“Give me a blessing, I need it,” artist René Yañez called out in Spanish to his friend who had arrived at Alley Cat Bookstore and Gallery on Sunday.
The man was there to do just that – to give a blessing in the space exhibiting art from three local artists threatened by the all too common double whammy of poor health and unstable housing.
Yañez, who suffers from cancer, and his partner Cynthia Wallis, with the same affliction, have been fighting their eviction from their home on San Jose Avenue since they were given notice in July of 2013.
Yañez, a cofounder of the Galería de la Raza and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, remains an active artist and still curates the annual Dia de Los Muertos show at SOMArts – a day that he helped make a citywide event. He’s hopeful about his battle against the eviction, for which he has recruited the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s Raquel Fox. For his health, he goes to the Veteran’s hospital and gets spiritual cleansings from his healer friends.
“People are very kind,” Yañez said. “That’s why I love the Mission. It’s like family. I’ve known people here since the 70’s. I’ve been here so many years it’s in my DNA.”
But his artwork on display at Alley Cat Books this last month seems to belie a longing for a time when things weren’t so hard, when there were more familiar faces in the neighborhood. Or perhaps for stronger resistance — one of the pieces features some stoic men telling the viewer, “I want YOU Raza for royal Chicano airforce.”
The images are 3D, with glasses supplied. At first, words and letters stand out. With glasses, faces and the edges of the images come to the forefront.
“This technique has lots of layering and subtext,” Yañez said.
The clocks displayed among Dogpaw Carrillo’s work are also thick with subtext. These indicators of time run out used to hang on the wall of Carrillo’s home on Capp street, from which he was recently and finally evicted after a series of small legal battles.
The hands of many of the clocks, like Carillo’s life, revolve around the faces of records. One of the few things he deemed “sacred” and indispensable in his move out was his collection of more than 1,400 records. They’re in storage, along with photos, poster art he created, pictures of his mother, and a stereo he dreams about being able to once again sit and listen to.
Carrillo, meanwhile, is couchsurfing with a friend on 24th street and looking for a place to live. He’s also recovering from some mold inhalation and a pulled muscle near a hernia that has already required surgery once.
“I’m in midstream, the current is very strong.”
He isn’t likely to stay in the city, though he’s looking for a place in the Outer Sunset. Other options include Vallejo and Portland, or even somewhere in New Mexico. In the meantime, he’s turned to writing and arranging for exhibits.
Sunday’s event, “Dogpaw Carrillo’s Art Party,” attracted a crowd that included some of the Mission old guard such as Lou Dematteis, Calixto Robles, and groups like Loco Bloco and Mutiny Radio.
It was the last day of his exhibition with Yañez and Michael Roman, a prolific silkscreen artist with an even more precarious housing situation that, from Carrillo’s description, borders on homelessness. Roman was present only in the works he had displayed and in his wearable art some visitors arrived in.
But somehow, there’s strength in numbers, and even these struggling artists show no signs of slowing down. Carrillo, since his eviction, has turned to writing and intends to craft both a San-Francisco based story and a science fiction time travel story. Yañez, Director of Special Projects at SoMArts is already putting together another exhibition with Roman, an event dubbed “Soulstice Party.”
In some ways the act of continuing to create art is its own tonic. Carrillo admitted that it’s comforting to know that other artists are going through the same and come together in spite of it all.
“If it wasn’t for some of this art stuff, I might be even more stressed,” he said. “It’s all good…I force myself sometimes to see it that way.”