'Wow Somebody Should Paint That...' Into the Light With John Musgrove

John’s oil paintings capture the warm, diffuse light of San Francisco’s Sunset and Richmond District. B0ardside reached John in Paris.

I’m standing on a bridge over the Canal Saint-Martin right now there’s a lock that’s filled with water, but I don’t see a boat. It’s amazingly peaceful. It’s early morning here, so I assume there’s not too many people around.

We’re right in the 10th Arrondissement. The canal goes south, to the 11th, and connects with the Seine. I imagine it used to be much more of a commercial link. Barges and stuff. Not too many right now. We saw an amazing pleasure craft with these very well heeled people just sitting out on their deck drinking wine.

Are you doing any painting?

A little sketching. I was determined to do it every day, and I haven’t done it. It’s a little tricky because we’ve had family members come to visit, we’ve got our dog here. We want to get out there and do all this stuff. I am taking a shitload of photos. That’s what I use, generally, for my paintings. A handful may make it to the canvas. I like the wide open skies and also these narrow corridors. I’m definitely finding some beautiful stuff.

I’m interested to see John Musgrove paintings with that quality of light that Paris is so famous for. If it weren’t so associated with, you know, Thomas Kinkade, I might have described you as a painter of light. You capture the very particular light of San Francisco so well, and particularly of the west side.

Well I appreciate you saying that. Especially the Thomas Kinkade reference.


I don’t ever really think consciously about painting the light. I just respond to what captures my interest. As an artist, I’m sure you go around and you come around some corner and you go, Wow, look at that. Yep. Yep. That’s amazing. Somebody should paint that.

And, really, I haven’t painted many other places. I started painting in San Francisco, and I was blessed, as we all are, by living out there. Being able to bask in that glorious light of the Sunset, especially on those amazing clear days when the shadows are crisp and everything, it’s just a joy. I was gonna say I feel a responsibility to paint it. Not exactly, but…I’m in just such a fortunate position to be able to do it. And I love doing it. As time goes on, and people say nice things to me about my paintings, I do feel kind of a sense of responsibility not to waste it.

Life goes by, people live and die. We’re not gonna be here forever. What kind of so-called legacy other than my two children would I have?

I’m in the same boat. You gotta get after it.

Yeah, you know, you go to these museums here, and...we were at the Picasso Museum the other day, and — the guy was just a force of nature, you know?

It seems like he got up every morning and just said, what am I going to create today? Whatever he wanted — ceramics or painting or metal work or whatever. That inspired me to, you know, maybe try some new things. Break out of the old patterns, painting cars and buildings in the Sunset.

It does seem as if you were born to paint San Francisco. The surfaces, the walls, the light, the downtown areas. All of it just seems to be so naturally suited to your gifts as an artist.

Thank you! Well, you know…if I were someplace else, would I be, would I have started painting? San Francisco just forced me to stop fucking around and do something. I have to give credit to the place itself. I just feel like we are all so lucky to live out there.

I grew up in Florida, got a degree in art from the University of Florida, but it was focused on graphic design. Because I didn’t have the balls to say, Hey, I’m gonna be a painter. I felt I needed to be a little more practical than that.

I dabbled, I did things from time to time and it was always like in the back of my head that I really needed to somehow stop farting around, find some discipline and get down to it. And, after moving to San Francisco in 1980, I finally did — in the summer of 2001. So I haven’t been painting all that long.

But you started strong, kept going and built on it. That’s inspiring to see.

Yeah, man, I’m super lucky. Super lucky. Being in the Sunset, of course, and still living there day, you know, you have a true appreciation of the unique character and the beauty and the light. That definitely inspired me.

I live in Golden Gate Heights. And I’d drive out to the Outer Sunset to take our younger daughter to the co-op nursery school right there at the beach, on Lawton. Driving straight out there, a daily trek, to and fro, being sleep-deprived. The Empty Mind. Really, I think that was kind of a big deal for me.

Do you think that created some kind of a breakthrough? Being by the beach in the Outers in that raw, sleep-deprived state where you were more open to what you saw — did it kind of bring about an artistic epiphany that got you painting again?

Maybe so! You know, like, I never had really thought about that too much before right now. I would drop my daughter, and when I got back to the studio, because I knew I had three hours, that’s when I was really getting going, and I had this sense of urgency about the time. I knew that was going to be my only time, you know, those three hours. I would really devote myself in those mornings, and yeah, that, that really got me going.

Here, in Paris, I’m standing beside this canal. This is a place I‘ve been to a bunch of times since we’ve been here. I’m just waiting for the light. It’s sort of a patchy, warm blues and clouds, and the clouds are kind of wispy, so they kind of go in and out. Right now, at this moment, there’s a clear shot of the sun on these building. I’m gonna get on my camera while we’re talking, and take a picture.

The other person that comes to mind, especially since I’m in France, is the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson was working for a Communist newspaper in the 1930’s. Le Soir, I think it was. And they sent him to London to cover the coronation of King George V. He went over, and he took this amazing set of photographs. Not one of them of the coronation.

They were all of the regular people lining the parade route, trying to get a glimpse of the king. Fantastic. Just like this incredible array of faces and training nets and people looking through those little wooden periscopes. And I don’t know, it was just beautiful. He saw what was important. And the thing about Cartier-Bresson that always sticks in my mind is the anticipation of the moments, you know? Being ready. Being ready when the moment occurs.

And you know, I definitely do that too, like some place in the Sunset where I’ll suddenly think, Oh, that would be great at a certain time of day, or when the light’s like this. And I go back until I get the right image.

You just manage to be there. I mean, it’s, it is as if we know that it’s a little more complicated. You have to get some source materials, maybe source images and bring them back to the studio, but it’s as if you just happen to be there with your brushes and your canvas at exactly the moment when the light is just perfect.

