From museums to countless murals and galleries, San Francisco is a sacred ground for artists and art lovers alike.
Just as would-be actors chase the Hollywood lights in L.A., aspiring artists trek to The City in hopes of seeing their work on the walls.
So when &THEM Collective's "Stories x The Step" exhibit opened last month at the Hotel Des Arts' acclaimed San Francisco art gallery — with several Union City artists on the bill — locals came out to show their support.
About 100 people, many from Union City, crowded the narrow hallways of the hotel when the exhibit opened on Dec. 16. The exhibit, which runs through March, features 11 Bay Area artists including Union City's Jessica Gill, Dominic Grum, Gunwoo Pak, Bryant Sina and .
“Getting into San Francisco is huge,” said Pak, a Union City native who works as a front desk agent at Hotel Des Arts. “It’s a bigger stepping stone, especially coming from Union City, which is such a small town.”
&THEM, the quartet of curators who organized the exhibit, includes Union City residents Kevin Correa and Francis Ramos. When they got the opportunity to host a gallery at the hotel, they immediately thought of artists from their hometown.
“We wanted to provide that step and help them get into an acclaimed venue,” Correa said.
Many of the featured artists have a unique and unconventional approach to art, which is what caught Correa’s eye.
Bryant Sina’s entrée to art was graffiti. Sina, 23, took the skills he learned from the frowned-upon street art and fused it with traditional portraiture. While combining graffiti and traditional art is nothing new, Sina often plays with darker themes than what’s commonly seen in lowbrow art. He adds a unique twist to his work — yarn.
Most of the 12 pieces Sina has currently on display feature yarn strewn about. In one piece, yarn covers a girl’s mouth, as if gagging her. In another, the yarn stitches up a missing chunk of the wooden canvas.
The Union City artist isn’t sure how to describe his work. To him, art is art.
“It’s all just finding the beauty in the brushstroke,” Sina said.
This is the first time Sina’s work is being shown in a San Francisco gallery. Like most of the Union City artists in the exhibit, his work was first displayed at .
“I’ve seen their artwork mature, and it’s really exciting to see them grow,” said Paddy Iyer, owner of the coffee shop, which offers a venue for aspiring artists, musicians and comedians.
Sina held a solo show in 2008 at Paddy’s and returned the following year in a group exhibit with After the Clock, a five-member Union City art collective that includes Grum and Gill.
Gill, 22, is the sole member of ATC who doesn’t have a background in graffiti, though the influence of her peers is evident in her work.
Lowbrow art, a modern art movement that draws from skate, punk, graffiti and various subcultures, is dominant in the Bay Area art scene. Gill got hip to the style through Sina when they were classmates at .
“I didn’t think there was that big of an art scene,” said Gill, who has dabbled with different styles of art since she was a child. “After seeing the work of all of these [lowbrow] artists, I was really influenced by it.”
A defining theme of Gill’s work is her exploration of feminine beauty. She creates detailed portraits, highlighting the facial features of women.
“When I think of beauty, I think of a woman’s face,” said Gill, a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “I like tweaking them out and manipulating them.”
While sales of the artwork have been modest, Correa considers the exhibit a success in establishing a Union City presence in San Francisco. As more opportunities arise, he’ll continue to support Union City artists, he said.
“I stay in Union City, I was raised out here, so it’s good to see Union City people get their shine,” Correa said. “As a fan of their artwork, I want to see them do their thing.”
"Stories x The Step" runs through March at Hotel des Arts in San Francisco.