Studio Visit from San Francisco Art Enthusiast

Added on by Robert Minervini.

Robert Minervini, San Francisco Arts Commission Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster Series

by MONIQUE DELAUNAY, EDITOR on 02/20/2015

The Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster series has included a wealth of well-known local artists including Rigo 94, Margaret Kilgallen, Kara Maria, Jason Jagel, Kamau Amu Patton, and Elisheva Biernoff. This spring, Robert Minervini is among three artists in 2015 who will create and present six posters along Market Street between 8th and the Embarcadero. San Francisco Art Enthusiast was delighted to get a sneak peek of the artwork while speaking to Minervini about his interpretation of the Art on Market Street series.

“Artists were asked to respond to the overarching thematic of ‘Exposed’ within San Francisco Arts Commission’s Civic Art Collection,” Minervini says as he related to Art Enthusiast the genesis of the project. “I chose to focus on the statuary of Golden Gate Park as a theme based on my interest in landscape and in the intersection of nature and culture…” Among 4,000 artworks within the civic art collection, he says he was particularly attracted to San Francisco’s public statuary as it best evinces that close relationship — the “collective ownership” that should exist between this city’s vast collection and its citizens. Minervini further details these public works act in much the same way as SFAC’s Art on Market Street project, where the works are on view in the public sphere: “What makes Art on Market Street such an appealing project to me is that the artworks are intended for, and given to the public instead of for private use.”

 

Artist Robert Minervini in the studio

Additionally, he was interested in revealing lost narratives and historical local knowledge that may be lost to contemporary audiences. “By focusing on specific artifacts within the park — Portals of the Past, the Sara B. Cooper Memorial, The William McKinley Memorial, The Ball Thrower, Poème de la Vigne, and the John McLaren Stature — I was interested in uncovering forgotten narratives—how the statues came to exist, what the historic relevance was to the city and its inhabitants, and what the statues’ relevance might be to a contemporary audience…” He pointed out that with these deep, multifarious layers of histories one can delve into, many creative interpretations can also be made. “On their own, un-contextualized and relegated to the status of “historical icon,” the monuments lose significance,” he explains. “By reinterpreting the statues visually, integrating their history with a contemporary aesthetic, I had aimed to reconnect the monuments with present-day viewing audiences and to provoke inquiry regarding the influence of the past on the present.”

This project, Minervini admits, had its challenges. “In general with my work, I’m not interested in depicting specific sites, spaces or places because I want to avoid my work being about portraiture of place so to speak,” he says. “My source material is generated by mixing and blending locations and places, which are often of local origin but reimagined in a non-specific way.” But with this challenge, Minervini sees opportunity for the breadth of visual subject matter to expand, and open himself up for new avenues in his practice. “I was very interested to see what would happen when choosing to work with such specific subject matter as these statues in Golden Gate Park. In the future, I could see more specific icons tucked into my works, but in general my interests still lay in abstracting the real to some extent.”

Original works on paper for the Art on Market Street posters by Robert Minervini

With this, he then takes us through several of the posters that will be in the bus kiosks. After the first poster, it is apparent how thoughtfully he approached each of his subjects — well-versed in the histories and eloquent and innovative with his portrayal. The first is a remarkable image of John McLaren’s statue in Golden Gate Park tangled among some overgrown bushes under a red to green sky while centered among the map of the park. “The John McLaren Statue is a memorial to a man who didn’t want one,” begins Minervini. “McLaren created Golden Gate Park and dedicated his life to the advocacy and development of its 1,017 acres. It has been noted that he never liked statues in parks and attempted to hide them behind shrubbery. This includes his own statue, which was made against his wishes.” He points to the white outline of the map encircling McLaren: “…For this design, I have superimposed a map of Golden Gate Park over the image of his statue, which is partially obscured by greenery.” The design of this particular poster, with its detailed interest in the park avenues and overgrown foliage gradually reclaiming the statue as years advance, seem to recall the artist’s personal work. Minervini’s paintings reveal the paradoxical ecological impact of humanity: urban landscape highways and overpasses at once crumbling or being constructed, broken-down fences, and drought-ridden brown grasses. They may be joined with a wilting still life that, like its Dutch ancestors, reveal at once the beauty and fragility of life.

In another poster’s design, Minervini highlights another significant local memorial, but one whose finery, like McLaren’s, might have been overlooked by locals and tourists alike. “Portals of the Past is the most complex and layered memorial of the group and notably the only monument to commemorate the 1906 earthquake,” he indicates. “During the earthquake, a fire destroyed the family home of South Pacific Railroads’ Vice President A. N. Towne, located in Nob Hill. The marble façade was all that remained of the building. …Caroline Towne donated the marble facade to the City Park Commission in 1909, and it was placed in its current location at Lloyd Lake where it still stands today.” Looking at the poster he designed, he interprets the artwork before us. “I superimposed the original house over the portal as a way to metaphorically reconnect the history of the object to the present.” Like the ruin marble threshold that still stands, Minervini’s artwork does not seek to explicitly reveal its purpose or vividly remind its audiences of the fire that consumed the stately home and the city. Instead, the simple fractured image, along with its ghostly supplement that nostalgically recollects its unfortunate past with current visitors, elicits a humble but visceral response and connection.

Original works on paper for the Art on Market Street posters by Robert Minervini

With the final poster, the public artwork chosen, intriguingly, does not include a memorial to a person or event, but a celebration in fine art of revelry and hedonist delights. Gustave Dore’s Le Poème de la Vigne, Minervini says, “…seemed central to the city’s identity as a fun loving and debaucherous place, and that sentiment is beautifully captured in the sculpture.” Dore exhibited Le Poème de la Vigne at the 1878 Paris World’s Fair, and made its permanent residence in San Francisco when M.H de Young purchased it at the 1894 California Mid-Winter International Exposition. “Let’s be real,” Minervini says playfully, “San Francisco is a place that likes to party, and the region is known for its wine.” With this particular poster, innovative interpretations create new meanings for an antique artwork of significant local history for contemporary artists and audiences.

Conversation returns to a subject that had been briefly touched upon earlier, that of the Art on Market Street project’s engagement with art on display in public. “I have a background in mural painting, so I’ve been thinking about and working with this idea of public and private space for some time,” he says. Indeed, Minervini’s recently completed murals include “Sinking Cities,” a 40- by 50-foot wall at Facebook headquarters while the social media business’ artist resident. “I aimed to make the imagery for Art on Market Street simple yet eye catching enough to differentiate it from the advertising space the works will be sharing space with, while inviting the viewer to slow down and try and read into the artworks and contemplate their broader meanings.” With this project in partnership with SFAC Minervini aims to engage audiences to realize and appreciate San Francisco’s colorful past and rich cultural legacy. “I would ultimately hope for the series to inspire others to look more inquisitively at their surrounding and to wonder about San Francisco’s fascinating history. The city’s history is written on its layered architecture, public and private spaces, and these monuments are part of that story.”

More about the Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster Series, including past artists and artwork, here.

Original works on paper for the Art on Market Street posters by Robert Minervini