That’s at least the impression that’s given, and that’s the important thing.

Paintings and art by John. Interview by Douglas Gorney. John’s work can be found at his website, or on Instagram at @jrmuskie

From the Quadrivium to Video Synthesis

For B0ardside6, we have a backyard installation of analog video synthesis, by Sean Russell Hallowell a local composer and audiovisual artist.

I first met Sean at an AVClub SF meetup, hosted at Syzygy, an awesome community art space in the Mission district. His talk stood out from the crowd of digital artists, as he was demoing his custom analog video synthesizer. Amazingly it turns out, he was actually quite new to the world of video synthesis, having thrown himself into learning how to build circuits during the pandemic. His background is in the history and literature of compositional tradition in European music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance! “the phenomenology of time in relation to those divisions of Medieval philosophy known as the quadrivium — i.e. music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.”

Ok! Middle Ages and Renaissance! Tell us about your background first!

Yes, it all starts with Pythagoras. Been a musician all my life, played guitar and saxophone growing up. From the Pacific Northwest, so I listened to a lot of grunge. Went to college not knowing what I was getting into and a few rabbit holes later got a PhD in Medieval music theory. On one hand I was reading a lot of literary theory and philosophy, and on the other I was discovering music on the “experimental” end of the “classical” spectrum.

In particular I was listening to a lot of Modernist stuff that, I soon learned, has more in common formally with French and Flemish music of the 15th and 16th centuries than anything that came right before it. It so happens that, against all odds, that music (i.e. vocal polyphony from France and the Low Countries for Catholic religious rites) slays, and sounds awesomely alien if all you’ve ever heard are tonal progressions in 4/4 time.

To seal the deal, I was brainwashed by Medieval music theory, which is more physics-plus-self-help-doctrines than it is recipes for how to compose. Medieval theorists all explain the power of music in terms of cosmic harmony, sympathetic vibration, spiritual attunement, and so on – which is, if I may say so, objectively true. So I don’t see how it could have gone otherwise for me.

And how did you get from Quadrivium to Video Synthesis?

Basically a convergence of otherwise random threads. Growing up in the 80s and 90s I am hardwired to be hypnotized by cathode-ray tube TVs. At some point I got into building my own audio synthesizers, which for experimental reasons I started plugging into CRTs. This is how I had the realization that the same voltage that makes a speaker jump can also make patterns appear on such a monitor. There’s a bit more to it than that, of course, so I went deep and read all the technical manuals I could find for analog video gear from the 70s and 80s. Eventually I taught myself how to generate the type of signals needed to make a CRT happy. The more I worked like this the more I realized that what I was actually doing was “visual music.” You can generate patterns that manifest as one aesthetic phenomenon in one domain but may appear as very different phenomena in another.

All this coincided with an artist residency I had in summer 2021 in the Icelandic town of Ísafjörður. I lived there for two months taking audio and video recordings of the natural environment. At the end of my residency I staged a large-scale installation incorporating my first hand-built synthesizers. That work mixed synthesis patterns with all that natural footage, which got me onto this idea of isomorphism between micro-temporal (video synthetic) and macro-temporal (geological) structures. Which is, of course, very Medieval.

When reading your background, I see you recently worked on restoring a Sandin IP - I had to look up what that was - Dan Sandin built the first video synthesizer in 1973 - “as a modular, patch programmable, analog computer optimized for the manipulation of gray level information of input video signals..“ I love finding out technology origin stories! How did that project come about? Can you tell us a little about the background of the Sandin Image Processor and its importance in video art?

Yeah, I have worked on a couple IPs at this point – one at a place called Alfred University in New York state, the other at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Basically the IP is the first real tool for analog video art, designed and constructed back when composite video as a signal architecture was still a new thing. As you mention it’s basically a modular synth that processes external video signals along with on-board oscillators to produce a wide array of luma and chroma effects. I had actually never heard of it before I built and designed my own modular video synth from scratch, because I tend to be an ostrich about things I’m working on. I was teaching an analog video workshop and one of the participants (fellow video artist Stephen Radley) told me about the Alfred IP and how it had a broken color encoder.

Being uniquely qualified to build a new one, I went out for a couple weeks and got the feel of the machine. When word got out that I had fixed the Alfred IP I was contacted by SAIC which also, it turns out, had an IP with the same problem. So I built an encoder for that one, and have since been back to service it as well. IPs were built from scratch by art departments at universities back in the 70s and 80s and only a handful of working ones survive. So it’s a real privilege to work with them now, and great to see the machines actually getting used by people who are new to video art.

You mentioned you were also in bands while you were in academia. What kind of music were you making? Rhode Island had an awesome art rock scene around the 2000s with Lightning Bolt and Black Dice - did your time at Brown cross over with that scene?

It did! Saw Lightning Bolt live more times than I can count – still listen to those records. My band back then was called the Stay at Home Dads – somebody once described us as demented circus rock. We played at all the local venues and a few more underground spots around campus. Providence was (and still is, I hear) the place to be.

How do you see the connecting dots between video and sound, technology and space?

Not sure how I can answer such a good question without writing another dissertation, but here it goes: I aim to bring auditory and visual phenomena into dialogue in such a way that you experience them differently than if they had been presented on their own. This usually involves playing with synchronicity and asynchronicity in ways that make you interrogate notions of causality and simultaneity. For instance, questioning if a sound caused an image, an image caused a sound, or if they were causally unrelated. This has parallels in Medieval music too. There are some textures that are closely coordinated among all the voice parts, and some that feel random – though these latter are usually the result of some underlying processes that have their own logic, just not one audible at surface level.

