Artist Spotlight: Rachel Whiteread

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

House, by: Rachel Whiteread

Nameless Library Holocaust Memorial, by: Rachel Whiteread

When Michelangelo sculpted David, it can be safely assumed that he gave considerable thought to the physical characteristics of his masterpiece, but as it turns out, not all sculptors focus on the object of their work.

At first, this sounds like an artistic paradox but works created by Rachel Whiteread represent how the artist can make a powerful statement by focusing on the negative space surrounding an object or the emptiness that lies within.

Born in 1963, in London Whiteread was raised by an artist mother and a teacher father. Her mother’s work and later death had an enormous impact on her. She creates sculptures by filling empty spaces inside objects or by recreating the original form through casts. The minimalistic and stark nature of her work is meant to inspire contemplation and meditation.

This exploration of space to evoke thought can be seen perfectly in her, “Nameless Library” sculpture. It is an impenetrable library, turned inward. The work was created for the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna to commemorate Austrian Jews who died during WWII. The stark nature of this work, steeped in symbolic and literal emptiness.

While “Nameless Library” focused on empty space within an object, her most well known work titled, “House” focused on the space surrounding it. Whiteread filled a condemned home in London’s East End with concrete. The home was demolished later that year as her work stood, a monument to the destroyed building. This created a powerful statement about London’s management of the poorest neighborhoods. It was for this work that she received the Turner Prize, United Kingdom’s highest artistic honor.

Regarded by many as England’s most influential contemporary artist, Whiteread alters the audiences perception of each objects she creates. The context of filling or recreating the empty spaces gives them another meaning and in this achievement is where her true genius lies.

She is not a sculptor molding an object, she an artist with the power to mold thoughts with her craft.


Artist Spotlight: Mildred Howard


In the Line of Fire by: Mildred Howard

Mildred1_6639 title

6639 by:Mildred Howard

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

The enslavement and systematic murder of African Americans doesn’t get nearly as much attention from the mainstream art world as many other human rights atrocities, such as the Hebrew Holocaust. Mildred Howard’s art throws a spotlight on this issue by viewing it through a historical, international and at times personal perspective.

After hosting shows in Berlin, Cairo, London and New York most artists would settle in one of these international hubs for a life artistic glitz and glamor. A Berkley native, mixed media and landscape artist, Howard has done the complete opposite by becoming one of the most dedicated leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area arts scene.

On her daily walk to Berkley High School, some of Howard’s fondest memories come from smelling the surrounding gardens. As Executive Director of Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard project, Howard seeks to help local teenagers and kids learn how to garden and stay out of trouble in the process.

The project was founded by local food movement legend, Chef Alice Waters. Kids are taught gardening and about how food affects their communities and the environment. It was Waters herself who tapped Howard for the Executive Director role, for her continual work as a spacial artist and leadership of the Oakland Exploratorium museum.

Her body of work reflects her beliefs in things growing from one another and becoming organically intertwined. Her famous glass bottle house works came to her in a dream and by no accident resemble plantation slave quarters. One her most well known glass houses, the blue bottle house was inspired by the death of her son.

She heard of a young boy who grew up in a home surrounded by glass bottles coming out of the ground. He thought that the bottle grew from the soil, like plants because he did not know enough about gardening. One day she awoke and knew that all she needed glass bottles to build these sheds.

Her work, In the Line of Fire, illustrates the face of a young African American WWII G.I. who went on to fight for American freedoms that he would never have himself. Other powerful themes included a room full of thousands of eggs to symbolize the lives lost in The Middle Passage.

Going from exploring some of the darkest chapters in human history to teaching and inspiring new generations, it seems that Howard’s body of work continues to come full circle.

Artist Spotlight: Annie Leibovitz Documentary

Annie Gargoyle
Annie Leibovitz on Chrysler building gargoyle, by: John Loengard

Annie RollingStone Cover
Rolling Stone magazine cover, John Lennon and Yoko Ono by: Annie Leibovitz

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

Annie Leibovitz. There’s no introduction needed when you’re talking about one of the most prolific photographers of our time. Her nude photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken just hours before Lennon was assassinated captured not just the tenderness of their relationship but an entire era.

The “Life Through A Lens” documentary is an introspective not about a famous photographer but the simple actions of a woman that lead to her becoming who she was meant to be.

Whether it’s shooting George Clooney on the shores of Lake Como for Vogue or documenting war in Rwanda, Leibovitz is a rare artist whose style is both fluid and distinct.

From her beginnings living in a San Francisco apartment so small her room was the closet, to single handedly creating imagery that’s become synonymous with Vanity Fair. Leibovitz is a rare breed of artist who can get anything she wants and do work she is truly passionate about.

