Everyday Art

‘Low brow’ flirts with high times and MCM for the paintings of San Francisco rising talent Emily Fromm
Everyday Art
'Car Wash,' an Emily Fromm acrylic-on-canvas painting from 2015.
Everyday Art
One of Emily's photographs (left) that she turned into a painting (right): '24th St. Mission' (2017).
Everyday Art
Fromm at work on a new painting in the 'kitchen studio' of her in-law cottage in San Francisco's Outer Sunset.
Everyday Art
The Atomic Liquors bar in Las Vegas inspired 'Atomic Liquors' (2016).

There's nothing rarefied about Red's Java House on the San Francisco waterfront.

And the white-bearded guy smoking a cigarette in front of the Atomic Liquors bar in Vegas alongside the red-complexioned gal in a leopard-print miniskirt does not transport us to a higher place.

The paintings of Emily Fromm are not about essence or pure spirit but about the everyday, la vie quotidienne, as the French say.

"I like to make the work relatable," Fromm says of her paintings, which tend to be large and are often painted on wood. "If a style is intimidating from the get-go, it can be off-putting."

Everyone knows it's hard making it as an artist, especially in high-priced San Francisco, where artists and art spaces are often forced to flee. But Emily Fromm, at age 26 and with a BA from San Francisco State in studio art, may prove to be one of the winners.

A year ago she was part of a two-artist show at a San Francisco gallery that doubles as a tavern, 111 Minna Gallery, not far from the downtown's San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Emily was excited, calling it "her first big show." Her paintings sold well.

111 Minna is a place that often features 'low brow' art, which generally refers to art based on popular imagery (bowling, sex, sexy fairytales, pop surrealism) that at its worst can come across as a hipster's version of Thomas Kinkade's pastel-colored cottages.

But at its best? It's an art of direct, democratic connection.

"It's low brow in the sense that it's beers and cookies and hot dogs and normal things," Emily says of her work. "I don't want it to be high brow. I don't want it to feel out of reach to people."

Emily will have another show at Minna in early 2019, a one-person this time, at a 4,500-square-foot venue that attracts a wider range of visitors than the typical, sedate art gallery.

But even better, starting in 2020 millions of people from all walks of life will walk past one of her works, a ceramic mural nine feet high and 36 feet long, which will be installed in the boarding area of Terminal One at San Francisco International Airport.

"It's the domestic terminal, and her work is so quintessentially San Francisco," says Susan Pontious, director of public arts for the city's arts commission, which gave Emily the job. "It has a strong, very bold graphic style, color, and line. The [commission] panel just liked it, what can I say?"

"It's a big step for an artist's career to get a commission," Pontious says. "It's like your first job—it's the hardest to get. It establishes their bona fides as a professional artist."

In other words, more public commissions are likely to follow—and Emily Fromm's name is sure to spread, which won't surprise Micah LeBrun, curator of 111 Minna, who was impressed both by Emily's work and professionalism.

"Working with an artist for the first time, she came in with a complete package," says LeBrun, an artist himself. "She's young, but she's driven, she's accomplished. Her work feels honest as to who she is. A lot of young artists have talent, but it takes time for them to find themselves. But she has found her subject and knows how to present herself."