Everyday Art - Page 2

‘Low brow’ flirts with high times and MCM for the paintings of San Francisco rising talent Emily Fromm
Everyday Art
Everyday Art
Two more paintings of American cityscapes, both from 2016: 'Chapel' (top) and 'Fireworks' (above).
Everyday Art
Emily in deep thought working on a new painting, 'IHOP.'
Everyday Art
Emily, who has a knack for capturing the spirit of a place and its people, found this scene right in San Francisco: 'Pasquale's' (with Doggie Diner head - 2016).

Pretty good for an artist whose only 'studio' is the counter in her compact kitchen, one of only two rooms (okay, there is a bathroom as well) in the in-law cottage in the city's Outer Sunset District that she shares with her boyfriend, Jimmy Rogers. Emily moved to the city in 2009.

"Everything collapses down fairly well," she says about painting in the kitchen. "I set up to paint every day and put everything away at the end of the day."

"I usually have it cleaned up by dinner time."

But, wouldn't you know it, Emily is such a sunny person that she loves the home. She has a large yard that's ideal for post-open studio barbecues, loves the Sunset, loves strolling Ocean Beach, which is three blocks away, and hopes she and Jimmy will be able to stay in San Francisco, even as the building boom that is gentrifying the town creeps toward the beach.

Maybe it's this sort of almost aw-shucks friendliness that makes Emily's work so appealing. She wants it to reach out to everyone, from collectors of edgy art who bought her accurately named 'Fish Tits' painting from a few years ago, to fans of mid-century modern design—though she professes surprise when a reporter suggests that her art shares the MCM vibe.

"I was surprised," she said. "I'd never been contacted by people from the mid-century modern world before. I think it's an influence, but I'm not actively trying to emulate that at all."

That said, "I love Eichler homes and all things mid-century," Emily says. She was raised in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, with a mother who seriously collected mid-century furnishings and ceramics, and dragged her daughter to sales. Emily and Jimmy have a Heywood Wakefield bedroom set courtesy of her mom.

"For older people, they just totally get the nostalgia" evoked by her work, she says. "Older people, but it is something that applies to a lot of people—they have grown up with something that looks similar in the imagery."

"I'm 25," she said in a conversation last year, "so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the past."

Rather than deliberately evoking the '50s or '60s as such artists as Shag do, Emily's paintings are in most cases clearly set in the world of today.

Sure, the neon signs—Trad'r Sam's, King's Row Trailer Park—in her paintings, and the Astroburger Drive-in, are eruptions from the past. But the people who lurch past them—generally affectless, sometimes surly—are from today, wearing miniskirts, carrying Starbucks' cups, or wearing backpacks decorated with 'I Voted' stickers.

What gives her work its mid-century flavor is less an attempt to revisit the period than an appreciation for its style. There's a flatness, and a limited set of colors, to her work that suggests cartoons, comic books, and commercial sign painting from early- and mid-20th century.

Emily's focus on the material world and pop culture belongs to a long tradition that includes 16th century Dutch genre scenes, the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints of the 1700s, American regionalists like Edward Hopper, and, more recently, the comic book work of Oakland artist Daniel Clowes.

"She has a very strong graphic sense," Pontious says. "It kind of simplifies but, at the same time, catches the spirit of the place. It feels very dense in detail, but is also clear and bold and graphic—not only the buildings, but the people. And not only the people, but the buildings."

Emily clearly loves American cityscapes as they developed from the 1900s through the 1960s, that intense mélange of signage, apartment houses with denizens leaning out windows, motley sets of pedestrians each in their own world.

She also enjoys roadside architecture, and appreciates the goofiness of the Googie era. Surely one thing that makes her neighborhood seem like home is the giant Doggie Diner looming over Sloat Boulevard, across from the zoo.