Chandra Garsson moved to her loft on San Leandro Street in Oakland's Fruitvale district fifteen years ago because she wanted a large, affordable space where she could live and make art. While the loft is still large, it's becoming less and less affordable.
"Originally, artists were made to feel welcome. Twenty-four hundred square feet went for about four hundred dollars," remembers Garsson, adding that her rent went up 3.3 percent this January, as it has every year. Although the neighborhood is gritty and raw, it's not nearly as undeveloped as it was about thirty years ago when artists first started moving in.
In keeping with the mood of the neighborhood, Garsson's mixed-media creations are rough and intense. Because of the great proliferation of mannequins, the studio has an eerie feel to it. The mannequins are part of her mixed-media assemblages -- transformed with paint, doll parts, keys, light fixtures, bones, office chairs, and pieces of machinery. Garsson says she always incorporates the human element.
Insomnia, a mixed-media assemblage, is a loud cry out against all forms of sexual assault and child abuse. On the wall above a white picket fence is an assemblage that includes a sign with the word FIRE in bright red letters, a screaming face, and other found objects. Standing beside the fence, on pedestals, are two painted mannequin torsos. Garsson has added parts of cow skulls, teeth intact, to form arms, teapot fashion. Discarded lamps are attached, giving the appearance of long necks and tiny heads. "I'm not trying to paint a pretty picture, but I'm always interested in the juxtaposition of the ugly and the beautiful," Garsson says.
When asked if her environment has affected her work, Garsson demurs: "I'm directed more by my inner landscape, although living here probably has more of an effect than I'm giving it credit for. Living in the industrial part of East Oakland, it's either feast or famine in terms of selling my work. All of that goes with this neighborhood, which is so rich in materials." She adds that she enjoys using materials from her immediate environment, the stuff she finds right outside her door, on the railroad tracks, in the gutter, and incorporating it into her work. Garsson describes her art as personal, classical, and abstract -- fashioned by treasures incorporating the leftovers of our lives into her multi-layered, painterly pieces. She considers herself an independent, not unlike independent filmmakers or musicians. Although she has shown in galleries and museums, Garsson now sells the majority of her work from her studio, which is open by appointment. Her workspace is in a complex called Dutch Boy Studios, former home of the Dutch Boy Paint Factory. About twenty artists live, work, and sell art throughout the year, with special open studios, usually the first two weeks in June, as part of ProArts Open Studios.
In addition to creating a massive body of work, Garsson also teaches. She and artist Mim Weisburd conduct workshops at the loft: Furniture Art in March, Collection Creations in April, Artistic Expression in May, and Keepsake Collage in July. Call 510-534-4751 for details.
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