“I would like to say I’m a photographer and sometimes my work is this and sometimes it’s something else,” said Leibovitz in the film, referring to what she perceives as a lack of a specific style. “I like to keep recording to see what life is… a photographers life is just a life working through a lens.”

As a young photographer, she drove to the Rolling Stone offices with a bag of snapshots and was hired on the spot. Eventually becoming the first Chief Photographer for the publication. Rolling Stone gave her the creative license to develop her signature style. At the time, other publications focused more on grand moments. Leibovitz’s work focused on small elements that gave her work humanity and life.

Lennon himself said that she captured the dynamic of his and Yoko’s relationship, “perfectly.” She came to the shoot with Lennon with no preconceived notions or poses, shooting the couple as they were.

“I never liked to presume anything about a person until I got there,” said Leibovitz. “When you think something will be nothing, it will be most likely something.”

She’s brought the same honestly to recording even her personal relationships. When her friend (and rumored one-time lover) writer and political activist, Susan Sontag was dying, Leibovitz photographed her death and final moments.

Perhaps this is why even her more commercial work with Vanity Fair, is still distinctly her own. The pitfall of success in art, is usually the fear of it loosing the artists original intent.

When she was began photographing celebrities for Vanity Fair, Leibovitz stayed true to her individual vision. The photograph of a nude, pregnant Demi Moore was not only beautiful and provocative but statement about motherhood in our society.

For the true Leibovitz follower, a true exploration of her work could take months but watching “Life Through A Lens” provides the perfect glimpse into the mind of a creative genius.

To watch “Life Through A Lens” click here.

Artist Spotlight: Alexis Laurent


Dandelions, by: Alexis Laurent


La Ville, by: Alexis Laurent

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

As anyone who has visited France knows, one of most prolific French experiences is admiring the Art Nouveau influences on Paris’ cityscape, from the famed Eiffel Tower to the intricate iron handrails on staircases.

San Francisco resident and France native, Alexis Laurent seeks to capture this marriage of art, nature and urban landscapes in his contemporary works. He molds dark metal into soft organic shapes, attaches plants to iron beams or combines all three on rough patches of asphalt. His paintings complete this vision with soft cubic shapes, blurring lines and organic colors.

When Laurent was a little boy growing up in the French countryside, he helped his father build their home with his bare hands. It was that experience and years spent assisting his artist parent’s in their metalworking workshop that laid the early foundations of a career as an internationally recognized painter, sculptor and self-described “urbanist”.

Laurent contemplates spaces much like an architect. He sees the merging of industrial and organic elements as a natural way to bring art to cities and make art part of the urban landscape.

After graduating with International Relations degrees from Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris, France and the University of Wisconsin, Laurent enjoyed a successful business career. But he realized that the business world was not for him. So, he took his American wife and daughter, and moved them back to France for three years to paint and nourish his passions.

Upon his return to San Francisco he bought an abandoned sweatshop warehouse in the gritty Mission District and transformed it into his personal studio and gallery. Inside, an entire living wall of iron and dessert plants dominates one gallery wall, and a giant conceptual saw made entirely of wood greets visitors at the entrance.

Laurent is adamant that the world must adapt to the idea of cities as landscapes and even works of art. While he acknowledged that it’s taken centuries for European cities to reach that point, he thinks that it is imperative to achieve this quickly in the United States.

For Laurent, it’s not a question of artistic pride but rather an elegant solution to the problem of rapid urbanization and population growth, so that future generations may enjoy their surroundings.

To learn more about Alexis Laurent’s work visit:

Artist Spotlight: Kelly Tunstall

Kelly Tunstall Cao Studio Cameo 3D Print

Cameo 3D Print, by: Kelly Tunstall

Kelly Tunstall Installation at Betty Lin Boutique 2011

Installation at Betty Lin Boutique, by: Kelly Tunstall

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

When she was a little girl, Kelly Tunstall used old issues of Vogue to make 3D paper clothes for her paper dolls. Now, she makes installations, illustrations and artworks for some of San Francisco trendiest restaurants, galleries and boutiques.

You can find her pieces hanging on the walls of Bar Crudo and the Marina neighborhood pasta heaven – A16. Tunstall specializes in mixed media, illustration, installations, multimedia, and jewelry design and represents half of the artistic duo KeFe, that she founded with her husband and fellow San Francisco artist, Ferris Plock.

When she was still a student in college, NEMO Design of Portland hired her as a designer. While with NEMO,  she explored the commercial side of art, creating designs and creative marketing campaigns for global brands. But her love of art soon drew her away from agency life.

