Grabbing my hand, she said, “Come on, to the back. That’s where the magic happens.” Andrea Scher, a San Francisco artist and jewellery designer, led me to the back warehouse at Creativity Explored, a hidden jewel located in San Francisco’s Mission district.
Although I’d come to San Francisco fresh from art history class hoping to show off my proficiency with art lingo and find hidden meanings in paintings, I’d been uninspired. My trip to the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art left me wondering, “Where is the fun?”
Scher showed me. It lived in an unassuming little building that lacked a big sign, famous names, and any hint that it housed artists and their work.
Creativity Explored’s gallery looked like most – spare white walls, people at desks chatting on the phone, and a few curious patrons inquiring about artists’ work.
When Scher opened the back door, she revealed a place where not only magic but real art happens.
An explosion of colour hit me as I entered the room. It filled the walls, floors and ceilings. Sculptures, pictures and crafts overtook the entire warehouse. At tables everywhere artists busily worked on their projects. Vincent Jackson stood among them.
The instant he saw me, he stopped working on his sculpture and spoke to me – loudly. At first, his exuberance overwhelmed me. But as I relaxed and listened to Jackson, he gave me the perfect introduction to Creativity Explored.
“You know, them big fancy teachers in them big fancy schools, they gonna say that this ain’t art,” he said, pointing to his work. “They gonna say that what I do is what a child does and that’s why my stuff ain’t art. But I say, ‘Scuse you? Excuse you? This is art! This is creation! This is expression!’ I say to them big fancy people with all them degrees, ‘Let’s see you do this!’
Vincent, like his fellow artists at Creativity Explored, has a disability. After he spoke to me Scher explained that Jackson is mentally challenged. From what I heard I wasn’t so sure. His words made perfect sense to me. In fact, it made me rethink my own creative hang-ups.
In most galleries, only security guards approach you to you know you’re too close to an image. At Creativity Explored, it’s the artists who constantly approach you, vying for your attention.
James was the perfect example of an artist eager to show his work. This strong, silent man communicated with a cheeky grin and a finger pointed one of the many watches he owned. Later, I noticed his artwork always dealt with time and contained only images of watches. He wasn’t trying to make a social statement – he just really loved watches!
At the back of the room, I met artist member Abel, a soft spoken man who processed thoughts much slower than most men his age. As he worked on a collage, Scher asked him questions and discovered he only spoke Spanish. Through Scher translations, we learned he worked on collages literally day and night.
His current piece included trees of mythological proportions, with snakes wrapped around them and bulls standing nearby. Curious to find the meaning behind such a dramatic piece, Scher asked Abel, but he didn’t understand. Thinking she had translated the question poorly, she asked several different ways. Finally Abel stopped her, pointed to his painting and explained it: “These are birds, these are bulls, that is a tree·.”
My art professor taught me to look for meaning and artists’ statements, but never told me that some artists create because they simply enjoy creation. Thanks to Abel, I learned a huge art lesson.
None of Creativity Explored’s member artists spent years in art schools or travelled the world must-see museums. Instead, they created to express, regardless if it could be recognised. In fact, a lot of their work confused me – was it a cat, a bat or a dog? But their passion, pride and enthusiasm for their work, made me worry less about using fancy art lingo and more about enjoying the paintings’ energy.
Jackson Pollock once said, “You see a bunch of flowers and you enjoy them. You don’t analyse every part of them until there’s nothing left.” After experiencing Creativity Explored, I understand.
Fear and lack of knowledge stopped me from creating. However, a trip to Creativity Explored changed all that. I realised that art is about creation on any level. Painting a picture is art. Building a sculpture, is art. Creating merely for the joy of making things is art too. It isn’t always about technique, positive and negative space and political statements. Sometimes art is simply about putting paint to paper.
After, the member artists’ words and work inspired me to create, and I purchased a collage piece by Abel at the gift shop. Artists get half of the proceeds and the program retains the rest (which inadvertently gets back to the artist) so it was a good way to say thank-you for the creative spark they gave me.
Creativity Explored is a unique visual and personal experience lead me to think it is named more for the patrons, than the artists.
That’s a gallery worth visiting .
3245 16th Street, San Francisco CA 94103
phone: (415) 863 2108
fax: (415) 863 1655