San Francisco is a hard city for artists to survive in, harder now that ever. With apartments renting at $2000 a month and condos selling for five million and up, it’s become a city for the 1%.
But some artists have managed to survive without compromising their vision of making art that transcends boundaries and speaks to both environmental concerns and mystical beliefs.
Just ask Sofia Carmi and Brent Bushnell who have managed to survive here for decades, with one stint “in exile” in Sacramento.
Brent came to San Francisco in 60s, Sofia in the 80s but their life paths followed a very similar pattern.
Brent was born in LA but his parents decided to move back to Utah when he was six. When he graduated from high school, he thought about going to art school but the draft board had other plans. After a stint in the Navy, Brent came here in 1967, got his MFA at SFSU, studying with noted Bay Area sculptor Stephen de Staebler, (among others).
He raised his son as a single parent, worked as a draftsman and painted in his kitchen at night. He moved so often that he lost count, always looking for an affordable space that had room for him to paint.
Eventually, he was able to move into the Serta Building, a former mattress factory at 23rd and Yosemite. Over thirty artists lived there, forming an informal commune where everybody looked out for each other. The spaces were big, the windows were huge and the place was a paradise for art and community.
Sofia was born in Jerusalem and her family immigrated to Brooklyn when she was almost seven. Her parents lived in several different places before they ended up in Canada. Sofia always knew that she wanted to study art which not something that her conservative family would have approved of. She didn’t want to bother with high school. But, facing reality, she got her high school diploma, returned to Israel when she was 16 and back to Canada where she graduated from the Ontario College of Art in the 70s.
She went to the San Francisco Art Institute in the 80s, working three jobs to keep going. She traveled and taught art in Europe but returned to San Francisco where she got her MA from New College of California.
Sofia’s and Brent’s paths began to converge in the late 1990s. They first met at the San Francisco International Art Fair in 1998 and then, at openings, museums, gallery openings – if it related to art, Sofia and Brent were there, constantly “running into each other.”
Sofia and Brent joined their lives and their art practices and lived in the Serta Building until 2002. Unfortunately, the building was sold to a developer and they, along with the rest of the artists, were evicted after a two year battle.
When Brent was evicted from the Serta Building, he had to leave his sculptures behind. Since he could not afford storage for his art, he and two other friends installed several pieces of sculpture on the top of the embankment above the railroad tracks of the Peninsula commute train. The installation gave commuters something to look at and also, provided a totem to guide Brent and Sofia back to the city they loved and felt was their spiritual home.
The other wonderful thing is that the homeless, encamped around the sculpture, tended the the works to keep them from being destroyed. Brent and Sofia brought some art even into the grim and difficult lives of San Francesco’s lowest of the low, proving that art can communicate across all boundaries.
An “exile” to Sacramento followed, but in 2004 they were eventually able to move back to San Francisco. They rented studios at Art Explosion but finally were able to move to the Goodman Building 2 on Potrero Hill where they now live. It is a live/work space and although it is not large, Brent and Sofia continue their art practice, outreach to the community and showing their work wherever they can.
Brent and Sofia were brought together by the synchronicity of being artists with similar beliefs in a city with a flourishing art scene – often flourishing against all odds. They share concerns about the environment, our wanton misuse of natural resources and destruction of the wilderness. Both are on a journey compelled by the love of art and, for both, it is the journey that is the reward.
Links: Sofia Carmi: http://www.artslant.com/global/artists/show/65380-sofia-carmi
Brent Bushnell: http://www.artspan.org/artist/brent-bushnell
Brent Bushnell. On Thin Ice
Brent’s first Open Studio was in 1982. He read about a call to artists and went to the meeting at 4th and Clement. There were 42 artists at Open Studios that first year. The “catalogue” was a foldout and he sold a painting, finally feeling like a “real artist.”
Brent Bushnell. Arctic Moonrise
He now lives with his artist/partner, Sofia Carmi in the Goodman 2 building on Potrero Hill. This was the first new artist’s live/work building constructed in San Francisco and is the result of a long struggle by artists who were evicted from the original Goodman building back in the 70’s-80’s.
Brent Bushnell. Aurora Borealis
His current work, a series of 30×40 semi-abstract landscapes was inspired by a film on the Arctic explorer, Shakleton. The rocky landscape was a shock as Brent had been stationed in Greenland during his military service.
Brent Bushnell. Flyaway
The contract between the ice covered landscape then and the bolder strewn land now brought home the reality of global warming more sharply than ever before. In his paintings, Brent strives to express the stark beauty of the place.
Brent Bushnell. Installing sculpture
When Brent was evicted from the Serta Building, he had to leave his art behind. Since he could not afford storage to keep it all, he and two other friends installed several pieces of sculpture on the top of the embankment above the railroad tracks of the Peninsula commute train.
Installing sculpture 2002
The installations gave commuters something to look at and also, provided a totem to guide Bent and Sofia back to the city they loved.
The other wonderful thing is that the homeless, encamped around the sculpture, kept it from being destroyed. So, Brent and Sofia brought some art even into the grim and difficult lives of San Francesco’s homeless population.
“Minerva” is a moment from their “exile” to Sacrament after being evicted in 2002. It is a tree root bulb that they found. Sofia spent and after noon cleaning the dirt off it and painting it.
Sofia’s paintings are concerned with color, rhythm and movement of energy expressed in abstract forms capturing the landscape memories of Jerusalem deserts and the Bay Area.
Sofia Carmi. Blue Symphony
Sofia writes, “The actual experience of painting is what I think of all the time and look forward to it. If I am painting at the moment or not, behind my head I am working on an idea and how to create it.”
Sofia Carmi. Desertscape
What stand out in her artwork is it’s connection to spirit, along with a passionate commitment to environmental justice. Her current works are inspired by the desert landscapes of her native Israel along with abstract shapes and movements.
Brent Bushnell and Sofia Carmi
Sofia Carmi and her partner, Brent Bushnell. They share a very small studio at the Goodman 2 Building on Potrero Hill. They first met at the San Francisco International Art Fair in 1998 and then, at openings, museums, gallery openings – if it related to art, Sofia and Brent were there, constantly “running into each other.”
Sofia Carmi. Cycle of Seasons
Brent and Sofia were brought together by the synchronicity of being artists with similar beliefs in a city with a flourishing art scene – flourishing against all odds, I might add. They share concerns about the environment, our wanton misuse of natural resources and destruction of the wilderness. Both are on a journey compelled by the love of art and, for both, it is the journey that is the reward.