Erick Lyle

Free the free

San Francisco icon Xara Thustra looks back at 15 years of underground art

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VISUAL ART It starts with the streets. Walls, the texture of walls, rough and colored in swirls of graffiti letters. Walls you feel you could reach out and touch their cold and grit. Establishing shots — the streets of San Francisco in the dot-com era. The photos are of their times: an unattended shopping cart in the streets appears as early as page three. Soon follows the spray-painted legend, "Don't let the good times fool you."Read more »

Freedom fighter: SF underground art icon Xara Thustra

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Since the late 1990s, Xara Thustra's art has been inseparable from resistance and community in San Francisco, providing many of the signature visual images of the anti-displacement and anti-war struggles of the era. His work first appeared as graffiti in the streets of the city during the height of the first dot-com boom and soon grew to include artistic collaboration with and in support of neighborhood organizations, like the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and the Coalition on Homelessness.

As his work evolved over time from agitprop street art into elaborate performance and filmmaking, Xara has collaborated with countless others on many now-legendary art events like the Anti-Capitalist Fashion Show, the 949 Market Squat, and the band Manhater, while contributing stunning murals to Clarion Alley Mural Project and the Mission Neighborhood Health Center (with Kyle Ranson). Xara appeared in the 2002 Bay Area Now show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, but has since resisted overtures from the art world, and preferred to instead make work in spaces like Adobe Books, Needles and Pens, and, still, in the streets.

Thu/6 at a presentation of new work at Needles and Pens, Xara and friends will celebrate the release of the self-published, 500-page book, Friendship Between Artists is an Equation of Love and Survival. It's an epic photo documentation of the past 15 years of his work and collaborations in San Francisco.
Note: this interview took place between Erick Lyle (in Brooklyn) and Xara Thustra (in the Redstone Building) over Skype ...

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'Fire' insight: talking with David Wojnarowicz biographer Cynthia Carr

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The following interview took place with Cynthia Carr, author of Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (Bloomsbury USA, 624 pp., $35), on an early fall afternoon at the old Odessa Restaurant on Avenue A in the Lower East Side, New York City — one of the few places left where you can still pretend you're in the LES of Wojnarowicz's day. Carr will be at the San Francisco Art Institute Wed/3 to discuss her book. Read Erick Lyle's review of the book here.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Your book is the first real biography of David Wojnarowicz. Up until now, the best book on him I thought was that Semiotext(e) book, David Wojnarowicz: A Definitive History of Five or Six Years on the Lower East Side. Your book has a lot of that same feel, the layers and layers of neighborhood detail. But, of course, your book has the advantage of having all of David's thoughts and perspective on the same events because you have his journals and his correspondence. How were you able to access all of that material?

Cynthia Carr All of his papers are at Fales Library at NYU — all of his journals and the letters he kept. And I did get letters from quite a few other people, like his boyfriend in Paris, Jean-Pierre. At the beginning of the relationship, David wrote to JP at least every other day and later at least once a week.

When I went to Paris I took a scanner with me and back home I printed them out. The stack was like four inches thick! It was filled with information about what he was doing or working on every day. While the journals from those times are mostly about him going to the piers for sex, which he didn’t tell his boyfriend too much about! [Laughs.] The letters, though, are all about where he was living or where he was working, or ... really, most of the time, he was looking for work… I was very fortunate to get that.

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Downtown development

New books look back at NYC's neighborhood art scene

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LIT/VISUAL ARTS The term "Mission School" was coined in these pages by Glen Helfand in 2002 to describe a loose-knit group of artists based around the Mission District who were then just beginning to break through into international art world success. These artists — including Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Chris Johanson, Alicia McCarthy, Rigo 23 and others — made use of found materials and shared an informal aesthetic that was influenced as much by the low rent streets of the city around them as a relaxed, collective Bay Area vibe.Read more »

Back to the streets

The Mission and the revolution, as lived and told by Roberto Vargas

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Coronel knew an old man in Granada who said

(who often said):

"I wish I were a foreigner, so that I

Could go home

— Zero Hour, Ernesto Cardenal

I first came into contact with the work of poet Roberto Vargas a couple of years ago, when I saw his face, projected several stories tall, on a wall just off Valencia Street.Read more »

Lost city

WRITERS ISSUE: Peter Plate's Elegy Written on a Crowded Street stares into the Market Street abyss

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Miami plays itself

Art Basel, part two: Faux-favelas and real degradation
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ESSAY On opening night of Art Basel, N. Miami Avenue was a sort of Potemkin museum, every storefront packed with art, free wine and cheese, and the usually sleepy street clogged with taxis and limos. Ordinarily no one walks in muggy Miami, but tonight the cracked and littered sidewalks were deep with art patrons dressed in their Midtown Manhattan finery, looking out of place, as if passengers on a private jet that had made an emergency landing on a tropical Caribbean island. Wynwood is an area hard-hit by foreclosures. Up and down N. Read more »

Clouds and mirrors

A trip through the mirage of Art Basel into the scarred face of Miami

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Carl Fisher turned a mosquito-plagued, malarial sandbar into Miami Beach, "The Sun and Fun Capital of The World," in less than a decade — dredging up sea bottom to build the island paradise, an all-American Las Vegas-by-the- Sea, where Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason partied and Richard Nixon received two Republican nominations for president. Art Deco hotels lined the beach, bold as Cadillacs, defiant in the path of hurricanes, their confident Modern lines projecting postwar American power. Read more »

Vanishing points

Real change, or changing the subject — the search for truth within Roberto Bolaño's epic 2666
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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

ESSAY/REVIEW There is a wry but hilarious scene near the very end of Roberto Bolaño's novel 2666 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 912 pages; $30), in which a French literary critic finds a German writer, Archimboldi, lodging at what the critic calls "a home for vanished writers." After checking into a room at the large estate, the elderly vanished writer wanders the grounds, meeting with the other vanished authors, residents whom Archimboldi finds friendly but increasingly eccentric. Read more »

Armed love

Up Against the Wall looks back
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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW The struggle of young, white activists aspiring to the authenticity, confrontational stance, and street credibility of groups like the Black Panthers has generated some of the most enduring myths and storylines of the 1960s. Read more »