Take a studio tour with local artist Rhonel Roberts

 

Last week we had the chance to catch up with Fall Collection artist-in-residence, Rhonel Roberts, to learn more about his unique style of painting and how he became an artist. His studio space, located in Hunters Point, San Francisco, is small but brimming with color. And when he’s not teaching at the Apple store in Union Square (his full-time job), he’s in the studio thinking up his next creation.

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What does a typical day look like for you?

I have a full-time job, and I usually work on my off days. When I come into the studio, I just sit down for a moment and think about the next thing I’d like to create. It’s very rare that I come into the studio and don’t know what I’m going to do. Through music and visuals, I’m always inspired. Nothing is ever concrete - it’s a journey. It starts with a seed of an idea and then it starts to evolve from a sketch to a painting.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love cooking and walking around the city - the Embarcadero, the Marina - anytime it’s a gorgeous day. I love dining out and preparing food, getting together with a friend to see a movie and I love going into homes. I love the whole idea of taking something that is old and recreating it. With design it’s answering the questions, being able to formulate a resolution to things, and you can do that through design, not just painting. It’s about having a creative mind that is full of discovery and exploration.

Where do you get inspiration from?

Travel, travel, travel! Paris! I’m a huge fan, ever since 2003 it’s been my destination. I really appreciate the freedom that the Parisians have around creativity. The way they dress, the way they prepare food and the way they live and savor moments. Not to mention, the artistry that was created there, like the gardens and Versailles. I enjoy all of the European experience.

Can you tell us more about the neighborhood posters currently featured at Batch?

In creating these pieces, I wanted to make sure people could celebrate their communities. People are really passionate about where they grow up. It’s important to celebrate that and, equally, to let the newcomers know that San Francisco is very transient. We have people from all over the world who live here, but they don’t really know the history, so having posters about distinct neighborhoods can help tell each community’s story.

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What do you like about being an artist?

It’s the point of view and the freedom to not be inhibited about expressing oneself. Growing up in Stockton I felt limited. To be an artist was something that wasn’t acceptable to people I grew up around and what society was saying about me as a person. But the thing I love about being an artist, even to this day, is just the freedom. It’s about who I am as a person and I don’t apologize for it. It gives me an opportunity to impart and empower other people.

How do you stay involved with the art community in San Francisco?

I live in Hayes Valley and have been involved in the Neighborhood Art Walk for a couple of years, and also part of the Neighborhood Art Association. It’s great to be involved in a group where you’re able to be the catalyst for helping people think about creativity and artistry. These are things we appreciate, but don’t always get behind. Being an artist is very lucrative. I’m finding out that bringing creativity to people brings awareness to people. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to be a spokesman and also to be active.

Do you think the art scene here has grown?

People are curious. Apple has this really cool mantra that was instituted by Steve Jobs about the intersection between technology and liberal arts, and that’s exactly the way I see it. We need help getting away from the technology and get back to kindergarten and back to creating. I’m looking for an opportunity [to work] with companies such as Salesforce, Twitter or Facebook to bring that back.

Are you working on any new projects you can tell us about?

I’d like to do larger scale posters for restaurants and businesses. I’m very inspired by old Italian restaurant posters and the TWA posters. My subjects are around the food industry right now. However, I have another one of Carmen Miranda, an entertainer from the 1960s who was a wonderful Latin lady who sang with a big bowl of fruit on her head. But I have some ideas about what I’d like to do for her as a poster. Another thing I’m working on is posters for the SF Ballet, Opera and Symphony which will be exclusively my own style. That will be my last ditch for San Francisco for a while.


 
Eleanor Silverstein