It is of course possible to explore all these things in a fixed media work, but when it’s situated in a specific space there’s another dimension to the experience. As for technology, without opening too big a can of worms I’d say I’m always keen to highlight how technique and technology are mutually reinforcing. The tools you use have a determinant effect on what comes out of the artistic process. I use this to remind myself to let go of the myth of a blank slate and accept that everything starts from something.

You use handbuilt circuitry - how important is it in your work to build your own tools? Is it a DIY philosophy or are you driven more by the enjoyment of learning?

Definitely both. At the end of the day, I just can’t get into certain tools that are commercially produced. There are exceptions, like the keyboard that I used growing up, which has all those great 80s drum presets that I’ll never get sick of. But with video, so much of what drives my art is encountering the technology at its most basic level and building things from the ground up. Effects and techniques that I rely on extensively grew directly from learning how to alter fundamental properties of a video signal to produce specific results. As I’m sure you feel about your custom system for audio synthesis and performance that you built, at a certain point you want to decide what you can control and what you don’t need to control, and there’s no other way to achieve that other than doing it yourself.

How do you approach installation work differently from a system for live performance?

The number one difference has to be attentiveness to the environment. Sure you have to optimize your set for a venue or whatever but when it comes to an installation the big thing for me is always to see how I can work with what I already have. In that Iceland installation I mentioned, the venue had a bunch of full-length dance mirrors sitting around that I used to make an immersive space around my CRTs and multichannel speaker setup. Similarly, in an installation I did at Artists’ Television Access in SF, I was working in a window gallery that offered an opportunity to arrange TVs more sculpturally, which I let guide the composition.

How has San Francisco shaped your relationship with art? What about the Sunset neighborhood?

Well, having grown up in Oregon I’d say the natural environment in this part of the world is baked pretty deep into my bones. Nature as cosmic music, etc. As for San Francisco the city, for the longest time I didn’t really feel a part of any scene – it was through AV Club (which you know well!) that I started connecting with more like-minded artists. This has been great because although my stuff isn’t properly “digital” I still find the analogs between what I do and what digital artists do to be very thought-provoking.

As for the Sunset, at the risk of outing myself, I’ve actually just moved to the North Bay after six years in the middle Sunset (first on Judah, then off Noriega). This 100% for more space reasons, since I have always loved and will always love the Sunset. Living that close to the beach, walking the Great Highway, feeling the fog roll in, that was my way of tuning in every day to the music of the spheres. Since the ocean is just an instrument being played by the moon’s gravitational pull, that is. Again, a very Medieval reason.

You’ve built your own platform for online learning, running a series of live art and engineering courses. Can you tell us more about how that began, the range of courses, and what’s planned for the future?

For sure. I do a couple of different things in terms of teaching art and electronics, ranging from workshops about circuit bending and audio synthesis to ones about analog video processing. My interest in teaching comes from the fact that “engineering” and “art” are things that you can learn separately but are not usually taught in a mutually reinforcing way. The idea when I teach is always to highlight the artistic aspects of engineering your tools and the technical aspects of making art.

On the horizon are more in-person events, which I’m very much looking forward to. I find learning around others in a physical space makes a big difference – especially when it comes to electronics. Leading workshops will always be a part of my artistic practice since I learn as much as anyone else does through running them. Being self-taught, I feel I don’t really understand something until I have to explain it to someone else.

Sealevel - new Sunset creative space

B0ardside recently popped into SEALEVEL and sat down for a chat with Jeana Loraine, the owner of a new art gallery and creative space nestled in the middle of the Irving business corridor that stretches between the Great Highway and Sunset Blvd.

Tell us about yourself and how you landed at Sealevel on Irving Street in the Outer Sunset?

My husband and I moved here a little over 10 years ago from Switzerland. We were looking for better job opportunities for him as well as adventure and so we pretty much got rid of all our stuff, packed two little bags, and came here. We ended up in the Outer Sunset because that was the only place we could afford. We ended up out here and did not like it in the beginning because it was cold and foggy and rainy, and I’d never been to this part of the city. It didn’t take long until we completely fell in love with the Sunset with its kind-of surf town charm. Yeah, we’ve been hooked ever since.

Then during the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to take over this space I’m in now, Sealevel. It started out as a shared workspace with some neighbors. But since this year, I’ve been promoting it as my workshop, and in the evenings and on weekends, it is a community space.

What inspired you to open a creative space like this?

This is something I’ve always wanted ever since I can remember. I always wanted to have my own space. I’ve worked for a music venue in Zurich, Switzerland for about twenty years now. And when I first came to that place, I felt like I had found my home, my port in nautical terms. When I was working there, I really enjoyed working in hospitality and bringing people together and organizing music shows and I just loved how it made people happy. I always thought someday I would have my own bar or restaurant or something, then when I found this space here, I realized that it doesn’t have to be a bar or a venue. It can just be like a living room where people can come and hang out and get to know their neighbors, a place where people can come together and exchange ideas and resources. I love when people walk in and ask questions like “what is this?” I’m really enjoying just bringing people in the neighborhood together where new connections are made, and new ideas are born.

That’s great. So you have a graphic design background and you do the posters for the venue in Switzerland? How did you get involved with that? They are fantastic.

Thank you! I went to art school in Zurich and went through their graphic design program, and I ended up working in a few companies, but I was working as a waitress at the venue so I started doing their posters. And then I came into management and started booking the shows. But, the great thing was that I had free reign on the creative direction of the posters. So I was allowed to develop my own style.

They really capture a mood in a place and time, kind of a nautical era-retro look.

I feel really drawn to the ocean and there is something nostalgic about the ocean to me, or something like yearning. That’s something I try to bring into my illustrations as well. There is always a story behind each one.

