The Bell Jar Shop is the newest curio store/gallery in the Mission. A vintage thread runs through their inventory, which includes old belt buckles, and bath products displayed in a claw foot tub. Their modest gallery marked with a saloon-style sign in the back of the shop was the perfect location for an intimate showing of Paul Madonna's tiny 5 x 5 inch drawings of Things Your Grandmother Taught You to Steal to Survive a Depression.
Paul Madonna's grandmother was obviously a fan of condiments as his eleven delicately rendered images of single-serving packets indicate -- two kinds of honey, two kinds of butter, malt vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, and a cellophane-protected toothpick. Each has perfectly replicated, recognizable logos, but the peel-away wrapper topping an Irish cream-flavored coffee creamer happens to subtly incorporate the show's title. In his signature style, the artist paid special attention to detail, perfecting things like the shade of gold on the foil wrapper of a melting pat o' butter, making each drawing delightful.
Madonna's work is, for me, a great demonstration of the quiet, underlying talent in San Francisco. His strip in the Chronicle, All Over Coffee, is drawn with skill (no penciled layout -- just pure, uninhibited ink) and highlights local locations and frames of mind, which are represented by imagined quotes. His strip is both absent and suggestive of people in your neighborhood, and you can see a vast five-year archive of the strip's original drawings and the artist's sketch books in another exhibition celebrating his work currently on view at the San Francisco Public Library.
The packets of condiments in Madonna's show at the Bell Jar Gallery hint at nostalgia with a nod to the current economic climate, and they are beautifully drawn in such a way that they deserve to be inspected up close and also admired from a distance. Madonna's hand turns everyday objects to sweet, stylized, illustrated perfection -- something I witnessed first hand as I watched him draw a tiny orange Creamsicle at this year's Monster Drawing Rally.
While at the Bell Jar Shop, take a look around. There's something for everyone -- including Metallica on the sound system, frilly frocks, children's blocks, and that two-headed taxidermic baby chicken you've been looking for.
Paul Madonna's Things Your Grandmother Taught You to Steal to Survive a Depression runs through June 17th, 2009. Five Years of All Over Coffee is on view at the San Francisco Main Library through August 23rd, 2009 where the artist will also be giving a talk and signing books on June 25th at 6pm in the Koret Auditorium.