Photos by: Stephanie Bao
Ben-Joaquin Torres has a knack for stimulating the community. The electric sounds of the in-house DJ fill the air inside his one-car garage space located nearby San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. As the DJ continues his mix, the neighboring apartment prepares affordable barbeque for visitors to fill their stomachs. People conjegate inside and outside of Torres’ exhibition room. The guests listen to live music, talk amongst one another, and admire artwork inside the make-shift gallery.
The gathering looks and feels like a hangout amongst friends, but a closer examination reveals something more. Under the resonant music and incoherent clamoring of a dozen conversations occurring at once lies an art showroom built for the people, by the people. This is the Eclectic Art Show.
As a way to connect the community, Ben-Joaquin Torres established an art dwelling free of the snootyness and exclusivity oftentimes associated with other art venues. As his do-it-yourself art space begins catching the attention of Bay Area residents, it may soon become a hotspot for locals to show appreciation for up-and-coming artists and, more importantly, enjoy the company of each other.
“We have no posted hours, we don’t commercially sell or solicit art, and we are run out of a non-recognized art gallery,” says 32-year-old San Francisco State University Art History major Torres. “It makes us look more like a circus. When people are given the opportunity to come to this venue it gives them the idea that they can do whatever the fuck they want. We want to be the venue that says we don’t give a fuck what you do.”
In the beginning, Torres, along with a few friends, purchased a commercial printing press and established themselves as art collaborators where they promoted art and music outside their garage. After the success of their first event, which occurred during the 2008 Bay to Breakers, they continued to throw more “parties” where they found an excuse to paint, drink, and socialize.
Fast forward to Febrauary 2010, Torres, along with artists John Noonan and Sara Nibecker, held a Valentine’s Day show that featured a large body of their work. The artists had items for sale—cards, prints, panels, images, and labels—all of which made the event more like a “commercial” venue. Following the triumph of the holiday-inspired show, Torres continued pursuing the theme of showcasing art. To this day, after three years of running and financially backing his own art domain, Torres has worked with over thirty local artists—ten of which have been in the past year.
“Alternative galleries are on the minds of a lot of people,” says Torres, who finds artists through word of mouth. “It’s hard to even get into galleries.” In his opinion, contributing artists do not have to worry about being judged; they get the opportunity to take their art and see how it “sticks to the wall.” “People that underestimate themselves need some cheering on,” he adds. “When you show people respect towards their cause they show allegiance back to your cause as well.”
The walls in Torres’ garage articulate his genuine appreciation of local art. Pieces range from a large collage of a man’s face made from Polaroid pictures, a ceramic sculpture of a woman’s head, and an illustration of a naked man walking a sheep in the snow.
Co-curator and participating artist Roderick Gaines, who met Torres at SF State, says it was Torres’ interest in connecting the community through art that caught his attention. According to Gaines, 22, SF State is a commuter college. In Gaine’s opinion, functions like the Eclectic Art Show help dissipate that notion.
“When we have events that are out of our parameters and our classes, we can see what everyone is all about,” says Gaines. “We also have the opportunity to meet people in our department that we haven’t had the chance to meet before. We can create something that is apart from the bourgeois when we have something that is completely our own, and I think it is something that is really needed.”
Amelia Sandy, a contributing artist who fell in love with artistic expression through art therapy, says she enjoys the collection of work that hangs in Torres’ garage. Her piece, a ceramic woman’s face, took her two-to-four weeks to complete and was inspired by the stoneware artist Esther Shimazu, who Sandy studied from through an art workshop.
“I’m really ecstatic about this event,” says the 25-year-old Sandy. “There’s probably about three times the amount of people here then there were at the last event.” For the record, Torres’ previous event occurred on a rainy day and during finals week.
“I don’t interact with the community as much as I’d like to,” adds Sandy, “and this is where people like Ben can step in.”
In addition to creating a communal environment for everyone, Torres aspires to create the new “avante garde” of art. As a result, Torres took hold of the phrase “WHAT IT IS,” an idiom he considers passive, and gave it a new, proactive meaning. “The hopes with the phrase [WHAT IT IS] is to be subliminal in a positive way,” he says. “I want it to promote action against inaction.”
In wake of the tsunami in Japan, Torres hosted an isolation room with a piece by emerging artist Alicia Mayer. Torres says the isolation room was a place for people to think of the tsunami victims and to give a moment of silence. “[The room] was created to make people react,” says Torres, who raised three hundred dollars in donations from the exhibition. “This comes back to the idea of taking action. We want to make people think of the tragedy.”
Spencer Kennedy, an SF State student in attendance, says he wants to see more art shows from Torres. Kennedy, who frequents both the Katherine Clark and Park Life galleries in San Francisco, thinks the event is a one-of-a-kind experience because students are not given a platform to display their work at other galleries.
“I want to see more young people excited about the art and excited about the gallery as a space,” says Kennedy. According to Kennedy, some people think that art galleries are “snooty” or “stuck up,” which oftentimes discourages them from making it past the front door. “I want more people to come to a gallery and think that it is more relatable to them,” he adds.
As Torres’ art space gains more recognition in San Francisco, he plans to eventually allow featured artists to have full control of future events. “My goal at the moment is working in academics and curating privately,” says Torres. “I want to work in venues in that are aligned with the ideals of the artists and the concept of what it is. I want to allow others to embrace what it is.”