"In a second I decide I have to watch it the entire way and jumping up from the love-seat and stepping on the low shelf, I lean on tiptoe over the windowsill to follow its descent."
"... I recall that though our galaxy is vast beyond knowing, there are other galaxies, perhaps even billions of other galaxies…. Can this be right? Again, I try picturing a billion of anything, a billion apples, a billion butterflies, a billion smiles; then I try something easier, five hundred, maybe, or a thousand, a sort of gradual assent to infinite numbers."
"Growth is slow, but we are learning from each other; we want to be as inclusive as possible, but we avoid dogma and closed-mindedness like the black plague. We acknowledge our fallibility, humble ourselves, embracing the knowledge of the community. We gather, appreciate local art, and cherish the simple things."
Martin is from Argentina, he has lived in Los Angeles, Kansas, and now Castro Valley. Martin is a tattoo artist and painter. Martin started tattooing in 1991. During that time he was also studying graphic design and working in the bicycle industry. He became more immersed in tattooing when he lived in Los Angeles, during that time he tattooed in the Americana style of nautical tattoos, eagles, and pin-up girls and so on. Eventually, he found the Japanese style of tattooing, “I discovered it by accident I had a friend asking me to fix a Japanese piece he had and it was really old and the artist wasn’t around anymore.” Martin told his friend he was not familiar with the style, but this opportunity motivated him to study Japanese culture, art history, and the language to learn as much as he could about the Japanese style. Martin likes that in the Japanese style of tattooing the entire body is seen as one piece, he finds the freedom to create large pieces fascinating. Martin enjoys Japanese tattoos because, “they stand the test of time.” Martin moved to Castro Valley a year ago come September. He describes tattooing as, “a learning journey . . . you’re always evolving,” he enjoys being in such close proximity to artists in San Francisco. Many artists are accessible and willing to network in the Bay Area, “if you’re a professional you learn from a simple conversation . . . I say the whole Bay Area has a tradition of tattooing.” Martin’s art has been influenced by place, in Los Angeles he was inundated with requests for portraits, praying hands, and Jesus Christ tattoos. With numerous requests for script writing in LA, Martin learned as much as he could from the Latino tattoo artists, some as young as fourteen years old. Martin has noticed the diversity of people who love the Japanese style, he commented, “You can see people from Silicon Valley who go back and forth to Japan because of their jobs and you can see them with suit and tie and you don’t know the guy have whole body style of Japanese tattoo or Americana.” Martin is excited that the acceptance of tattoos has allowed his clients to feel more comfortable with using more of their bodies as a canvas and allowing a liberal use of colors.
Chérie is a east Bay Area native creative passionate about using her art to make a difference in her community and beyond. "I love that I can put whatever message I want into a piece without needing to say a word. Art is so powerful, a language in its own and available to reach anyone. Whether I'm sketching a part of my neighborhood where I grew up or doing a mixed media piece to evoke emotion on a social issue I love how each piece speaks for and to me and is capable of so much meaning. And to be able to share it with people is so rewarding. Each collage is a story, taking hours or even days to piece together, with many pieces holding symbolism for what I'm trying to say. Each sketch of a place is a memory of where I grew up and came to be the person I am today. I want people to be happy of where they come from, realize their significance in this world and aware of where we can allow art to take us."
“The place is a bit of a mess, and I’m really embarrassed,” Cathy says behind her bangs that curve perfectly over her forehead. I notice blush on her cheeks as her 3rd born smiles at me from across the room in the background of his two older brothers who are leaning on their elbows, their bodies pooling over the kitchen table, engrossed in a cartoon show. Her 11 month old, who took his first steps earlier in the day, is asleep and dreaming in the back bedroom. Her husband, Paul, is here too.
We sit down to homemade pizza and I ask Cathy about how she discovered her art. She confides that she is still figuring her creativity out amidst four young boys and spending 10 years placing herself in the shadow of her husband. She says this in a matter of fact way and with undeniable accountability, like someone who is slowly realizing their own potential. She has been working through, “the idea that you can be a mum in today’s society and care deeply about your children and be completely devoted to them but then also to carve out time to be creative and to care about the things outside of your family that means a lot to you and that being okay.”
She discusses the “mothering circles” and guilt that comes along with the perception of if you are not one hundred percent “in the mummy world,” then you don’t love your children, if you don’t feel that being a mother completes you fully. When Cathy dropped her eldest off at class, she had to complete a form, under occupation, she wrote down artist, a small but deliberate step away from being defined by her past as just a stay at home mom. Like many budding (and established) artists, Cathy has had a hard time owning her creativity and referring to herself as an artist. She has reminded herself on more than one occasion that she does have something to offer people even if it isn’t as good as she would like it to be.
She says that her children have influenced her art and helped her make realizations of how she views herself in relation to art. When Louis and Elliot were younger they would create things, she would complement their art, “and hide it in a drawer because, in a very embarrassing way, it didn’t feel nice enough to hang up in the house.” She admits that she has walked a long way to realize that, “things don’t have to look perfect to be valuable. That we’re all a work in progress.”
Cathy is an accomplished baker, specializing in wedding cakes and celebration cakes. Early August, she made a four tier cheesecake complete with white roses trickling down the side as lush strawberries and blackberries sat atop the surface layers. While she enjoys baking for special occasions, she is struck by, “how short-lived it is.” She explains her desire to create something with more permanence, “It’s so much work and it’s over so quickly, and so I’m trying to explore ways for me to be able to take the things I love without creating cakes. The side I love is feeding people and moving that to feeding people in a way that sustains them and then taking the artistic creative side and trying to find other mediums that allow what I’ve created to be preserved for a bit longer.” Cathy is intrigued by her quest to find a way to create art that lasts beyond a day. She has recently begun dabbling in watercolor paintings. Finding time away to create has brought insight into the creative process as well. While she would like to work at night she is often run ragged from a busy day nurturing and loving on four boys and a creative husband. She gets in where she can fit in, “This morning I was painting with Theo on my back pulling my hair,” she says with a laugh, “but I have to try.” Cathy is gradually becoming more empowered and having to consistently reassure herself that she is worth the time and act of creating.
