San Francisco – Artspan Open Studios

A getaway from painting for me is art inspired travel. We did a lot of homework when last we visited San Francisco. Our goal was to spend a little over 3 weeks exploring Artspan, which is the largest open art studios event in the US and spreads throughout the districts of San Francisco with a concentration of co-ops in the Mission and SoMa areas. We wanted to be based in an area that was handy to downtown but far enough away to afford a little chill. Castro seemed a perfect fit but outside of a basic appreciate for the life and times of Harvey Milk, we knew very little about the area and despite all of our research we somehow missed that our visit would coincide with the Castro Street Fair. This one Sunday of celebration, love and laughter turned out to be as much fun as 3 weeks of open studios.


San Francisco is only just behind New York on a our favourite cities to visit in the US. We love it. The architecture and geography is wonderful, you can get lost in the streets and districts day after day and continue to make new discoveries. We have a bit of an aversion to the mainstream. Chugging out to Alcatraz or strolling Pier 39 holds little interest for us. We’d rather be riding buses to the end of the line, admiring Mission’s street art or woofing down a chimichanga in Castro. Ok, maybe the Golden Gate or a trolley ride might sneak in there but the point is we wanted to see the cultural side of San Francisco through its art and diversity.


Castro is no more picturesque than a dozen other SF areas. However, San Francisco does have high standards and with Castro’s colourful history, comprehensive selection of cafes and eateries and being just a 10 minute trolley ride along Market Street to downtown, it makes for a solid base to explore. On top of all that it is easy access along 18th Street to Mission and SoMa without necessarily having to head too deep into the city and you’re a couple of minutes over the hill to lovely Noe Valley.

My other half, Perry, has always been fascinated by Harvey Milk and I suppose it has rubbed off on me. It’s an intriguing part of the cities history not least for the tragic and somewhat bizarre events that surrounded his final years – sadly it reflects the harrowing times that this community faced during the 80’s. Have a look at Rob Epstein’s award winning documentary and also the Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk”, if you fancy a little enlightening.


On a lovely Saturday morning we left our apartment and wandered down the road to a very pleasant surprise, the Castro Street Fair was in full swing. It’s a wonderful celebration of pride, joy and acceptance which was started by the late Harvey Milk and this year marks its 45th anniversary (Sunday, October 7, 2018). Market stalls, dancing and cheer leaders fill Castro Street from Market Street down and into 18th. The best way I can describe it is that of a feeling of warmth toward each other, as a couple of straight foreigners we never for one moment felt unwelcome, people enjoying each others company regardless of who you were… bring a smile and you’re in. Just wandering the streets back and forth from our rental was a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the mood of the celebration as many locals have garage sales in the surrounding streets (if ever you were going to be able to browse an immaculate wardrobe).


Just below the SoMa district is Mission. Named after the Alta California mission (San Francisco’s oldest standing building) Mission was traditionally an area mostly of Mexican immigrants but has seen many communities come and go and now with the gentrification of anywhere remotely close to downtown it continues to evolve into a prized piece of San Francisco real estate. We came across Mission really by accident as we explored the Artspan Open Studios event. It’s home to several large art co-ops and is an area well worth a visit purely for the street art and cafe scene. For a little more detail, here’s a great article we found that might help push you over the edge.


The Artspan event is a terrific way to explore San Francisco and gain an insight and authentic connection with another of San Francisco’s important communities. The once run down areas South of Market Street (SoMa) have sprung back to life since the turn of the century and are made all the more interesting by the presence of hundreds of art co-ops that via for the remaining spaces that aren’t spoken for by developers.

Artspan – San Francisco Open Studios is the oldest and largest open art studios program in the US. It runs annually throughout the weekends of October and showcases over 800 emerging and established San Francisco artists in their studios. The list of studios and spaces is huge, from painters, photographers, sculptors it’s all there. The thing we really enjoyed was arriving at a little known area (to us) and stepping inside beautiful old warehouses, having no idea what was to come. The San Francisco Open Studios event is free for visitors and endless if you have the stamina. We covered an insane number of studios, saw many inspiring studios and initiatives and ticked off quite few “firsts”, by far the best city experience we have had… this is where I plead for you to change that ticket to October!

Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog San Francisco Open Art Studios

MONA Tasmania

For some time l had been hearing positive yet vague comments about this quirky art space, MONA Museum Tasmania – the Museum of Old and New Art. So, call me cynical, but having grown up in Australia and been fortunate enough through my travels to have experienced some of the world’s headlining galleries such as the Louvre, all of the Tate’s, Uffizi, the Guggenheim’s, Getty and New York’s MOMA, was this gallery with the rip-off acronym just a sorry attempt at surfing coat tails? Being in the middle of nowhere, a closer investigation was put on the back burner until recently and… I must dip my head in shame. Perhaps I could put it down to presumption, after all, Tassie does food, Tassie does wine and whisky… Tasmania does devils, but is Tassie also a beacon for the art experience? Errr… yes, I was oh so wrong! Of all the aforementioned galleries, MONA Museum Tasmania, for me, is the World’s Best Art Museum Experience.


Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh, is the founder of MONA. The Moorilla Museum of Antiquities was founded in 2001 but then given the mother of all facelifts in 2007 – $75 million worth of botox evolved into the Museum of Old and New Art – MONA. The new version was officially opened in January 2011 and coincided with the third MOFO festival of which MONA hosts annually (music and arts festivals showcasing public art and performances).
MONA houses 1,900 works from David Walsh’s private collection. Of his themes, sex & death are high on the agenda, his attitude toward collecting is probably best described by Richard Dorment, art critic for The Daily Telegraph –

…doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the collection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.

To set the scene I’ll need to digress for a moment to give you a sense of my mindset on approaching this venue. The positive comments I mentioned were always followed up with –

Have you been to MONA Yet?

My “No” was met with silence and a widening of the eyes then –

I won’t say too much but it’s interesting!

That was all anyone would say and in hindsight my experience was better for it, so if you’re planning a visit let me just say –

Do it!

And to follow a baffling marketing move, let me add –

Look away now.

You’re still with me, so thankfully the complexity of my “Wet Paint” strategy is sticking (and the rest of this post wasn’t for nothing).
On approach you feel like you’re up for a nice morning in a vineyard (it is set in the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula). Having barely parked the car the first installation that you will stumble across hints at what is to come (assuming you drove, if you caught the ferry you’ll be too preoccupied with climbing the 99 steps to notice much else). Two large concrete walls form a funnel, running parallel. “Does my bum to big in this” comes to mind… the rear of a car sandwiched between the walls. Right from the start, your mind is on art alert, a bit like the scary fun house at Disney, you don’t know what’s coming, but you know it’s coming. There was loads of cool stuff to check out around the grounds, there’s a market day on Sunday which has local wares, good food and ordinary coffee, the views across the Derwent River are fantastic. But if you were like us you’ll be gagging to see behind the curtain, or more accurately, the fun-house crazy mirrored entrance.


My first surprise was that you descend into the mountain side… very cool. You’re job is to find your way back to the surface. The whole museum is all about the crafting of a cavernous space and then reminding you of it where ever you turn – lots of metaphors at play here for you to ponder. I was also surprised at the amount of permanent installations and the lengths that they have gone to to incorporate and accommodate them within what is already an impressive engineering feat.
Now I don’t want to go into too much detail on the installations themselves. So many of them rely on the element of surprise and I’m sure to get you excited about something that may not be on show when you arrive. What I will say is that you are never too sure what is around the corner, or what an inanimate object is capable of. There is at least 2/3 hours of jaw dropping exhibits. No labels, just a groovy little iPod, or ‘O’ device with an in-built GPS that senses where you are and displays information about the nearby artworks in ‘Art Wank’ (their words, not mine).
We are usually impatient with art exhibits, if it doesn’t grab us we move on quickly. Not here, we are already planning a return trip.


MONA was the most fulfilling public art experience we have had. I pocketed a piece of plastic chain as a memento and it now hangs in pride of place with our art collection at home. It’s a reminder, not only of a fantastic experience but as a kick up the bum, don’t prejudge!

Opening of MONA 2011 – Groupe F (French Pyro-musicians) by Mark Huber

Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - Mona Tasmania

Image by Rob Taylor

Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - Mona Tasmania
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - Mona Tasmania
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - Mona Tasmania

Images by Cheryl

The Coolest Art Store In The Whole Wide World – Pigment Tokyo

Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11

My choice of art materials over the years has largely been determined by three factors, affordability, practicality and affordability. Dry artists pigment have never been on the radar for me, at least not until I discovered the coolest art store in the whole wide world – Pigment Tokyo.

I started off many years ago as a diehard oil devote, seduced by the lush nature of its application and the vibrancy that it sustained. But whether it’s down to cost, the lack of ventilated working space or simply the need for speed, acrylics have largely ticked all the boxes for me. So, during my research for a trip to Tokyo, I came across a place called Pigment Tokyo and knowing nothing about working with this dry artists pigment I decided it would make for a worthy pilgrimage. It almost makes me ill to think that I may have missed it.


On first approach the establishment itself is quite corporate in appearance, definitely not screaming “come in and touch everything”. But I’d come so far, so I braved the door. Once past what seemed an equally corporate reception area I was rewarded by a kaleidoscope of colour. An entire wall, floor to ceiling of glass jars, beaming with pigment.

I was a pig in pigment heaven!

After several laps of the central counter, not pausing in fear of being removed for my obvious unsuitability, I slowly gathered my faculties and reeled in my dropped jaw to brave first contact. Apart from the lavish display of pigments, the selection of tantalising brushes was equally overwhelming. My obvious delight with my new found nirvana was enhanced with a friendly invitation by Masayoshi to test drive the vast selection of brushes.

It was quite something to give these puppies the once over. Having the opportunity to experience the huge differences between each brush and its application potential was fascinating. Historically I have largely achieved mark-making from repetition rather than by employing the right tool for the job!  In retrospect this has heightened an awareness and desire to yield better results by reevaluating the execution of the mark-making process and placing less importance on the resting mark itself.


Spending some time with a selection of three brushes can only describe as driving a classic sports car compared to using my push bike… with a flat tyre! Could I be really be indulgent and walk away with all three? Or does sense prevail and do I have to choose? Well… neither. On quizzing my very helpful assistant I was informed that to bag these three sable beauties I would need to part with ¥100,000 (approx.AUD$1230 / USD$940!).

I swallowed my pride and started my process of elimination once again, this time with a prerequisite of a price tag being attached before bonding could commence. I eventually a brush not familiar to me or my practice, which in many ways is a delight in itself as it opens up new possibilities and after all, that’s what I was looking for. It was slightly lighter to the touch on paper, a combination of goat and horse hair at just ¥3,500.

It seemed wrong somehow to slap this brand spanking new brush up against some unworthy piece of scrappy sketchbook so I did what any respectable artist (addicted to all things shiny) would do and selected a small bamboo watercolour pad at the reasonable price of ¥1200.


Now to get my head around the pigment selection!!! Having never purchased dry artists pigment before this was going to be interesting, that and my Japanese language skills not stretching beyond counting to ten. I loitered before the monument of colour and was handed a tray on which to place my selected jars. By what I could gather, like any paint, there can be vast discrepancies between prices. This pigment was sold per 15 grams, ranging from ¥500 to ¥5,000 – needless to say I was discretely spinning each vessel around to check the price before placing it in my tray. Selection made, my jars where whisked away and returned to me as little plastic bags full of colourful powder.

Tainting my excitement somewhat was the possibility of these powder samples being misconstrued for something far more sinister at customs. Perhaps my brief visit to Japan might be extended! After a good hour in this store I left ¥11,500 (AUD$140 / USD$108) lighter but with some awesome kit which I can’t wait to road test… oh, and a big grin.

Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11
Cheryl Harrison Painting Blog - pigment paint shop Tokyo - 11

Catching Cats With Yukio Takahashi

Cheryl Harrison Artist

I first came across Yukio Takahashi and his work whilst researching a trip to Tokyo. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting artists and gallery spaces – I struck gold on both accounts this time. As luck would have it our trip coincided with Mr.Takahashi’s exhibition in the ultra cool Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa. No brainer… we set out to make contact and organise a possible ‘sit-down’ with the man himself  to learn more about him and his work.

Sounds easy right? Our Japanese is non-existent and with the very little we knew of Takahashi and his work we pushed on through social media and eventually made first contact. With some very welcome assistance from Yukinori Motoya at Gallery Hana Shimokitazawa we managed to set a date and time to rendezvous in Tokyo at the Gallery Hana.In just over 48 hours and beyond a bumpy flight, a deceptively long airport transfer and a chance encounter with a pair of extremely ambitious and persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses we finally stumbled into Gallery Hana to meet Yukio, his wife Maggie and Yukinori. Lovely people and awesome work by a superbly talented artist. Now it’s time to watch the video…. off you go.

Cheryl Harrison - Artist
Cheryl Harrison Artist