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Paul Madonna


"I guess you could call them mistakes or a screw-up perspective or something, but I just keep going with it and play with it."
-- Paul Madonna
View Spark segment on Paul Madonna. Original air date: April 2006. (Running Time: 5:51)
View Spark Web extra on Paul Madonna discussing his process. (Running Time: 0:52)

Paul Madonna's work captures the subtle and intricate tones, spaces and moods of San Francisco neighborhoods. Madonna draws "All Over Coffee," a lyrical and often enigmatic comic strip published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Spark catches up with the artist as he begins work on a Mission District scene for his strip.

Madonna works directly in ink on paper, painstakingly rendering minute architectural details. He forgoes pencil sketches of his subjects, so oftentimes his renderings aren't perfect, lending them a detached quality that offsets their otherwise photographic detail. Once he has captured his subjects in contour drawings onsite, Madonna goes back to his studio and uses photographs of the site to aid him in shading his drawings with ink washes.

The snatches of text that complete the strips often pre-exist the drawings and usually bear a tangential or obscure relationship to the scene that Madonna has represented. Sometimes words in Madonna's strips appear to be excerpts of an overheard conversation, whereas other times they seem like meditative thoughts. Madonna carefully plays with the relationship between image and text in his work, creating an open and fluid association between the two.

Madonna adds to the mystery of his strips by removing any sense of movement from his scenes; otherwise busy streets are portrayed eerily empty, absent of human figures and cars. The overall tone is one of stillness and reflection. His images appear almost as memories, and the captions seem like disembodied voices emanating from unseen sources.

Paul Madonna grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While still in high school he began attending art classes at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he eventually completed a B.F.A. in 1994. During his senior year of college, Madonna became the first art intern ever taken in by MAD Magazine. Upon graduation, he moved to San Francisco and began making minicomics, which he left in public places for free. In 2004, Madonna began doing "All Over Coffee," which appears weekly in the San Francisco Chronicle.

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