Kelly Tunstall The Secret State 111 Minna Gallery SF

The Secret State, by: Kelly Tunstall

Enrolling in the California Institute of the Arts and Crafts in San Francisco, Tunstall developed her distinct abstract and mixed style. Her work is a reflection of Pop Art and abstract ideas, evident in depictions of cartoon-like figurines that spew dark matter and mysterious shapes from their body parts. Many of her pieces are completed in collaboration with her husband, such as the  2009 Elements exhibition.

Tunstall proudly admits to having no specific style or artistic direction. On many occasions, she goes in search of her materials first. It’s only when she finds elements that inspire her, that her work begins.

It’s a fitting workflow for an artist, who as a little girl would peek through the pages of Vogue, waiting for the perfect outfit to catch her attention.

To learn more about Kelly Tunstall’s work visit:

Artist Spotlight: Franc D’Ambrosio

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

Franc D’Ambrosio’s La Diva, 24”x24”, acrylic on canvas

Franc D’Amrosio is an artist who is not used to starving. As a young singer, he made his Broadway debut in Sweeney Todd, where was discovered by Francis Ford Coppola and offered the role Michael Corleone’s son in Godfather III. While auditioning for Miss Saigon in San Francisco, he was instead offered the much more prestigious lead role in The Phantom of the Opera. For such a gifted and exceptionally hardworking performer, the success comes as no surprise.

But nobody was more surprised than D’Ambrosio, when oil paintings he created as a hobby, became highly coveted and collected.

He first picked up painting alongside a friend, who was going through a difficult period in his life and was using art as catharsis. Theatrical themes can be found in almost all of his pieces as angelic forms dance and majestic figures stand on a stage. It’s no accident that his muse, is longtime Phantom of the Opera costar, Lisa Vromen.

Many fans compare his work to Jackson Pollok but while D’Ambrosio’s art certainly comes from the same school of thought, his style couldn’t be more different. While Pollock was known for adding materials to his canvasses – even cigarette butts – D’Ambrosio feels his work is finished once he has taken away as many layers of the oil paint as he can.

Oil is a favorite of many painters specifically because its think viscosity allows the artist to be flexible with the style of application. Some artists prefer to add solvents, such as turpentine or varnish to achieve the perfect texture and look.

Franc D’Ambrosio, Angels, acrylic on canvas, 40”x30”

D’Ambrosio’s signature style was borne out of pure frustration. No matter how little paint he applied to the canvas, he always felt that it was too much. Once he began concentrating on taking it away, instead of applying, he knew that this was how he was truly meant to paint.

Some artists spend their entire lives searching for the golden moment of recognition and fame. For others, that moment seems to fall right into their lap. Except that it doesn’t. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation, without the hard work it takes to nurture even the most prolific talent.

D’Ambrosio has spent years developing his artistic voice on the stage and his success in painting is a testament to how artistic growth in one medium, can translate to another.

Artist Spotlight: Charmaine Olivia

By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya

Rose Study by: Charmaine Olivia

Headache by: Charmaine Olivia

One look at Charmaine Olivia’s boldly feminine, sensual and whimsical pieces and it’s easy to see why Lady Gaga handpicked her work from that of 3 other artists in an Etsy contest to design posters inspired by the Born This Way album.

Lady Gaga chose the “Headache” print, a woman with flowing white locks and antlers that bears a strong physical resemblance to the “Born This Way” singer. Fifteen of the posters were signed by Mama Monster herself and all proceeds from the exclusive Etsy sale were donated to VH1’s Save the Music Foundation.

A self-taught artist with no classical training, Olivia first toyed with the idea of moving to Paris but ultimately chose San Francisco as her home. Her work features strong Hindu and Eastern influences from her childhood. The fantastical man-animal god hybrids of Hinduism manifest themselves in painted Third Eyes, animals in human clothing and sirens with deer horns.

Jackie by: Charmaine Olivia

It was her talents for creating fiercely independent work that helped her  stand out even when standing shoulder to shoulder with a master. When The Warholian asked her to reimagine Andy Warhol’s classic Jackie O portrait, for the Warhol Reimagined exhibition in San Francisco, she responded by giving Warhol’s print of the aristocratic icon tattoos and a third eye.

While tattoos on Jackie O may seem like a contradiction, it is actually a perfect example of Olivia’s ability to illustrate the desire for both strength and feminity across all female generations.

In many ways, Olivia’s work can be seen as a reflection of today’s generation. Her animal themes underline how people will always feel an instinctive connection to nature. Her themes of strength and empowerment show that although some social norms have changed, women will always be mysterious creatures.

This may be the why Lady Gaga chose her work over other equally talented artists. Olivia’s aesthetic is otherworldly and even a little whimsical but at its core it speaks to the most basic thoughts and desires we all feel.

To learn more about Charmaine Olivia’s work visit: