Written June 6, 2015
Way back in 1999, the year I started painting rhinos, I happened into my first solo show outside of any school setting.
I was living in San Francisco and didn't have a car yet. This meant that I took public transportation everywhere for everything with anything I had to carry. Quite a bit of canvas, both blank and painted, traversed the Bay with me on BART and made the walk with me on either side of the train ride to either class at CCAC in Oakland or up the hill home in Noe Valley. Over time, I would carry full size lattices, furniture for installation pieces, and a few hundred feet worth of styrofoam rod to one campus or another—just like any other art student, right?
This one particular day in 1999, before I started painting rhinos, I was carrying home a great big El-Greco's-Toledo-as-painted-by-me. It was too big to tuck away inside my portfolio case, so I was carrying it out in the open. I'd started on the first bit of the hill when this guy came running out of a restaurant trying to get my attention. He asked if I was an artist.
That was Victor Escobedo. I soon came to know his brother Miguel as well. It turned out they had just opened a restaurant on 24th Street, called Papalote, and were looking for artists to put work on their gorgeous red walls. I think I was the second artist to show at the restaurant—but don't quote me on that. In the end I think I did three shows with them. They were the first location to have one of my rhinoceros paintings on their walls. And those red on red walls encouraged me to keep my colors strong and strange. One of my rhino shows even got a brief mention in a review about the restaurant. The review, of course, praised the food as it right well should but also mentioned that the art on the walls was "not too kitschy". I took that as a huge compliment at the time as I was a college student painting multicolored rhinos in surrealist dreamscapes. I even sold out a couple of those shows.
The Escobedo brothers were kind enough to introduce me to Daniel Merriam, as he sat having lunch with an art critic. I think I spoke. (Side note: There are very few things I get around to kicking myself about, but missing the opportunity to be mentored by Daniel Merriam is one of those things. That, however, is a story for a different time.)
To sum up, those Escobedo guys loved art and gave me, and other artists, some great opportunities. They even tried to help artists out beyond the walls of Papalote Mexican Grill. And they are one of the reasons my colors are the way they are.
Prime Rhino copyright Sarah Soward 2001. This was one of the pieces from one of my rhino shows at Papalote.
The featured image for this post is Prime Rhino copyright Sarah Soward 2001. It was one of the rhino paintings in one of the rhino art shows at Papalote.