You now have an art show up on the walls, Summer in the Sunset. This is your first show at Sealevel. How has the experience been for you so far?

It’s been great! We have 19 local artists in this show. I was not expecting to have that much interest since it’s the first show we’re putting on. But I’m really excited about it and everybody in the show is just fantastic. The opening was a huge success. I knew there would be people, but I was not expecting that many people. The few days after I would go out and people would come up to me and be like, Oh, I missed the show, but I heard it was amazing. So it kind of felt a little bit like the talk of the town.

This little Irving corridor has several businesses. What else is on these few blocks?

There’s actually been a lot happening recently. There’s Sunset Fit, or Fitness. a new little gym that opened. Sunset Auto Care. This new bakery that opened, Daymoon, which is fantastic. Palm City, a wine bar, and then there’s Clancy’s which is a neighborhood staple, and, Swell Bicycles. A doggy Bath O Mat, Avenue Dry Goods, which is also a little shop that has a lot of knick knacks from many local people, Blackbird bookstore and Hookfish, The Last Straw.

So along with the art gallery, what is your vision for this space?

So right now we have an open mic monthly hosted by Sami Freeman who is a local musician (Her husband Matt is a carpenter and he built the workshop tables for Sealevel); Jeremy Greco from Other Avenues is going to perform his solo theater show The Big Snap in September; and the next art show opens October 14; then a holiday market throughout December with all local makers. And starting next year we will have March, June, and September art shows. June always being Summer in the Sunset, with only sunset artists. And besides that... I also let people come in and teach classes. We’ve had some writing workshops and herbalist workshops. Possibly watercolor or sign painting, also a cyanotype workshop. So there will be all different kinds of things going on.

What is the next art show going to be?

The next show will be with the Sunset Sketchers group show, October & November. During the art shows we have a Friday happy hour from three to six, so come hang out!

Interview by Brent Willson.
Jeana illustration by Douglas Gorney.
Other illustrations by Jeana Loraine.
SEALEVEL is located at 4331 IRVING ST.
Originally printed B0ardside6.

