Category Archives: oaksterdam

“Premonitions” at The Naming Gallery by Ruth Crossman

Hey Everyone… I am so please to present this guest post, written by Ruth Crossman, who’s generously offered to share her wonderful in-depth profile of The Naming Gallery, another fantastic addition to Oakland’s ever-expanding collection of galleries and art spaces.

A West Berkeley native, Ruth is an ESL teacher by day, a writer by night, and an avid consumer of local art and music. She currently lives in North Oakland.

Please enjoy her lovely piece about this very cool space (I can’t wait to visit in person)…

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On a Thursday night at The Naming Gallery, sitting on the ground surrounded by his paintings, Alan Grizzell describes his artwork as a meditation on “the neglected areas of the city…places that may otherwise be ignored.” Constructed using salvaged material, his series of urban landscapes are snapshots of forgotten places. He explains in his artist’s statement, “Each painting strives to portray an elegance in decay.”

One of his most striking pieces is an image any BART commuter can conjure from memory: the oil cranes and shipping containers of West Oakland at night. But there is something about this oil-on-wood painting, executed with bold brushwork and dramatic plays on light, that imbues the landscape with a haunting, solemn beauty.

Premonitions, The Naming Gallery

A native of Cincinnati, Grizzell found inspiration on a cross-country road trip to California, and his current work is an exploration of Oakland in the late night hours, “seeking a quiet beauty when most have gone to sleep.” Working out of Faultline Artspace in East Oakland, this will be his sixth exhibit in the Bay Area, following stints at The Rare Bird, The 25th Street Collective, Awaken Café, and The Compound Gallery. Bird, The 25th Street Collective, Awaken Cafe and The Compound Gallery.

His artistic aesthetic fits in well with the space he has chosen for his next show.

If you turn your back on Uptown Oakland and walk down 15th street towards Harrison, you notice that the neighborhood quickly takes on a quieter, more lived-in feel. South of the Art Murmur crawl and east of the glitzy Fox Theater, the lights become dimmer. The buildings are a mix of vacant storefronts with ‘for rent’ signs and struggling local businesses: a small grocery store, a barbershop, a public notary. And yet art is beginning to flower in this semi-forgotten section of Downtown Oakland and one of the most prolific emerging spaces is the Naming Gallery.

On the bottom floor of the White Building, a 3-story art deco, it consists of two tiny rooms at street level, with a basement and a rickety loft space upstairs. There is no sign on the door, but at 9 pm it crackles with energy: something is definitely happening here.

Biggie Smalls plays in the background, punctuated by the sound of a buzz saw. In the back room, founder Lisa Aurora Calderon sits on a floral couch picking at a plate of quiche with the gallery dog lying at her feet, staring up at her balefully. Next door, co-owner and curator Josef Lucas, back from a mission to acquire a stud finder, surveys the space and consults with Grizzell while a band of friends and associates cut beams and construct wall mounts.

The burgeoning gallery has begun to develop a reputation for being open to experimentation and willing to host a variety of events, from artwork to live music performances to craft nights. The website proclaims it “an interdisciplinary art space that provides a platform for selected artists to showcase their work.”

It was the need for such a platform which drew the interest of Lucas, a cinematographer and video blogger who is known for running the “This Party Blows” camper installation at Art Murmur. “I knew about the space and it seemed like an opportune time to get involved,” he explains. “In September my friend [local artist Zachary Seth Greer] was trying to do a show and then it fell through and I wanted to help him out. It was all very last minute.”

The exhibit Lucas helped organize would be the first at the gallery and would kick-start a wave of performances and installations, almost always featuring a rollicking opening day party with live music from local bands.

The Naming GalleryIt is this sense of cross-pollination, of multiple media forms co-existing and highlighting each other, that seems to drive Calderon: “What I see for [this] space is small artisans doing quality things coming together in one house to provide for a neighborhood… a business community under one roof…. and I think that’s beginning to take shape.”

Her own story is marked by the collective and the communal: a native of Oakland, she lost her job during the recession of 2008 and began making hats and selling them at the underground flea market known as Indie Mart. It was here she started to dialogue with other local artists and craftspeople.

