Storyteller in the Sun - Page 3

Masterful San Francisco artist Serge Gay blends dreams and reality into his unique, personal narrative paintings
Serge Gay
Not all of Serge Gay's work revolves around fun in the desert sun. Above: This painting, 'Head Start,' from 2018, "sticks it to the man," in the words of gallery owner Ashley Voss.

Their first stay was at L'Horizon, a finely arrayed set of cabanas by architect William Cody, "the very classic idea of mid-century," Gay says. "It changed my whole mind."

Originally a fan of Art Deco architecture because of its presence in Miami, Gay now appreciate mid-century modern as well. "The clean lines, it's become a big influence in the way I look at things."

"I know for sure I'm going to get a place in Palm Springs in the future," he says.

Mid-century modern influence can be seen in any number of Gay's works, and is also pronounced in a number of the music videos he's created with Stawski. Gay's most extensive immersion in the style, though, came with his first show at Ashley Voss's Voss Gallery in San Francisco's Mission District in 2019.

His 'P.S., I Love You' painting "tells the story about me going to Palm Springs for the first time. That's when I fell in love with everything about Palm Springs and mid-century modern," Gay says.

Guys around the pool, a Black glamour gal whose hairdo echoes the tall palms, flamingos by the dozens, the round orange sun—and are those dive bombers? All the people shown are friends, Gay says.

Serge Gay
'Happy Birthday Mr. P' (2019) from Gay's Palm Springs project.

For the Voss exhibit, the gallery owner found Gay's paintings "dreamlike, more poetic" than his previous work. "He was in the honeymoon stage," Voss recalls.

Gay's earlier work, Voss says, was often political and focused on social justice and racial inequality. "He always just sticks it to the man," she says, with a laugh, "which I like."

Del Curfman, a Native American realist painter, owns several of Gay's works, including one that shows an oil spill despoiling Native American land. "He's a masterful painter," Curfman says. "He has the ability to capture a narrative."

Gay says, "My work tends to be very political stuff, and it gets a little darker. "Then I'll shake it off for something I love, like Palm Springs, something that makes me happy and tells a story of my time in Palm Springs."

Serge Gay
'Love Drug' (2012).

Gay's subsequent exhibit at the Voss, in 2020, was entirely different. For his painting 'Prince 2 Queens,' he described it as "inspired by my family's history of immigrating to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the mid-'80s and how we tried to adapt and build a sense of culture and community in Queens, New York."

Gay acknowledges that whipsawing stylistic changes have confused some curators and fans, especially earlier in his career. "I remember showing in 111 Minna Gallery [in San Francisco], and people were, 'We love this! Who is this artist?' And then all of a sudden my art changed completely."

Today, Gay says, "I'm finding my kind of groove, when [before] I was all over the place."

It was in high school when Gay learned to be productive by "doing a painting a day." "Painting really fast" has been a help ever since, he says, including for his paintings for music videos he creates with director Matt Stawski.

For those projects, Gay is often called upon to paint entire environments. Sometimes he paints backdrops on the actual film set, or even builds the set. But more often the magic is created using technology to marry live-action singers and dancers who perform in front of a blank green screen, which is later replaced by animated versions of Gay's paintings.