John Lindsey - Great Highway Gallery

John Lindsey runs the Great Highway Gallery, out here on Lawton and 43rd. This interview comes from issue 5 of our B0ardside zine, available next week on June 17th! Interview and illustration by Douglas Gorney.
The Great Highway has been on people’s minds recently here on the west side of late. Word was that the gallery might not be around much longer. Do you have any news that B0ardside can break about its future — and yours?
I do! After clearing out half the gallery, the landlord started negotiate a little bit more. It’s not completely where I wanted it to be, but we were able to reach an agreement that’s going to work going forward. It will involve changing the gallery a little bit. I’m not sure exactly what that’s going to be. I will still have original artwork and put on little shows and exhibitions, but I might also have to start selling t-shirts, or have some other retail component to the business.
So are we going to be seeing Great Highway Gallery merch?
Yeah, something like that. I’m not sure, exactly. I’m still working through it, trying to create a holistic, big picture right now.
There’s something else coming down the pike: I’m also working on a book of all the windows that we’ve had the whole time the gallery has been here.
Fantastic! Our sources have told us that there might be some other ventures that you’re involved with — something related or at least very close to The Great Highway. Can you comment on those rumors?
Part of staying at the gallery and trying to keep it open is being able to subsidize it. I just need some help. When I moved here in the late 80s, I went to cooking school. Since August, the negotiation for the gallery included me trying to take over the Seven Stills Tap Room that’s been closed for a while. That’s the space next door to the gallery. And you know, the gallery always helped out the taproom and the taproom brought people around to the gallery. Some of their best nights were when we had events and openings here.
With my background, I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. I’ve just never had quite the right opportunity, but this seems like the one. It’s a smaller space. It’s right next to the gallery. They’ll be symbiotic, helping each other. So I really think it’s going to be really kind of exciting.
The restaurant’s going to be called The Rusty Ladle. I’m going to be serving soups, sandwiches, some salad and something for the kids. A little dessert here and there. It’s going to be mostly to-go. There will be ten counter seats on the inside. It’s going to be pretty straightforward.
Any opening date you want to put out there?
Oh gosh. I would love to, but…you know, I would love to have it open as soon as late summer. It could be September or October. I’m really trying to go as fast as I can but that‘s somewhat difficult in the city.
You mentioned that you saw the gallery changing. Right now, it has this wonderful salon style: the west wall crammed with art, and the east wall given over mostly to temporary shows. Any broad ideas on how that might look different?
The initial ideas are that there will be a lot more work on the salon walls that’s produced in the studio, by me and the people that work with me here, and that we’ll continue to have a wall dedicated to an artist or a group show.
The big question is the window: whether we’re going to keep the window, or modify or rebuild it in a different way, maybe so people can see through the backdrop to the interior of the gallery. Because there’s a real disconnect between the window and the interior space. People will come inside the gallery and not realize the window’s there, or they’ll see the window and not really realize that this is part of that same space.
When did you open The Great Highway?
I opened The Great Highway gallery in 2013. That’s when we had our first exhibition. I had been in the space for about a year, which was basically my graphic design studio. But I slowly built it out, and once I got track lighting, it was a gallery — and I haven’t really stopped having shows. We’ve had over 100 shows and exhibits here.
You were involved with the San Francisco Art Institute, which recently closed. Do you feel that your gallery practice here was informed by that experience?
In the early 90’s, I managed the Art Institute’s cafe at night. I lived in North Beach, and started taking classes there during the day.
It was kind of an amazing time to be at the Art Institute. You had people like Kehinde Wiley, who painted President Obama’s official portrait, and who has a lovely exhibit going on in the park right now. [Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence will be showing at the De Young Museum through October 15, 2023] Barry McGee, Alicia McCarthy, Ruby Neri, Chris Johanson. All the Mission School people.
I was cooking and feeding people’s souls through their belly and then, once I went into graphic design and experienced all the artwork at the Art Institute, I saw a pathway for me to feed their souls through their eyes. And through storytelling.
And that’s really how I see myself: as a storyteller. Whether it be an exhibition that I’m putting on, or a curation of a theme, or when somebody walks in and they want to talk about a piece of work, it’s just a series of stories: things that we’re communicating to people, trying to get them to make a connection. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one, a good memory or something that reminds them of something that’s not great. And we’re hearing their stories as well. That’s really that’s really what we’re trying to do in here.
Tell me more about your vision for the gallery.
We focus on conversations where water meets land. That can be coastal, that can be beach, that can be ocean, and in our case we also have a huge urban city that is butted up against the ocean.
So that’s kind of a guiding focus as I’ve thought about how I want to keep the gallery and change it through this whole ordeal with the lease. I’m looking at, you know, what do I want to do? How do I want to continue to support artists in the community? How do I want to continue to support the community, or have a voice in the community? And also…how am I going to make it just a little bit more profitable than it was?
While you’ve mentioned that your window may change, it’s a unique feature of this gallery. Tell us about its history: How did the window and its installations evolve? What role does it serve in the way you present shows?
If anybody’s been in here and has seen my desk, they know I’m not the little-white-table-with-a-laptop-in-the-corner kind of gallerist. It’s a working studio, along with a gallery. The first five years, where we did solo shows and group shows using the whole room, were very difficult financially. I’ll have somebody’s show and you know, sometimes you don’t sell anything. Sometimes you sell a lot — but it’s…it’s a grind. It was very limiting insofar as I could only put on eight to twelve shows a year in the big room…
So I was looking for different ways to configure the gallery, to change it. I stumbled upon the Wind and Weather Window Gallery in Rekjavik, Iceland: it’s a woman’s studio, and she had a window and did a really wonderful job curating it. It was non-commercial. The rule is that whoever shows there has to give her a piece of their work. Then it became very successful. She had a second window. She had a portable window. I don’t know how well it does financially, but it’s very popular, and a really wonderful community thing.
So I’m like, yeah, I’m gonna build a window. Then I took inspiration as well from Madrone Art Bar, Right Window at the ATA Building on Valencia…I’m not the first person to ever do a window.
What the window allowed me to do was to speak to the community, 24 hours a day. Sometimes people get to the door of a gallery, any gallery, and there’s like a beam of light that they just can’t pass through. It’s very intimidating. I’ve always tried to make the gallery as unintimidating, homey and inviting as possible — but it’s still a gallery, and some people don’t know about art or they think they’re just going to get a hard sell wherever they go. So the window is a way to communicate to people in this way.
It also allowed me to put up a salon wall. You know that I have a hundred artists on the wall? If one of the neighborhood kids comes and has a little photo, painting or drawing they made, I’ll tape it to the wall. I could say yes, more than no. And it wasn’t always about the work but about the people and the community. And then I had a main wall where I also had little group shows and solo shows, and then I had the window. The window sometimes was slightly commercial but a lot of times it was non-commercial. That took a little bit of pressure off of everyone. It also created a very unique space for artists to work in.
It’s a kind of a large window with that odd-shaped wall. Some artists don’t want to be put on display [as they’re doing the installation], but a lot of times they have fun when they do it because all the kids come by, smear their faces against the window and look at the artists — and the artist is interacting with the community. They’re seeing them install their artwork over a period of days. It’s a special little moment in time for people.
Your name so often comes up when I talk to artists and people in art organizations throughout Northern California. I’ve met artists here at your gallery who come from way up and down the coast just to work with you.
Gosh, that’s very nice to hear. Um, I’m voracious in my appetite on Instagram and on the web, looking at work, researching people and finding all these connections.
[And] I’ve been here since the late 80s, so I just know a lot of people.
You know some people call this an artist’s gallery. I am very artist-forward, for good or for bad. Sometimes my first thought isn’t the commerciality of everything; as much as we all like to sell our artwork and we like recognition, it’s also very difficult to sell your artwork. It’s an expression of your feelings and your vision and all those things. It’s a piece of you. That comes very easily for some people and it’s a little more difficult for other people. I’ve always tried to make it a very safe place for artists, whether they’re selling or not selling or their prices are maybe not very accessible or incredibly accessible. I also just enjoy helping people out, trying to share the knowledge and the connections I have and the way I do things. I try to pay that forward a little bit.
We’ve talked a bit about John, the gallerist; let’s talk about John, the artist. I’m familiar with your wonderful photography, which finds its home at the edge of the world, where the land meets the sea. I know you wo​​​​rk in other media, though. Tell us a little bit about about your oeuvre.