She would later become a curator for Mama Buzz, before opening her own space, Upstream Art Lit, on 27th and MLK, which put her on the path towards founding the Naming Gallery. “We did a lot of fun things, we’d have writers come and stay, they’d read poetry and cook dinner. I got linked in with Rowan Morrison Gallery…” It was the folks from RWG who helped her establish many of the connections she was seeking to more deeply engage with the community.

By the summer of 2012, she’d been looking for a space for a year when she discovered 335 15th street, a few doors down from the studio of painter Githinji Omiiroo, who has had a presence there for the past fifteen years and with whom she has since developed a highly synergistic relationship.

Calderon was immediately drawn to the accessibility and ethos of the area: “I liked playing on the delineation of Art Murmur and the downtown art association. Their reach ends at a certain point, but where it ends is where our community begins.”

As midnight approaches and the rest of the block sleeps, the Naming Gallery’s community is still out in full force, working feverishly to a soundtrack of sawing and hammering, determined to have everything done before morning. The building is literally buzzing with activity.

The Naming Gallery is located at 335 15th Street in Oakland and is open from 12 pm to 6 pm Thursday through Saturday.

Alan Grizzell’s exhibit “Premonitions” opens this Saturday April 12th and runs until May 4th.
The official Opening Party is slated for the following Saturday, April 19th, to coincide with the Oakland Drops Beats block party and music festival.

Get Your Black History Month On…

black history month quotes

There’s just one week left. So if you haven’t yet done something to honor our black brothers and sisters of Oakland, here are a slew of diverse and interesting options to choose from this weekend…

Friday – 2/21

  • African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Main Branch 125 14th St., Oakland 510-238-3134

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Saturday – 2/22

  • Black History Month Walking Tour (10am – 12pm)

    FREE downtown walking tours highlighting African-American leaders who helped shape present-day Oakland. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley and Marcus Foster changed the city and the Bay Area. Simply meet at AAMLO shortly before 10am to participate.
    African American Museum and Library at Oakland – 659 14th St.
    510-238-3234  www.oaklandnet.com

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Black Vines: A Toast to Black Wineries & Diverse Art (1pm – 4pm)

    The third annual celebration of art, culture, and wine, bringing together African American artists and vintners. Tickets presale $30; door $40 purchase tickets here
    Betti Ono Gallery – 1427 Broadway, Oakland 94612

    African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Montclair Branch 1687 Mountain Blvd., Oakland 510-482-7810

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Sunday 2/23

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Freedom Songs: Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin & Kimiko Joy (6:30pm – 8:30pm)

    Four Bay Area vocalists in the round featuring selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul. 6pm doors, $10-15 suggested donation
    2013 Studio Grand – 3234 Grand Avenue, Oakland 94610

Obey in Oakland.

obey giant, sheppard fairy, downtown oakland obey giant, 14th street obey giant

So above is one of the first photos I snapped after putting my blog on hold. I took it in August. I was on my way to a work meeting and was running late, so I just snapped this one first pic, which was unfortunate because by the time I went back to take a few more shots (a couple weeks later, see below) the large wheatpaste installation by Shepard Fairey had already been tagged.

sheppard fairey installation oakland, downtown oakland obey giant

sheppard fairy installation, wheat paste obey giant

wheatpaste mural 15th street, obey giant mural oakland

Ultimately, some local folks involved in a street beautification project painted over the damaged lower portions and it now looks like this… I shot this last one on the day of the initial raid of the Occupy Oakland  encampment.  Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the Oaktown love that day…

love oakland, modified obey giant mural, downtown oakland street beautification

First Friday – Oakland’s “Great Wall”

This just in from Oaksterdam…

Some of America’s top graffiti artists, sponsored by Montana Paint, will be painting a mural on Oakland’s “Great Wall” (next door to Luka’s) today from 4:30-7:00pm as part of Oakland’s First Friday celebration.

This event is in conjunction with a slideshow presentation on “graffiti versus street art” that premieres tonight at Oaksterdam (1600 Broadway at 7pm, $10 donation) and the Fourth Annual Estria Graffiti Battle taking place this Sunday in DeFremery Park (1651 Adeline Street from 11am to 5pm, free) in West Oakland.

photo courtesy chor boogie

photo courtesy bam

Create for Yourselves…

The true title of this 7-story tall mural is “Mitzvah, the Jewish Cultural Experience.”

