplies, she works the other way around.  She looks at what she has and creates something with it.

Sometimes even found objects are the source of inspiration, like the time when she found a single earring on the street. She tried using craigslist to return it to its rightful owner, but after that didn’t work, the earring got turned into the centerpiece for an exquisite necklace, riveting glass beads on to the earring and making the chain for it.

Besides working with beads and chains, she also melts enamel. The blue piece shown below, is made of melted glass enamel with several layers. It is a small, simple and elegant necklace, about the size of a dime.

Phew! That was just a small sample, showcasing a variety of mediums that stood out to your writer. Today and tomorrow are your chances to explore and find your own favorites.

Art Explosion studios are located on 2425 17th Street, also on 744 Alabama Street, and then just around the corner on 2345 Harrison Street. Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., admission is free. No excuses, welcome the Spring, see some art.

Mabel Jiménez

Mabel Jiménez is a freelance multimedia journalist and photographer who studied Photography and Journalism at San Francisco State University. She can't stay very long in one place and will gladly take...

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  1. Very well done article with stunning photos. Thanks! I was wondering what all the fuss was about in that seemingly empty store on Harrison yesterday. Great highlight of artists.

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