Art by John Lindsey.
I was born in Long Beach, and we spent a lot of time at the beach as kids. And then we moved to Washington, DC when I was six years old. So I had this kind of idyllic 0-through-6-year-old life — pretty fun and pretty amazing. I really fell in love with the ocean and then we moved away from it.
My dad worked for the government. So I moved to DC, Virginia, Utah and Colorado, which I all loved very much. I skied quite a bit. Then when I got back out here and went to cooking school I couldn’t really afford to ski. I’d befriended a surfer who lived on the Lower Great Highway, Dennis, who…dragged me around and I picked up boogie boarding and…coming home, or whatever it was, it fed my soul. So I fell in love with this beach and was here as much as possible.
[With] skiing you pay the lift ticket, you go up, there’s snow on the ground the conditions may be better or worse but you can go skiing. Surfing, you come out here, it’s blowing 32 knots onshore — you’re not going surfing. You have to chase weather, chase conditions. You are not in control. You’re trying to grab this moving object and hop on it. Which is really amazing, a force of nature. I just found it incredibly satisfying.
So that’s how I started hanging out at the beach, and that’s what brought me down here [to the outer avenues]. All that informs my work. I’ve watched the beach change over time, and I try to keep those recollections of it, But I try also to search out the greater forces of who we are as modern humans, through our consumerism, through what actually has to happen for us to lead our lives: tanker ships, cargo ships, gas ships, fuel ships, and car-carrier ships all fascinate me. They’re so large, yet they move so slow. Or seemingly slow, unless you’re very close to them. So that’s been a huge subject of mine for quite a long time.
I also just find the whole scene here of an urban beach to be hilarious and fun—and quirky and sad and beautiful. I’m walking my dog out here or I’m at the beach pretty much five days a week. So I’m constantly soaking in and absorbing what’s going on on this weirdo beach that’s considered a wilderness area by the national government, but is right on the edge of San Francisco with all the graffiti and all socioeconomic groups coming to it because it is free and you don’t have to pay for parking. That all fascinates me very much.
In addition to photography, I do installation work: I tell stories in the window. Those can be commentaries on society and politics, or things that have shaken us all. I always try to present them in a way that’s telling a story, but also opening up questions and connections for people to really make them think and wonder, to question what’s going on. I also do some sculptural work. I do a little oil painting. I wish I had more time for it, but that’s something I really cherish and love.
And then some of the sculpture involves photo transfers. I’m shooting photography and then I’m adhering it to objects, maybe a piece of driftwood that has paint on it. My favorite is when I find a piece of a boat or plywood that has paint that’s somewhat deteriorated; then I’ll do a photo transfer…
Are we going to be seeing a John Lindsey show here at The Great Highway or perhaps some other gallery in the near future?
Possibly late summer. I will be at Sweetie’s Art Bar. That’s owned by Flicka [McGurrin], who owns Pier 23, and is an old family friend of my wife, Kristen. They have art shows, and I’ve been invited to present there.
I’m also in a show right now at the gallery at 245 Post St. that doesn’t really have a name; it’s being curated by Peter Shaw, a San Francisco artist who’s been around forever and knows way more people than even I do. He’s cu​​rated a lovely show in there: it’s Bayview to North Beach, and now he’s adding the Outer Sunset. Then he’s looking to expand it to have a show with all neighborhoods in it. It’ll be up for probably another couple months.
Finally, let’s touch back on the community here on the west side. I’ve really been seeing the Sunset as a creative hotspot. What’s your take on the art scene here in the avenues?
I don’t know if it’s quite a scene yet. Maybe… I think a nod to what you’re saying is that there have been people out here way before me producing work. The fathers of some of the Sunset surfers I know there are artists that were very prominent in San Francisco, then you have the surf-culture art that has spawned out here. There are some incredibly talented surfer artists. There’s just people who paint or photograph or do sculpture that are pretty low profile but have been out here forever.
You know, just as San Francisco goes, we’re constantly reinventing ourselves. We go through these boom-and-bust gold rushes here. That really affects things. What I see right now, not necessarily just in the Sunset, but all over the city, is that — even though I had some lease-negotiation issues because I’ve been here 10 years — there a​​re also quite a lot of open spaces, maybe not in the Outer Sunset, but all over town. And right now you see a lot of galleries opening, a lot of art spaces opening up, and that’s very heartening.
It’s because they’re finding cheap rent, free rent — space opportunities. You also have the city offering $8000 right now to activate spaces downtown. There’s all this stuff and it’s going to grow more and more and more. I really see that right now everything is kind of artistically exploding again here in the city. Because you have a lot of young people that can afford to show their work, produce their work, and find studio space here right now. That’s what’s really interesting and really exciting for me, and that’ll spill over into the Sunset.
We do have a space limitation issue out here. There just aren’t enough studios. There’s not enough retail space. There’s not enough commercial space. That’s part of why we love it so much out here, but it’s also an issue for it to grow and get bigger. But what I also see happening in the Outer Sunset is that it used to be a club, but now it’s kind of a community… During Covid, this area was an escape for people, and now there’s just a lot more people coming here, searching out the community here. So the community’s growing. And it’s not just our community but all communities on the west side, and that’s a good thing.
Because ultimately, you know, there is strength in numbers. We support each other, and there are more opportunities. The Great Highway Park does some great programming on the Great Highway. There have been some other people that have put on little festivals and events. i know that there’s one coming up that B0ardside knows about and that i might be involved in here —
So, because of that community, you have something like StokeFest, where people are trying to invest back in the community, right? Have an event that’s gonna create even more community, give something back to the people in the area, have activities for people — and what’s really awesome about all that is that it creates a sense of ownership, beyond someone owning a house, a community ownership, a community pride. That creates opportunities for people.
You know, I’m a firm believer in a high tide lifts all boats. And if there are boats that don’t get lifted up, we need to make sure they do get lifted up. It’s not just easy, but that’s how it is, you know? The more opportunity, the better it is for everybody.

