This fall, Steven Wolf Fine Arts will recreate the studio interior of painter Scott Williams, best known to San Franciscans as an early aerosol street artist who painted murals, cars and interiors using a spray can and stencils. His primary media though, since 2000, when he exchanged spray can for airbrush, is canvas, wood, and books. Williams cinematic, stencil montages take the form of landscapes, rock posters, political propaganda and various forms of abstraction. Literature, punk flyers, Asian woodcuts and obscure comic books are among his many sources.
One of his most intriguing creations is the interior of the Victorian Mission flat that he has lived in for the past 25 years. The residence, studio and gallery is a mixture of wall stencils, decay and paintings that hang on the wainscoting and stack on the floor like sloppy layer cakes. The space is a link to an era of San Francisco studios that flourished before skyrocketing rents, gentrification and the evolution of live/work spaces into generic corporate interiors. His capacity to achieve a painterly looseness with stencils, and his tendency to work flat on the ground in the manner of the abstract expressionists mirrors that link to the past. The installation will include paintings from every stage of Williams' career, new stencils made directly on the wall, and fragments of the studio itself.
This isn't the first time Williams has been projected into a conversation about gentrification. As a young artist, in 1983, he was evicted from the Goodman Building on Geary Boulevard between Gough and Franklin. One of the last of the artist hotels in San Francisco, the Goodman's residents fought the city's redevelopment in the name of a utopian communal live/work situation that challenged the normative paradigm of domesticity and labor. After years of court battles, the residents lost, but the case gave rise to an awareness of non-traditional living spaces in a city that was rapidly gentrifying along late capitalist lines.
The irony of recreating Williams' studio in a gallery that is gentrifying his very own neighborhood only seems to energize the fragmentary and unstable character of his work. His portraits of Josef
Stalin, which oscillate between ironic takes on authoritarian art and a genuine affection for the left, seem likely to drift off the compass of meaning entirely. In a space often devoted to artists just out of art school, his cowboys and Indians paintings, which have the air of movie landscapes peopled by toys, will look like the Photoshop worlds they preceded.
In general, the characters in Williams' paintings seem strangely detached from their sources. Like magical phrases that have been spoken so many times they grow uncanny, they lurk at the edge of something we once knew. His process of selection, arrangement and deployment through stenciling seems to vaporize meaning, leaving the viewer in an Phillip K. Dick atmosphere of paranoia, lucidly described by one of his long-time book collaborators, the poet Fred Rinne.
"If you could see through the fog and murk that passes for an atmosphere hereabouts you might notice the subtle documentation of the citizenry.... You might notice that you are in a tinny funhouse mirror burlesque of an American city... We call it Frisco."