While reflecting on the delicacy of motherhood and creativity Cathy mentions something Paul often says to illustrate motherhood. With their toddler Nathan in his lap, Paul says that motherhood is, “Like pearls on a string, with no knot on the end,” Cathy laughs and adds, “It’s deeply valuable but those pearls just fall to the ground and get trampled on within minutes. . .seconds.”
Cathy met Paul when she was 17, she was married by 20, and in the United States with their first born baby boy Louis by 22. While reflecting on the past ten years, she says, “I always knew I wanted to be a mother, I don’t think I expected it would happen as early as it did and I don’t think I understood how deeply it would transform my life.” She is currently at a place in her journey where she is trying to find pieces of herself amidst the chaos of motherhood. She acknowledges how fleeting her current season of life is, “But I also don’t want my boys to go away from my home and realize I don’t know myself and I don’t know my husband because I haven’t invested in things that make me come alive.”
The first time Cathy found she could create was when she stepped into the opportunity out of necessity. Her mother burned both of her arms badly while mid-way through creating an anniversary cake, “there was nothing to do then for me to kind of step in, and I didn’t really know what I was doing but she sat with me with her arms bandaged. . .and I realized I was capable of more than I have myself credit for.”
Cathy was born in a small town in West England, her family moved to Brussels when she was eight, where she lived until age 18. She grew up with two siblings who are both in artistic trades. She credits her artistic impulses to her childhood and being raised without television, “We didn’t have anything else to occupy our time other than my mum providing art supplies for us and that was how we passed our time. So I am definitely grateful to her for doing that because I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating something.” That creative nurturing has rippled over into how she raises her children, she spends time creating with her boys, “we just enjoy building spaceships out of cardboard boxes-we’ve built kid stools and bird feeders.”
Cathy loves creating meaning through her art and getting away from technology through tasks that allow her to use her hands. In the middle of our conversation about art in the area, Cathy’s third born bounces out of the back bedroom and tells his mother, “There’s a big spider in my bedroom,” he says it two more times so she knows; Cathy kisses his head and advises, “Go shoo him away.” She returns to our conversation and acknowledges her desire to spend more time in the adult art world, “I’m aware that I need to spend more time going to galleries and going to classes for myself, but what I’ve been involved in is looking at stuff for my kids to be a part of.” One set back she has identified to nourishing the teaching of art is the high prices of workshops and classes. The lack of affordability concerns her in that people of low socioeconomics will have less opportunity to learn and grow as artists. She hopes to see more community oriented art classes, “and for art to be available for all.” She believes the work of Smalltown Society and the opportunities of how to best use “the space” is helping to intervene in the gaps present in art in the community.
As far as her artistic goals, Cathy plans to engage in her art more often. She is currently brainstorming ways to provide more opportunities for mothers to get out of the house “get away from housework and babies and have a time and a space to be creative together.”
Naomi Phan-Quang is a resident of Castro Valley. "At a very young age, I developed an affinity for old things. I always imagined the people who owned them and what stories they told. While my peers hung out at the mall, I charted out my next visit to the flea market. As a college student, I'd take a train almost every weekend to a warehouse packed with second hand treasures and would furnish our tiny apartment with my finds. These early experiences really shaped my creativity and resourcefulness. Now, as a mother of four, a trip to the thrift store or a neighborhood estate sale is a part of the rhythm of home making." It's no surprise that Naomi's art involves curation and careful restoration.
A Bay Area native currently resides in Hayward with her husband. Six years ago, Tara owned a rental business, although the business was not her passion, she offered floral design within the company. Eventually she left the business and became more intentional about learning as much as she could about floral design. After practicing floral design and finding her path, Tara opened Redwood Floral in the fall of 2015. “The second I opened up my business and started designing for others, the flood gates opened, and everyone was so interested and supportive, so it was just a really cool confirmation.” When it comes to her art, Tara enjoys the constant changes of the seasons and flowers along with the freedom of floral design, “there’s really no rules to it." She describes her process as, “therapeutic,” and adds, “I love that I get to bless others with it.” A large amount of Tara’s work is for weddings, which she acknowledges, “It’s something that makes a lot of people happy, so I really like that.” Tara’s creative process is humbling and intentional. She begins each design with an earnest prayer and frequently has music on in the background as she creates, “I usually have some kind of candle burning and I just like to have all my senses there in what I’m doing.” Tara has been able to connect with community through her art. Given the personal nature of floral design, she finds opportunities to get to know her clients, sometimes for an entire year prior to creating their design. “I’m getting to know their families usually, who their marrying, what their likes are, what they do for a living, it helps me really design an arrangement that caters to that person.” Her clientele stretches from San Francisco all the way to Napa. Regarding the Eden area, Tara states, “I wouldn’t say there’s a ton of artists in this area...or maybe there are, and I just haven’t been exposed to them.” She notes how often artists are drawn to San Francisco and areas of co-working spaces and collaboration, a quality she finds that the Eden area lacks. Tara recognizes the universal struggle of the artists and their ability to support one another in their creative pursuits and desire to support themselves and their families. Although the struggle to sustain as an artist may be unspoken at times, Tara knows it is ever-present. She looks forward to building relationships where support and collaboration can grow.