Steven Wolf Fines Arts has transformed one of their gallery spaces into a recreation of the live/work studio of longtime San Francisco artist Scott Williams. Often considered a predecessor of "Mission School" street artists such as Barry McGee -- presumably because he worked in the street, though this seems oversimplified -- Williams is most widely known for densely layered spray paint stencil murals. The artist began to cut and paint with stencils in the early '80s, after a period of experimenting with color Xeroxes. In the late '90s he transitioned to creating small-scale works with water-based airbrush for health reasons. In addition to large public murals, Williams' body of work includes domestically scaled paintings and handheld books, each page a singular artwork, among copious pages. The artist's life and process are the subjects on display in this exhibition. Rather than take Williams' work out of its element, as is often the case with recent "street art" exhibitions, the gallery offers an interior view of Williams' life and practice.
Courtesy Steven Wolf Fine Arts.
Picture rails ring the gallery, as do wainscoting and chair rails, in keeping with the traditional Victorian interior of Williams' Mission District apartment a few blocks away. Mismatched candelabra and the kind of light fixtures typical at home hang overhead. The walls are hung salon style with numerous works, some framed and some not. A bookcase jammed with paperbacks presides over one corner of the room, while a make-believe window is staged to recreate a window in Williams' apartment, complete with a swath of fabric pinned across the middle. In the center of the gallery, positioned over a worn rug, stands a table heaped with stencils. Whereas stencils are often considered the residue of stenciled paintings -- mere tools in the process -- Williams' stencils hold their own against the paintings themselves. Intricately hand cut, many bare evidence of repetitious use with layered sprays of color. The heaving pile of stencils in the gallery testifies to so much unappreciated labor, the crispness of each line lost in the aerated marks of the paintings.
Scott Williams, Everyone.
Williams' visual language runs the gamut of references, from animals to Hollywood icons and pin-ups to cowboy figures to skulls and Stalin, all of which seem to be featured on every wall of the gallery. Found paintings have images superimposed on them as well, such as that of a bucolic country scene with an army tanker inserted in one corner. The aesthetic conjures psychedelic and punk posters and the well-worn interiors of nightclubs. A hyperawareness of history and extreme politics -- in the works and in the books on display -- is suggestive of the kind of righteous paranoia that comes perhaps from having lived and worked for decades in the rapidly gentrifying urban heart of San Francisco. An Ouija board pinned in one corner combined with the Victorian appointments on display adds a sense of the uncanny.
Scott Williams, Astronauts and Indians.
Williams' career has been an unusual flow of highs and lows. Though he has worked in the area for a long time, his work is still widely unrecognized and he occupies a kind of cult status among his fans. He was the subject of a documentary called Spray Paint directed by Nick Gorski in 1991 and received the Adaline Kent Award from San Francisco Art Institute in 2005, an annual award that seeks to recognize under-appreciated California artists. Early exhibitions included alternative mainstays such as Southern Exposure, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Adobe Bookstore, while his murals have been featured in numerous venues including Clarion Alley, the Lab, Amoeba Records, and DNA Lounge in collaboration with the artist Rigo. Much of this activity, however, took place before Williams' work went indoors in the late '90s. Perhaps this is what prompted Steven Wolf Fine Arts to bring Williams' interior art practice into the public space of the gallery, granting another vantage point from which to consider the artist still at work cutting through life's mysteries with an X-acto knife.
Scott Williams: Home Invasion is on view at Steven Wolf Fine Arts through October 20, 2012. For more information, visit stevenwolffinearts.com