Located at 14th & Franklin – we passed it on our way from the Layover to Spice Monkey for dinner – the mural was created in 1985 by artist Keith Sklar, with Brooke Fancher and Dan Fontes.  Measuring nearly 100 feet wide and 150 feet tall, a large central banner reads “Create for Yourselves a New Heart a New Spirit,” surrounded by imagery representing significant historical individuals and events in Jewish history, including a portrait of a concentration camp victim.

The mural is a landmark in the recently dubbed Oaksterdam area of downtown Oakland, and as I snapped a few photos the other night, an attendant guarding the parking lot next door told my friend and I, “that mural’s been there as long as I can remember… It’s older than me!”

keith sklar murals oakland, oaksterdam mural, create for yourselves

mural by keith sklar, dan fontes,  brooke fancher, 14th and Franklin

downtown oakland murals, oaksterdam  mural, 14th & franklin mural

bay area multiculturalism

multicultural murals, downtown oakland murals, keith sklar

Despite being focused on Jewish historical figures and events, the mural also features a melting pot of characters exemplary of the multiculturalism that predominated Bay Area murals during that period. Another example we’ve seen is Street Tattoo, created by some of the same artists.

Art in Commerce.

I was downtown last night for dinner and a drink with a girlfriend… specifically we were in the Oaksterdam area of 16th and Franklin, meeting at The Layover,  and I guess I haven’t been down there for a little while but it just seemed that everywhere I looked, there was something I wanted to document or photograph or check out further… tons of flyers, posters, stickers, wheatpastes… it was kind of overwhelming because, frankly, I was late…  and thirsty.

So I didn’t really to take the time to slowly explore like I might under different circumstances, but these two large what-appeared-to-be-wheatpastes were so striking they made me stop and take a quick snap.

art in commerce, wheatpaste advertisements, oaksterdam

Upon closer inspection, they both turned out to be ads.  Which kinda disappointed me.  But then again, there are some amazing creatives working in advertising, so I didn’t feel too bad for being duped.

I’m the person who typically mutes commercials, because, for the most part, they strike me as manipulative and banal.  But some… some are truly inspired. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this damn hamster car commercial!  It’s hilarious.  Brilliant. And interestingly enough, shot in Hamsterdam.

Anyway, the first poster is for an upcoming Dreamworks movie (Megamind), which actually looks pretty entertaining (Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and Brad Pitt). It’s what the original artist, Shepard Fairey, would call a “bootleg.”   You can see more here.

The second is for a Nintendo game, which I can’t say much about because I don’t play video games.  But I went to the website to check it out, and the one thing I’ll say is, it does have a cool soundtrack… kind of like that to a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie.

Past & Present

I was cruising around downtown a few weeks ago and came across this old Art Deco clock on the corner of 16th and Broadway (below left)…

oakland street clock, art deco clock, lamp with naked figures, sexy lamp

It’s design is unusual because although the base is rectangular, the tower and clock itself is pyramidal, with only three sides. According to Bill Sturm, who runs the history room of the Oakland Library, street clocks used to be common in Oakland, erected by jewelry stores as advertising. Most of them are gone now, and Sturm says this is the oldest one in the city, hands down.

Commissioned in 1930 by the Davidson and Licht Jewelry Co. and originally installed at 1318 Broadway, this clock was uprooted twice when the jewelry store moved and has been at its current location since 1947. Interestingly enough, though no longer functional – it was damaged by a car sometime in the 1980’s – it still marks the location of a store that sells jewelry, among other things.

1635 Broadway is now occupied by The Home Fashion store. You can see their sign in the background which touts everything from “jewelry, watches, clocks, art pictures, figures, silk flowers, lamps, phones, women’s lingerie, and sunglasses.” Lingerie… really?!? That’s quite an assortment of stuff.

I spotted the lamp (above right) in their store window… Its tag reads “the unique and best lighting source.” All I can say is… WOW.