In the early 20th century, San Francisco felt the effects of disaster. The earthquake of 1906 left the city with crumbled buildings and widespread devastation throughout the downtown area, so art was probably not on the minds of civil servants and residents trying to recuperate and clean a city in disrepair. Artwork from this period in San Francisco history, such as works by Jules Page, showed a San Francisco landscape unharmed by natural disaster; Page’s work captured the vibrancy of the city. In such a digitally laden age, shows may not commonly feature serene paintings of the San Francisco cityscape. But there’s still a deep appreciation for artists who incorporate the city through an artistic lens that gives the viewer a strong sense of the city’s essence.
In searching for a contemporary San Francisco artist who uses San Francisco as a primary element within their work, we found Rio Yañez. At Muddy Waters Coffee House on San Francisco’s popular Valencia Street, a young man wearing a black, Star Wars–themed Dia de Los Muertos T-shirt approaches and kindly greets me. As a native San Franciscan, Yañez grew up on 26th Street to parents who were both visual artists. In the 1970s, his father was a collage artist and curator, while his mother was a painter. Rene Yañez, his father, remains highly active in the Bay Area arts community today. Father and son have co-curated shows and worked in tandem, most recently on a 3-D art project enticing viewers into a rich dialogue both visually and physically. In addition, Yañez created 3-D conversions of his father’s other work. As co-founders of art group The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the duo silkscreen tortillas with chocolate ink and create edible works of art that serve as both interventions and experimental art.
One of the life-changing events for Yañez was turning to photography in high school. Soon after graduation in the late 1990s, he started the City College of San Francisco associate degree program in photography, marveling at two-megapixel cameras. He found something exciting and rewarding. He moved to Southern California to attend the prestigious California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he received his bachelor’s degree in photography. Upon returning to the Bay Area, he wanted to mesh his photography skills with his love and fascination for sequential art. The end results were dynamic artworks that coalesced photography, drawing and new media. His childhood obsession with comic books resurfaced and can be seen in some of his most current works. Yañez continues to work digitally but is exploring
ways that he can apply his knowledge to other formats. With a fascination of moving GIFs, or cinemagraphs, he continues to pay homage to the San Francisco cityscape and memories that shape his spirited and energetic work.
Even with significant differences in medium, the common thread between Page and Yañez is the desire to illustrate San Francisco in a way that captivates and piques the curiosity of the viewer. Both artists utilize San Francisco as a subject, but Yañez shows how the city has grown, developed and changed over the past century. He successfully aims to show his San Francisco in such a way that any viewer—whether newcomer, transplant or native—is more than welcome to join in on the dialogue.
Upcoming Shows: Counterproof: The Other Side of Print at Incline Gallery with The Great Tortilla Conspiracy ~ April 13. To learn more about Rio Yañez visit his website. RioYanez.com
Originally posted to Asterisk SF Magazine. Please view here.