Storyteller in the Sun - Page 2

Masterful San Francisco artist Serge Gay blends dreams and reality into his unique, personal narrative paintings
Serge Gay
More from Gay's Palm Springs project: 'Happy Hour' (left) and 'Black Palm' (right).

Director Matt Stawski, a good friend from the Detroit days who collaborates with Gay on films, says, "More than anything, his personality is what makes the art so meaningful. He is just a ray of sunshine, a ray of hope. Sometimes I am brought to tears by what he does. He tells stories about his mom, his dad, about Haiti, about Detroit."

Connections Gay has made in San Francisco also contribute to his art, and vice versa. When Juanita More was throwing her Castro Booty Call parties at a nightclub, "Serge would arrive in these amazing masks that just blew me away," Juanita says.

"I was so fascinated with who she was," Gay says of Juanita, a drag queen who is active socially and civically in the City. "I would draw everybody coming out to the party, and I drew her."

Thanks to Juanita, Gay was soon painting murals at clubs and on the sides of businesses, doing paintings for San Francisco Pride events and charities. He designed a T-shirt for Juanita and has painted her likeness walking down Castro Street with her dog.

When Levi Strauss sponsored a Pride event Juanita put on, Gay created designs for jackets worn by the staff. He later hand-painted a Levi jean jacket that was used for promotion.

"She brought me into the community as much as I ever imagined," Gay says.

Serge Gay
Juanita More, the famed San Francisco drag queen, poses alongside a mural Gay created of Juanita walking the City's Castro with her pooch.

Gay's focus on personal connections between people comes out in his art in many ways, including in the collage-like painting 'Startup High,' in which a maelstrom of psychedelic-hued eyeballs, animals, and nude figures, some with flowers in their hair, convulse unnoticed above a gray streetscape with figures.

The figures are walking by the Twitter headquarters building on Market Street, their eyes glued to their phones.

It represents "the tech industry encountering old San Francisco, like the 'Love Movement,'" Gay says. "The idea of people connecting on their phones, it's like the loss of San Francisco, of free love. And there's no connection."

Stawski says, "I love his historical, personal stories, and he uses fantasy to portray them. That's what draws me to him. His Miami pieces, his Palm Springs pieces, his queer art, his history book art—it all has a touch of fantasy, and that is wonderful."

  Serge Gay
Gay at work in his San Francisco studio.
 

Today, Palm Springs is Gay's favorite place. He and Piscitelli go there regularly to relax, always staying in mid-century modern locales. For their wedding party they celebrated around the piano-shaped pool at Frank Sinatra's former house, an iconic design by architect Stewart Williams.

Surprisingly, when Piscitelli first suggested they visit Palm Springs, Gay demurred. Piscitelli, who had lived in Phoenix, loved the bracing feel of the desert heat. But Gay remembered Haiti and Miami. "The only thing he knew about hot was humid," Piscitelli says.