Feature Artist Interview: Anthony R Grant

Anthony R. Grant will be our feature artist for the backyard show on June 17th. This interview by Kei Terauchi is from issue #5 of the zine which will be available for purchase at the show.
What makes you make the art that you make? Where does it start?
Why do I create what I create… For me, it started out with things that I feel or words to describe them but don’t necessarily have a place to go to. Sometimes you experience something - maybe it’s the first days of spring and there’s a scent in the air that quickly reminds you of something, but in that moment as you’re experiencing, if you’re by yourself, there’s no one to say that to. Even if you’re standing next to someone and you’re having a conversation, that would be a complete divergence from what you may have been talking or thinking about. I always find art making as the place for those things, for the things that don’t have much context, or for the things that don’t really have a conversational place. I keep coming back to the word belonging - things that don’t necessarily fit with anything else. To me, that’s where the art making starts. It grows into other other aspects as well - speaking for people who are not spoken for, saying things that are going unsaid, which is a little bit different from the initial experience, things that definitely should be said but are hard to verbalize. Sometimes when it comes to social constructs or systems, there are things that are clearly there, but it’s really hard to connect those dots, but you do feel them, you do sense them. Even if you were to try to talk about them in any kind of sequential order, you could be talking forever. Sometimes an image can bring many disparate thoughts and ideas together in one place, and cause people to sense all the thoughts at once.
I’m also hearing the meaningfulness in the process of art making for you. Where does that come from?
I’ve always been kind of crafty - looking at things that might not necessarily be art and bending or folding something. I remember when I was a kid and my mom worked at a photo studio, I’d go there every day after school. It’s not like, you know, editorial photography. I’m talking like - people need passport photos, people from the neighborhood need their quinceañera documented, people just need a roll of film developed, that type of photo studio. I was always surrounded by these really boring utilitarian pieces of junk - little film canisters, random pieces of wood that would be used for propping up photo subjects. Sometimes without asking, I’d turn those items into things that I could play with. I would build wrestling rings for my toys out of pieces of leftover wood, nine inch nails, and nylon fabric. You know one of the early tiny Macintosh computers? The owner of the studio bought one but he’d never figured out how to use it. So I would just draw things and make rap music on it. Like my current collage practice I was trying to put just these random artifacts together to create an experience—playing with both physical items and technology. At that age I was just trying to connect dots. Over time, though, the craftiness, the working with my hands kept evolving.
I found collage in my late teens, early 20s - that’s when I can remember the first time trying to communicate through it. I used to just find it fun to, you know, take one person’s face and mash it with another person’s face - haha, that’s hilarious. But then over time I started doing other things, like going through entire magazines and finding anything that had the color blue in it to create abstract objects, finding the different values of blue to create some sort of dimension or structure. Once I started doing that, I was like, Oh man, this is really interesting. I kept it in my back pocket and never really led with collage. I just always experimented with it and used it as an illustrative medium for a short period of time, thinking that I was going to be an illustrator. If I had to create illustrations, I’d often use that method for editorial publications that I art directed, and do some sort of collage character. So it kind of always followed, and then over the last few years, I came back to it out of necessity. During the pandemic I couldn’t go to my art studio, and I was having this moment where I wasn’t really creating. At the time, I was painting a lot more, so I was just like, oh man, I can’t really paint here in the house, there’s not enough space. Well, what about that collage thing? I used to really love that and I don’t need a whole lot of space for that - I can do that in the garage. And it was that moment that reignited my passion for the medium, and that brings us all the way through to today.
What are your inspirations? Do you already have a vision and you look for things that might work? Do you surprise yourself?
It’s a combination of all of those things. If I were to throw it into a math equation, it’s probably like, intuition plus planning multiplied by serendipity…I’m making this up—clearly, but a lot of the time, time is the determining factor. How much time do I actually have - mental headspace or time to physically be in my studio? How much time do I have to think about and execute an idea? This is why I have fallen back into making collages because, even if I don’t have the time to work on a bigger idea that I may have, I might have enough time to just make something out of all of the scraps that I have nearby, out of all of the vocabulary and language I’ve been building up over the last few years. I can take things from there, I can retry a piece that I made a while ago, try it again, try it with a different technique.
Can you tell me more about that? Are they literal scraps? Do you physically collect things as you go? What are your vocabulary and language?
Yeah, the source material is an interesting part of the process. Compared to how I was making collages before 2020 probably didn’t have the same source material and the same approach I am taking now. The thinking behind what I’ve been making for the last two or three years - I’ve been trying to make sure that I find people of color and or pull from source material that I remember having around my household as a child. When I was making collages, I never thought about where I was pulling the materials from. I noticed that a lot of the source materials were being pulled from American pop culture from the 50s and the 60s were very white, of one perspective, one note. I never really thought about this before. I just loved ripping things apart and mashing them together, but then I started realizing even in this form, where you can literally use anything, people are still pulling from the same places and, ultimately, showing the same things. With that thought I started to notice what I wasn’t seeing. Why have I been creating this way? What can I do differently? I had a similar thought in the workplace when I was doing a lot of branding and communications. I’d put together all sorts of landing pages, marketing material, and you always need photos, but you almost never have the budget to take the photos that you want to take. So you’d go and look for stock photos. If I do a search for a “woman holding a mobile phone”, I get thousands of white women holding phones, laughing, smiling. I don’t see much else, not many other nationalities or skin types represented there. Why is that? So I’d search for a black person holding a phone, an Asian person, an Indian person, and the return that I got back was so finite in comparison to just the initial search. So those two things were always in the back of my mind and I never quite put them together from an art making perspective until 2020.
I had a similar experience with my music making. I was a classically trained pianist and the pandemic really made me think how limited that is as my only artistic expression. So I went through a period of making my internal feelings, like inside jokes and memories from my childhood into musical pieces. That helped to get me out of that framework that I was so used to.
What other aspects of your work do you want people to know? Is there anything in particular that you want to share?
