As recently as eight or ten years ago, "when things were gritty in the Gaslamp Quarter," says downtown's Golden Pacific Art owner Catherine Wall, artists could rent small work spaces for $60 per month. "A building near where Petco Park is now was full of them," she says. Today rents for the work spaces range from $150 to $500 per month.
Prices that high make Daniel Ochoa dubious of recent Gaslamp Quarter Association attempts to portray San Diego's downtown as a burgeoning artist's colony. Ochoa teaches for the Art Institute of California in Mission Valley. Since artists usually struggle to pay the bills, he says, they look for the lowest rents they can find.
Local artist Cecelia Linayao disagrees. She exhibits her paintings in the Brokers Building Gallery at Fourth Avenue and Market Street and works in a studio above it. Approximately thirty other artists rent space in the same building.
"Of course, artists would benefit from low rents," says Linayao, "but if you can be close to a center of art, then you are going to do what it takes -- work a part-time job or put out more art -- to be where the action is. There is so much stimulation and camaraderie from interacting with the other artists. But everybody here works hard to exhibit. This is no freebie."
In November and December, under the sponsorship of the Art Institute of California San Diego, the Gaslamp Quarter Association displayed art banners painted by Ochoa, Linayao, and 57 other artists. The banners were hung from the gas-lamp poles downtown. "It's a venue for local artists to display original art on the street," says gallery owner Wall, who has been an Association board member for five years.
On January 19, the Association will auction off the banners at the San Diego Gaslamp Marriott. It will use a silent auction to sell 39 of the banners and a live auction for the remaining 20. Artists will share the proceeds equally with the Gaslamp Quarter Association. The banners may be viewed online at www.gaslamp.org/artbanner.php
The retail committee of the Gaslamp Quarter Association opted two years ago to display local artists' banners during the holidays instead of the Christmas banners that have traditionally been put up. As sponsor, the Art Institute of California encouraged its students to submit art to the exhibit. The Gaslamp Association selected 14 banners from their faculty and students to hang in the late-fall display.
Artists painted the banners on two-by-four-foot canvases. "When we took them down on January 3," says the Association's senior marketing manager Dan Flores, "two of them were missing. I doubt they were stolen, because we attached them very securely to the gas-lamp poles. Probably city crews removed them. I'm hopeful we'll find them."
A wide variety of media and painting styles appear on the banners, says Ochoa, who cites abstract work, "quintessential California impressionism," and photorealism. He describes his style as "contemporary expressive. I use a lot of brush strokes in my work. The things that I paint are there in front of me, so you could also consider my work representational. My piece portrays the Gaslamp Movie Theater. I change colors to create an exaggerated view of the theater that shows its historical context in the Gaslamp district and the vibrancy that it currently has."
Cecelia Linayao's painting style is impressionistic, and her banner is "bright and bold. My subject," she says, "is four faces surrounding two flowers, the sunflower, for San Diego, and the poppy, which is the California state flower. The four faces draw from different ethnic mixes. I wanted to relate the different kinds of beauty in flowers to people."
Several banners by other artists in this year's exhibit stand out for Linayao. "Sean Spoto did the garibaldi fish that are found in our coastal waters," she says, "and someone else [Roni Sumer] did the seals you see in La Jolla. Then you contrast those with an abstract painting called Zen Diego [by El Cajon artist Jim Singer]."
But the one that fascinates Linayao the most is Gaslamp Tapa by Alyson Gillellian. It uses tapa cloth, which is "made out of the bark of trees," says Linayao. "You pound it so that it resembles something between paper and cloth and you put ink on it made from fruits and berries. You see that in a lot of Islander cultures."
The Gaslamp Quarter Association's Flores likes to tout a banner portraying a blue parrot painted in acrylics by Gretchen Kasler. Kasler studies art at the Bonita School of Art. She is 16.-- Joe Deegan
Gaslamp Quarter's Second Annual Artist Showcase and Auction
Wednesday, January 19
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
San Diego Marriott Gaslamp
660 K Street, downtown