George McCalman is an artist, a calm and vibrant presence, woven into overlapping creative fields in our San Francisco hometown. We are also lucky to call him a neighbor! His magically situated studio sits atop a raw, delightfully strange three-story building overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We met there to share stories about his process, his style, and a recent body of work.
We’ve followed George’s art, design, and personal style for years, most recently via fine art and illustration; I return monthly to his Observed SF illustrated column in the Chronicle.
In the studio George sat among rich, in-progress work tacked on walls and covering tables…we could have spent hours, but wanted to hear more about a recent project; which as it happens, was in collaboration with Mohinders’ very first retail store, The Perish Trust.
Last summer George collaborated with Perish Trust owners Kelly to install an immersive show in their new gallery space, Perishables.
As he tells it …
Around January of 2020 Kelly and Rod had just acquired this new space, around the corner from the Perish Trust. I was supposed to have a show there, and when the pandemic started everything shut down.
By late spring a new idea had formed for me — they got really excited about it, and asked if I’d want to create a show to announce and launch the space.
So we took five weeks, and created a gallery experience people could come to in person. It was just fantastic … I was actually there as a docent, walking people through the show.
The body of work:
I, and a lot of black people, received a lot of messages from white people right after George Floyd was killed.
I started receiving this language, friends and other people were experiencing it; my black friends globally were getting the same messages.
It was just a deluge. I can’t really explain just how enraging the whole experience was — energetically draining. But I felt a sense of agency and decided, I don’t want this seeping into my bloodstream, I just want it away from me.
So I decided to take those phrases and paint them.
The show was called “Tell Me Three Things I Can Do / Return to Sender”— it was about me returning all of that energy, back to the people who had sent it to me.
I was busy processing my own rage while I was making the show, but hadn’t considered how it would feel once the show was up. I got two months of a whole different experience. The experience of being a docent to the show—accompanying small groups of one, two, three people viewing the work—was actually beautiful.
The people who came were so thoughtful… because it was in person, there was so much nuance — we could actually have a layered conversation, as opposed to just typing a response.Being able to have these in-depth conversations—about this time, about race, about how white people specifically speak about race to each other, it was just … amazing! It was amazing.
I wouldn’t have been able to do it in a typical, traditional gallery setting. It was beyond all of our expectations.
More of George below!