Boston Artist Paints Pictures of Bernal Heights Homes

Artist Leah Giberson lives in Boston.  She’s only visited Bernal Heights once, but she developed an instant affinity for our neighborhood — an affinity that she’s now translated into a pair of paintings about local homes.

In a note to Bernalwood, Leah writes:

I have lived the majority of my life in New England and until last summer, had only been to San Francisco once (as a teenager), but have always felt drawn to the light and color of California in general and San Francisco more specifically. When I went out this past July for my show at Rare Device, it was a pitifully short trip but I made the most of every second. I oohed and ahhed my way through the two days and three nights, feeling like I had stepped into a Diebenkorn painting – or in some cases like I had stepped into one of my own paintings!

On my second and last full day, I hiked up and down hills all day from 9 to 5 and lucked into a sunny break in the clouds just as I arrived at Bernal Heights. I fell in love immediately with the neighborhood, the architecture, the restaurants and the crazy dramatic views.

As an artist I am most intrigued by scenes that seem ordinary at first glance, but hide more complicated stories that I imagine must exist for all of us. In my paintings I try to unearth these other truths by turning down the volume on anything that feels distracting so I can pay attention to the second stories that whisper in reflections, open windows, awkward architectural angles and looming shadows.

The homes in Bernal Heights didn’t exactly look “ordinary” to my East Coast eyes, but what struck me was their relationship to the ground below. For many of us outside of San Francisco, the ground is something that we usually think of as a steady (often pretty flat) supportive surface beneath us. On these steep slopes with fault lines lurking nearby, the modestly sized homes of Bernal Heights appeared (to me) to be holding on tight to the edge of the world, grabbing on to power lines above and looking straight ahead so as not to lose their footing – determined to carry on as if this was a perfectly ordinary place for a home.

Fabulous! I say we make Leah an honorary Bernalwood resident in abstentia.

Meanwhile, if you want to own some of her limited-edition Bernal Heights artwork, it’s available at a very fair price via Etsy.

8 thoughts on “Boston Artist Paints Pictures of Bernal Heights Homes

  1. why does she paint them isolated, as if there are no other houses around?

    seems like a simplistic version of what the great painter Robert Bechtle does.

  2. Pingback: Greetings From Our “Tres Old-World Euro Village” | Bernalwood

  3. Todd had only asked me what it was about Bernal Heights that inspired me and made it a good fit for my work, so I apologize if I failed to adequately describe my process.

    I begin each painting with a photograph printed onto a matte archival paper, which I then adhere to a 2” cradled panel. Depending on the size or nature of the image, I sometimes cut away sections of the print first or if I’m working on a larger piece I might assemble it in multiple parts. Once the prints have been mounted to the panel, I then begin to paint directly upon the the photographic image continuing beyond its edges onto any exposed surfaces of the panel, including all of its 2” deep sides. As I work, I cover up anything in the original image that feels distracting or unnecessary to me while building up and emphasizing the parts I think are most interesting. By the time I am finished, only the tiniest slivers of the original image peek out here and there from beneath the layers of paint.

    Although I conceal most of the underlying photographic print with paint, I am not trying to hide the fact that it’s my starting point and the first layer in all my work. In fact it’s a very important part of the process for me. I think of the photograph as the initial observation of a moment or experience and then my painting on top is the reconstructed story. This decision I make while painting are similar to the way we each edit memories in our daily lives. Most of us can’t possibly recall every single detail of each moment, so we distill, conceal, rearrange or embellish the facts in order to make sense of our experiences. We oversimplify tangled truths, make the mundane more dramatic (or less visible) and fill in the blanks with assumptions or half truths to create a story that feels more cohesive and poignant. In short we see what we want to see.

    At first glance my finished pieces are impossibly simplified scenes of undoubtedly more complicated worlds, but as in real life there are more nuanced truths once you look closer.

    To get a better visual sense of my process and my work itself, you can check out my flickr site so see front and side views of other finished pieces as well as work in progress. I also include links there to the original photos I use for each piece to give a better sense of the transformation that occurs as well as give proper credit to the photographers when the original images are not my own.

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