I am not really sure what has stopped me visiting San Francisco before. Even more than New York, SF seems to me to be the essence of everything I want my cinematically-tinged “USA” to be: the beat poets, Chinatown, Harvey Milk, Jefferson Airplane... all in the past. So far in the past. Yet it feels as if little has changed. Not even the coming of the tech giants has removed the feel of a thriving alternative arts community. The buzz on Sunday was that someone very, very important in Tech had bought one of David Choi’s bracelets from the show I was in SF to see.
The flight from London was uneventful to the point of boredom. I don’t get bored easily and always have books and music and notepads to keep my attention but eleven hours is a long time to be sat in one place! I was SO bored that I made the mistake of watching “Skyfall” on the inflight video. The song is the best thing in it. Seriously. It outclasses the film by a long way and I was singing it to myself for days after. This is a Bond-theme classic, up there with “Goldfinger”. The film, however, is a turkey (this is not the place to analyse, so I won’t; suffice to say that it is full of cod-psychology, mother fixations and a “baddie” of unclear motivation who is not only physically deformed but who is also homosexual). Anyway, completed some drawings and finished the last of the Chanel biographies and by the time we landed, I just wanted to be MOVING, which, alas! was not going to happen soon.
Immigration in the US is one of the most dispiriting things I have encountered. I am fortunate in not having met with anything but efficient politeness at immigration – no horror stories from me – but all those long queues, the miserable faces of the people waiting, the knowledge that your bag is spinning round and round outside... it makes for a grim experience, especially as in the three arrivals that I have visited – JFK, O’Hare and San Francisco International – the space is cramped and hot. That and immediately being treated like a criminal by being fingerprinted. It took me TWO HOURS to get from the plane to the transit. There simply were not enough staff on the desks.
I flirted my way into the country. The fellow staffing the booth at the queue I had picked was mean; really mean. He kept finding fault with paperwork and sending people back to the end of the queue. When my turn came, I opened the conversation with the truthful statement, “That is a magnificent moustache,” referring to his handlebar moustache, “People in the UK don’t grow them like that anymore”. I was through in about 45 seconds!
Having left a cloudy and cold Glasgow, I was somewhat overdressed for San Francisco: it was warm and sunny with clear blue skies when I set out to find Velvet da Vinci on Polk Street in the Russian Hill district, walking from the unlovely Fisherman’s Wharf, where my hotel was situated. I was wearing my new organic tweed kilt from Howie Nicholsby’s 21st Century Kilts and although I am prepared for the reception I get in most places, I was taken aback when a fellow ran out of a gym to ask about it!
Velvet da Vinci is a big, open gallery space on a busy commercial section of Polk Street but it’s grey-front and austere red lettering don’t prepare you in any way for the unpretentious friendliness of the staff and owners.
The airy gallery was hosting the physical part of the joint Crafthaus/VdV show, “Ferrous”, in which I am pleased to have been included and which was my main reason for visiting the city in the first place. The show is thrilling. There is no other word for it.
The theme, “Ferrous”, as you might imagine, was all about jewellers who work in iron in various forms. I would never have thought that there would be so many other jewellers who make iron a material focus. We are all familiar with the work of Rob Jackson and Jim Cotter (who was not represented in the show) but it was fascinating to see how other jewellers use this material; there were new names as well as old names using a new material. The iron is used in many ways: powder coated, enamelled, pierced, forged; it is from found-objects, new sheet, cast lumps, rusted, polished and patinated. From the point of view of a jeweller who uses iron as a primary material, this was such an exciting show but I think also that from the point of view of the public, the customer, this show is an excellent survey of the possibilities of jewellery in an era of exorbitant precious metal prices. Indeed, Mike, one of the gallery owners, told me that a substantial number of pieces sold on the opening night.
Unusually, for such a large and varied show, there was nothing in it that I absolutely hated: perhaps that has something to do with iron being "my" material. It is unmistakably an exciting selection, thoughtfully and skilfully curated. For me, the outstanding pieces in the show were work by an artist I haven't encountered before, Jaclyn Davidson:
It was good to see that the opening was very well attended and there was a real buzz about the place, though an actor I spoke to told me that he would "never work again" after he asked about my "Macbeth Brooch"!
Mike Holmes behind the counter in Velvet da Vinci.
I was absolutely stunned by some of the work in the highly varied and innovative exhibition.
The online catalogue is here.
After the show was over, I was taken to dinner: when visiting the gallery, I can recommend the Chinese restaurant next door! Thanks indeed to Mike, Elizabeth, Ariel, Emma and the rest of the team for making me so welcome.
Having spent over 24 hours awake, it was time for bed.
More to follow...