At the top of his game



You’ve seen them all across San Francisco in recent weeks — striking posters featuring a wavy-haired female vocalist silhouetted against a fiery orange background. The image for this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival poster and street banners was created by Marin artist Michael Schwab, one of the country’s leading graphic artists. His dynamic posters and logos for the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, America’s Cup, Amtrak, Robert Mondavi, Peet’s Coffee, the San Francisco Opera and Nike, among many others, are icons of our time. Schwab talked about creating his third Fillmore jazz poster with ARThound editor Geneva Anderson.

What makes a really effective poster? And why are so many posters today so bad?

Simplicity. There’s way too much visual noise out there. Graphic messages are conveyed much more effectively when the design is simple, bold and efficient.

You’ve had a long involvement with the Fillmore Jazz Festival. What is it about jazz that lends itself to visual expression?

I love all kinds of music, but jazz in particular inspires me. I love this project because I’ve had complete freedom to do whatever I want. The bass player I created eight years ago was my first Fillmore jazz poster and I envisioned him as a Ray Brown-like bass player. If you’re driving down the street, you’ve only got a second or two to get the message, so I wanted to evoke the romance and history of jazz in the Fillmore. Four years later they called me again. At the time I was really into Miles Davis and was playing Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, his soundtrack for the Louis Malle film, a lot. I made a Miles Davis-esque horn player. I wanted a really cool color so I went with a deep blue that evokes that late evening jazz atmosphere that’s so special on Fillmore. Now, four years later, I realize I’ve been slowly creating my own jazz band. It was time for a singer — and a woman.


New plaza coming to Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

WORK BEGINS in early March on an ambitious new plan to transform the forlorn public plaza at Fillmore and O’Farrell streets into a dynamic green space that honors the history and culture of the neighborhood.

“It’s got a lot packed in,” said architect Jane Martin, whose Shift Design Studio designed the new plaza. “We want it to be fun and engaging.”

The paved checkerboard with the names of key figures from neighborhood history will remain, but eight squares of bricks will be removed and converted to planted areas with built-in benches. All of the plants will be native to Africa, and African symbols like those on nearby buildings will also be incorporated into the design. References to the earlier history of the area when it was largely a Jewish neighborhood will also be included.

“Our plan is to subvert the checkerboard and use the plaza as a way to make sense of a lot of disparate elements that have been added over time,” said Martin.

The nonprofit San Francisco Beautiful is coordinating the project with the owners of the property, nearby merchants and city agencies. The public is invited to join a community work day scheduled on Saturday, March 15, which is also when the planting will be done. The plaza is envisioned as the first phase of a larger series of neighborhood improvement projects that will unfold over the next two years.

“This is one more bead on the string,” said Kearstin Krehbiel, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful.

Made locally and beautifully

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen by Dana Harel

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen, creator of vanIvey Ceramics, by Dana Harel

WHEN SHE MOVED to the neighborhood six years ago, Kristen van Diggelen was an aspiring art student who had her sights set on a career as a painter.

One day she wandered into Cottage Industry, the eclectic emporium at 2328 Fillmore, seeking inspiration. But she found far more. The building, with two street-level storefronts and four flats above, is one of the more artistically historic structures in the city, having been home to many of the Bay Area’s best-known artists and poets of the Beat generation in the 1950s and ’60s.

She found not only subjects to paint and an artistic legacy, but also an apartment and a studio — and even an opportunity to be something of a saloniste for a couple of years in one of the vacant shops, where she held monthly gatherings to show her work and that of other emerging artists.

She found opportunities she was seeking and some she never dreamed of. But like many artistic pursuits, they didn’t pay very well. So after she graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a master of fine arts degree, she began teaching a high school ceramics class at Cornerstone Academy in 2010.

“Ceramics was one of the highlights of my arts education,” she says, “but I went to graduate school on a painting scholarship, so I felt like everything else had to take a back seat.”

Then when she found herself around clay again, her old flame flickered anew.

Getting to know the neighbors

Julie and Mark Swenson are part of a neighborhood photography project.

Julie and Mark Swenson are part of a neighborhood photography project.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Sheila McLaughlin

I had a problem: I didn’t know where to borrow a cup of sugar.

I’m an artist who has lived in the same flat in the neighborhood for 20 years, but I hardly knew any of my neighbors.

Those who lived above had moved away. Same for those next door, across the street and around the corner. I saw some of the neighbors who remain; I looked into their windows; I parked my car in front of their homes. But to see them isn’t to know them.

Camera in hand, I set out to change that. Earlier this year, I began photographing the people in my immediate neighborhood in an attempt to weave together a community through photography. The conceit was simple: I approached people on the street and asked to come into their homes and photograph them.
With surprisingly little hesitation, they’ve said yes. It turns out that I am not alone: Living in a city surrounded by people is isolating for many. We are crammed up against each other by concrete, but might as well have rivers and mountains between us.

My project documenting — and attempting to change — this shared experience is called simply “Neighbors.”


Showcase returns to Pacific Heights

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

The annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase is now open in the neighborhood, this year at the top of Pacific Heights at 2800 Pacific Avenue. It features the work of more than two dozen local designers and invites the public to tour one of the iconic mansions designed by pioneering architect Ernest Coxhead.

SLIDE SHOW: Inside the 2013 showcase
EARLIER: A tour with the owner

Photographer made his mark on Fillmore

A new book tells David Johnson's story and includes many of his photographs.

A HANDSOME NEW BOOK — melodiously titled A Dream Begun So Long Ago — chronicles the life of photographer David Johnson from his childhood, shuffling through the care of various adults in segregated Jacksonville, Florida, through his on-and-off relationship with the art of photography. Now it’s firmly on again as the 86-year-old relishes his recognition as one of the foremost historical chroniclers of black life in San Francisco and the Fillmore community in particular.

In the book, told in the first person and written with his wife Jacqueline Annette Sue, Johnson reminisces about his early days under the tutelage of Ansel Adams — and the day in 1946 he climbed up on a scaffold to take what would become an iconic photograph of the neighborhood called Looking South on Fillmore. Excerpts from the book follow.

I work in the darkroom alongside Ansel Adams as he produces very large black and white landscape murals. As I watch him working, we have a conversation about print quality as he applies some developer to a print. I say laughingly, “I thought you were a purist,” meaning showing the photograph just as it was taken. Ansel chuckles and says, “Yes, but I am not an absolute purist.”

Renaissance on Fillmore: 1955-65

An exhibition in Napa highlights artists who lived in the building at 2322 Fillmore.

ART | Michael Schwager

The history of Bay Area art is filled with stories of unique individuals, influential institutions and the social and political climate where artists congregated to live and create. An exhibition now at the Di Rosa Foundation in Napa tells one of those stories: the story of an exceptional group of artists in a particular San Francisco neighborhood during an especially vibrant period.

Most of the artists in “Renaissance on Fillmore: 1955-65” were relatively unknown in the mid-1950s — a transitional moment in the art world when abstract painting gave way to assemblage sculpture and both were influenced by poetry and music. Today these same artists form the foundation of modern art in Northern California and helped shape the future of American art. Their work remains remarkably vital and opens a window on the era during which it was created.

While North Beach flourished as a creative district, the Fillmore — in particular the northern portion referred to as the Upper Fillmore — was an equally important, if less publicized, locus of creative ferment and home to a remarkable and eclectic group of painters and poets. Many of these artists were affiliated, as students or faculty, with the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute.

The apartment building at 2322-2330 Fillmore was the nucleus of an artistic renaissance due to its residents and the activities that took place there. The unassuming white stucco and wood two-story structure near the corner of Washington and Fillmore contained four flats. It also had a modest backyard and even a plywood roof deck. The flats were large — seven rooms with 14-foot ceilings — and the rents small: a now-unbelievable $65 a month.

A masterpiece, created on Fillmore

Photograph of Jay DeFeo working on The Rose by Jerry Burchard

ART | Jerome Tarshis

Youthful aspiration, ambivalence toward conventional art world success and a pitifully low budget came together for Bruce Conner and Jay DeFeo in the history of her masterpiece, The Rose, now on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through February 3.

DeFeo worked on it for eight years in her Fillmore apartment, building up layer upon layer of paint to a thickness of eight inches. By the time she stopped working on it, in 1965, it weighed a ton and its future was compromised by the fact that its paint was so heavy that the painting was pulling itself apart.

Looking back, Conner said that DeFeo’s potentially endless reworking of The Rose needed “an uncontrolled event to make it stop.” The Pasadena Art Museum had asked to exhibit the painting, but DeFeo put off letting it go. The eviction of Hedrick and DeFeo from 2322 Fillmore provided the nudge; it was necessary to move The Rose somewhere, and circumstances dictated Pasadena.

One-of-a-kind dolls in a one-of-a-kind shop

STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS by Carina Woudenberg

He’s been a San Francisco resident for more than 30 years, but Jiro Nakamura still makes a yearly trek home to Japan to search for treasures for his shop on Fillmore Street.

The treasures include dolls — crafted hundreds of years earlier in many cases — and puppets, tea ceremony gear and kimonos fit for all occasions. They are offered at Narumi, a tiny shop at 1902 Fillmore that Nakamura named for a bakery his parents started in Japan.

He says he prefers antique Japanese dolls because they contain far more detail, especially in the hands and faces. “In old times, they had more time to make each piece,” Nakamura says.

Inside the Getty Mansion

Photograph of Ann and Gordon Getty's living room by Lisa Romerein

DESIGN | Diane Dorrans Saeks

Twenty years ago, interior designer Ann Getty began a large-scale redecoration of the Pacific Heights residence where she lives with her husband, Gordon, a composer. It was built in 1906 to a classic design by architect Willis Polk and offers an entry hall with collections as opulent as any London museum. The Gettys, generous philanthropists, often entertain an international retinue of cultural and political figures.

At auctions in New York and London, Ann Getty acquired furniture from the great English country houses, including Badminton House and Ditchley Park. Unable to collect French antiques — she says the Getty Museum was in an acquisition phase, and even her budget was not large enough to bid against the family museum — she gathered George II gilded chairs, dramatic Anglo-Indian beds inlaid with mother-of-pearl and porcelain and ormolu objets.

“I love the heft and boldness of English antiques,” says Getty, who is also a champion of art education.

In Paris she scooped up vivid 18th-century silk brocades for pillows. From the estate of dancer Rudolf Nureyev she acquired velvet patchwork textiles, which she made into dramatic curtains.

[nggallery id=28]

The renovation, plus the addition of a new wing when the Gettys acquired the house next door, took place over a decade.

“This is the ornate look I love for myself, but I don’t impose it on my clients,” she says. “My work is not all over-the-top design. For clients, I want rooms that reflect their style.”

Even among this grandeur, there are quiet corners for an afternoon tête-à-tête overlooking the Palace of Fine Arts.

Her gracious rooms, with tufted sofas and chairs covered in plum-colored velvets and golden silks, are at once exotic, dazzling and comfortable. Party guests can often be found sprawled on silken sofas, and friends curl up to sip Champagne on chairs covered with luscious Venetian hand-woven silk velvets.

A quartet of Canaletto paintings hovers above a gilded console table in the music room, a theatrical stage for family celebrations. A Sèvres porcelain table commissioned by Napoleon (its pair is installed in Buckingham Palace) stands in a corner. Gilded benches and tables from Spencer House, plus a silk-upholstered glass chair with the look of carved crystal, all demonstrate Getty’s original eye.        

While Ann Getty can design entirely practical rooms for young families, the rooms in her own home glow with baroque splendor. Blossoms, birds and butterflies painted on pale blue Chinese silk panels glimmer on the walls of a bedroom.

“Designing is a minor art, but such a pretty one,” says Getty as she glances around her living room. “I love to create interiors that please the eye. Beauty can be so uplifting.”


Ann Getty Interior Style by Diane Dorrans Saeks, published by Rizzoli, is available at Juicy News, 2453 Fillmore, and Browser Books, 2195 Fillmore. More on the author’s design blog, The Style Saloniste.