Caught in the grip of multiple transformational forces wreaking dramatic change, the face and character of San Francisco is in the middle of an identity crisis. Prices are soaring, populations are in exodus, buildings are being replaced at a rapid clip, and who could forget the return of a tech world that is younger than its first iteration and has even fewer ties than ever to any sort of history or tradition that created the world they operate in. In short, San Francisco has become the shared petri dish of many hundreds of social, economic, and tech experiments all happening at once.
Passing through 111 Minna Gallery last week, I found painter Brian Barneclo finishing a painting on the gallery's performance stage for his show 'There Goes The Neighborhood' due to open the next day. While he worked, I took a look around at the finished paintings already hanging on the walls. Surveying the offering, I found a mixture of styles, among them abstracts, narrative social realism pieces, and works that are heavily influenced by graphic design.
Barneclo, who grew up in Indiana and went to school for art at Indiana University, has lived in San Francisco since 1996. Landing here, Barneclo quickly found work as a commercial mural and sign painter for a local company. When the job came to an end he continued to find work painting murals and creating signs, which garnered him some attention and led to commissions for a number of walls, including one at Facebook's headquarters. More recently, Barneclo completed the largest mural in San Francisco (600 ft long.), located at 7th and Townsend Streets.
While still working at the commercial painting company, Barneclo developed his studio practice out of the desire to be able to show work in galleries and to give people the opportunity to put a piece of his work in their homes. Today, Barneclo utilizes both avenues of expression to explore the issues closest to him. After taking a break from painting, Barneclo sat down with me to discuss the show and what inspires him.
"There goes the neighborhood, this show, comes out of a mediation on the changing face of San Francisco," said Barneclo. His studio is located at 6th and Market Streets, which has given him prime vantage point to witness not only the changes happening in the neighborhood as the forces of gentrification have moved in, but he has also seen the eviction process play out in his own building. "That neighborhood is super changing right now. Twitter and everybody is moving in, so there goes the neighborhood."
While there is the immediate context of the changes happening directly around him, he is quick to point out that the forces that are changing things here are also playing out on a global level. Looking at the diversity of painting styles in the show, it is easy to see Barneclo actively exploring different modes of expression to communicate the ideas that interest him.
The majority of the work in the show is narrative in nature, reminiscent of the the work of Stuart Davis (the noted abstract social realist of the 1930s) with it's abstract forms, inclusion of figures, and the presence of text all blended together. However, whereas the influence of Picasso's cubo-surrealism is present in Davis's work, Barneclo has taken Stuart's style and mixed it with that of Saul Bass, the creator of the iconic graphic style that came to define the late 1950s and early 1960s, and added elements of the San Francisco Mission School of painters.
The result is work that is less interested in abstraction and pattern (though there is plenty of it) and more interested in representing the social changes happening in the world -- increased ethnic diversity, population upheavals, the dominance of technology culture, the interconnectedness of everything around us.
Aside from the narrative works, there are a handful of pure abstracts, a small version of the 600 foot mural, and a video of the artist painting said mural. But, perhaps the most indicative symbol in this show of the times we live is is the large figurative painting Barneclo was finishing when I entered. It contains two black male figures in the middle of a turf dance. "Turf dancing is an Oakland based phenomenon," according to Barneclo. in it people dance as a way of representing what part of the Oakland they are from. In today's ever shifting world, finding ones "turf", as it were, and defending it is an ever more difficult thing to do, as many in this city have recently found out.