Daisy Eneix holds up a shadow puppet she's using to teach elementary school students about positive and negative space.

Daisy Eneix is one Mission District artist who can say that she made a New Year’s resolution in 2010 and kept it. Her resolution: to overcome her fear of rejection and focus on making a name for herself in the art world. The best part of it? She succeeded.

Last New Year’s, Eneix was doing odd teaching jobs and feeling distanced from the gallery scene. But over the course of 2010 she had a breakthrough, exhibiting her work at Back to the Picture, City Art Gallery, Million Fishes Arts Collective and other galleries. She connected to artists via a drawing class at the Mission Cultural Center and renewed her love of teaching, which once seemed at odds with her artistic goals.

“Encounter,” one of Eneix’s 2010 prints.

Eneix, 42, has spent a lifetime as an educator, sharing her love of art with children. But she hadn’t fulfilled her dream of becoming a full-time artist herself.

“To me, being an artist is making and exhibiting art. This is the first year I’ve felt like I’m doing it.”

And the response to her work has been positive. She had an exhibition every month of 2010, and sold more pieces than ever — each for a few hundred dollars. Before, she had about four exhibitions a year, but never managed to revolve her life around practicing art.

Eneix started to take her art career seriously in 2004, when she was working as a children’s project director at the Palo Alto Art Center. A stranger from Switzerland approached her at the Center and said, “‘If you give me your slides, I’ll give them to the [Künstlerhaus Gallery] jurors and see what they think,’” Eneix recalled.

Next thing she knew, she was off to Switzerland with three months to create enough art to fill the gallery’s three floors. “I’d never done a solo show before,” she said. “I’d never been in a newspaper.”

After the residency, Eneix yearned to do more art-making than educating. She began to exhibit her work more often, and eagerly applied for an opportunity with a “superstar-making organization that shall remain nameless.”

During her application process, the organization came into Eneix’s life like a whirlwind, photographed and interviewed her, but ultimately rejected her. Burned by the failure, she pushed her dream to the side and stuck with her job in Palo Alto for three more years.

She turned to other artists for advice about improving her artwork, and they simply told her to do it more.

“I think being an artist is more like being an athlete than people think,” said Eneix. “When you don’t draw for a couple weeks, it really shows.”

In 2007, she regained enough confidence to make her first attempt at becoming a full-time artist. She quit her job to focus on creating art in her Valencia Street studio. But things didn’t go as planned.

Eneix’s studio, as seen through a Burning Man bicycle frame.

Between then and 2010, she and her husband, Travis, experienced two losses in their families, and Travis was laid off from his tech job. Instead of focusing on her art, Eneix had to take a number of short-term teaching jobs to make ends meet.

“It was kind of drilled in my brain that you have to have a salary or you’re missing some kind of value,” she said.

Feeling isolated and uncomfortable without a stable job, she fell into a dark place that hampered her progress. She struggled with a negative change she noticed in how people perceived her — before, she’d been a respected art program director, but after leaving she was just an artist with odd jobs.

Eneix felt like she was becoming the stereotypical tortured artist — but that’s not the type of artist she wanted to be. “I realized it’s kind of a prima donna thing. Not everyone has to like my work. If everyone likes my work, there’s something wrong with it.”

Rather than seeming reserved or timid, Eneix’s prints read as wild and uninhibited, featuring fairy tale-inspired animals, sensual relationships and themes of dominance and submission. She also made a series of rubbings of street manhole covers during her art residency in Switzerland.

Eneix’s “street skins” from Switzerland in 2004.

For Eneix, the answer to her career insecurity has been to balance being a full-time artist with being a part-time teacher.

“Teaching gives me that direct sense that you’re making a difference in the world, and it’s utilizing a skill I used a lot of time to develop. I underestimated what it would be like to go from dealing with 60 kids a day to zero.”

Now, she’s an art educator at the Jewish Contemporary Museum and also works in schools with the Leap program, introducing children from Bay Area schools to visual arts. As long as teaching is her secondary, not primary, occupation, it is an inspiration for Eneix.

“I remember at the beginning of the year, teaching Chinese brush painting with ink,” she said. “It started this little spark. What if you use ink in some of your sketches? Things from teaching start sneaking into my art.”

“Encounter” on Eneix’s press.

This year she’s learned that “you have to define your own markers of success and believe in them, because no one else is going to.” Now that she’s gained her footing in the San Francisco art scene, Eneix has a resolution for 2011.

“What I would really love to do is somehow start finding my way into books. I would love to collaborate with a poet.”

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J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

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