I’d say first and foremost, look deeper, look and scrutinize everything. Don’t only take what is spoonfed. All of these things have been tied to very specific memories for me. When I was a kid, I remember my mom playing music at home. And I knew that there were just two “Black” radio stations in the city but I also realized we weren’t only listening to those radio stations. So that simple act told me one thing; just because something is labeled as for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find joy in other things. You can find joy in something else, it’s wholly possible. I would always look at categories or groupings with great scrutiny. I think about how we grew up in the era where there were a few media outlets, and they were all mainly talking at you and forcing things down your throat. There were very few opportunities, outside of going to your library or being one of the very first people to have some sort of internet connection to really seek out alternatives to anything. It was really hard to go against the grain in that sense. But the way I would do it, I started with music - I would sit by the radio and turn the dial really slowly, because my uncle taught me about Jamaican pirate radio stations. So I was like, oh, wait a minute, if I just find the right frequency, I could find something completely different that no one even knows about. Expanding on that idea over time I found college radio stations that were playing house music or hip hop till the wee hours of morning. All of this just to say keep looking—this is one of the bigger ideas I keep trying to push and that also applies to my art making. Just because you don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t inherently appreciate it. That’s the start of simply being able to understand who’s next to you, what makes them tick, why they do what they do, why they believe what they believe.
I can almost hear your interaction at the photo studio with your mom and with your uncle and turning the radio dial. Are there family and community aspects in your work?
Going back to that whole equation that I was mentioning earlier about time, whether or not I can afford to plan or just be more on the spontaneous side, kind of factors into a lot of the output of the work. For the most part, what I’ve tried to do is make sure that I find imagery that not just addresses the issue of inclusion, but it’s also about finding people that remind me of my people. For example a lot of the women in the images that I use remind me of my aunts and my mom, my grandmother, my uncles. I think about them, and I think about all of the people like me that don’t get to necessarily see themselves in the media as well. So when I’m making pieces, it’s almost as if I’m using the figures and faces as proxies for my family without actually using their photos. Some of that is about me trying to shape how I see America through my experiences and memories as a black man. It’s really easy to co-opt those typical images of American pop culture, sure, you can recontextualize them and do interesting things with them, nothing really against that, but I just think that there’s a whole other aspect of America that exists, that is just simply not represented, not even in this form of art (collage), where we could choose to do that. I also know that it’s very charged because there’s also the appropriation factor, like, if a white person uses black imagery, is that okay to do? If I, as a black person, started using images from any other culture, is that okay? It depends on the intent, depends on what’s being made. I find it funny that those questions stop people from even trying—it stops the possibility of someone gaining insight or awareness of another culture.
I’ve sat in on what was supposed to be a lecture by a photographer named Doug Rickard. He did what I thought was a really interesting photographic show one time, where he basically took Google Street images, and got them as big as he could on his on his computer screen, and then put his camera in front of his screen and took a photo of the image and then blew up the image even larger, and it created this almost painterly/digitized looking photo. But the problem was, is, that he primarily focused on African American neighborhoods, and he is a white presenting male photographer, and I think he showed this work at some major galleries and probably made hefty sales of the work. I can totally understand why there would be controversy there, but the poor guy didn’t even get a chance to speak. I’m not defending him and I’m not against him. I’m looking at it purely objectively through that lens - here’s someone who, I don’t know what his intent was, but tried to use figures of people other than what he presents himself as, and got a great deal of scrutiny for. This instance makes me wonder, well, does that stop people with fully well-intended purposes? Does that stop people from seeking to relate to those other than themselves?
Let’s talk about the future. What are you excited for? What? How do you see yourself and your artwork evolve?
I am excited about showing at B0ardside and being in your zine! I am a fan of independent publications and I’ve been lucky enough to meet other folks who are making publications as well. That’s great and I hope that that proliferates in other ways, from zines to gallery spaces to independent music publishing, etc. There are markets people who are interested in damn near anything that someone can create. It’s just a matter of putting it out there, but also taking advantage of the fact that there’s so many channels nowadays, that people can share that work through. So I guess that excites me for one thing. In terms of my artwork, I’m just excited to keep creating even if I have just 10 people liking my stuff. What I’m looking forward to doing is just creating more. Also when it comes to independent publishing, I’m looking to put a book together of my work simply because I feel like there’s an opportunity to tell more of this story of the work. I love buying monographs of artists that I really like—they are very accessible. I bought one recently by an artist, Brett Amory, who I’ve been following for a very long time, and he put out this really beautiful giant book. I just love the fact that I can look at his work anytime I want. There’s a lot of work in my studio that I’ve started scanning to put into a book. So that’ll be fun. One of the last things that I really want to get back into my pieces is screen printing. It’s something I learned to do. I’m not incredibly fond of it simply because of the amount of time or preparation and equipment that you need to make it happen, but I do appreciate it a lot and I do like how it actually physically feels, so I want to employ some of that into my future pieces as well.
Before we end, can we talk about some of the physical tools and how you combine the physical with the digital?
That has grown over the years. It used to purely be me cutting pieces of paper and putting it together and maybe using a photocopier to duplicate and enlarge, but I’ve grown to use digital tools to composite images together, print those out, and then do something physically to that then rescan, to try something else digitally, but also as a way to continue to build the language and have source material that I can readily go back to. So that’s where that push and pull comes with analog and digital. I think they go great together. I’m not a purist when it comes to collage. I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but I know that there are some people that are very dead set on glue, paper, scissors, and that’s it, which I can appreciate - limitations are good they help us to generate and create amazing things. I still see what I have immediately around me, I mean, I might have a computer and printer, but I still see that as as a limitation for me, because there’s so many other things I could do that I’m either not doing because I don’t have them or I just can’t do because they’re too big or not accessible to me. So it’s all relative, I guess. When I was talking about screen printing, since I don’t quite have that setup, and I like to work fast, so I use other methods that involve a lot of rubbing, which add another physical aspect to the work. Sometimes you’ll see burnished images onto a piece of cardboard, if you look closely, you’ll see the actual scratch marks, because I don’t necessarily have the clean pull of a squeezed screenprint, it’s more of like forcing this image to leave one substrate and go on to another.
All images by Anthony. Find his work at