Storyteller in the Sun - Page 4

Masterful San Francisco artist Serge Gay blends dreams and reality into his unique, personal narrative paintings
Serge Gay
Serge Gay also brings mid-century modern influence to his film work—paintings, set design, and more—with director/writer Matt Stawski. Above: From Train's 'Cadillac Cadillac' music video (2014). "We became a well-oiled machine," Stawski says of his partnership with Gay.

For the Grammy-nominated video in support of CeeLo Green's song 'F**K You,' from 2010, Stawski simply asked Gay to drop in bouncy lettering over a live-action set in a retro diner.

Other video collaborations between Stawski and Gay were much more involved, with Gay contributing from the get-go and even art directing. Several of these videos go retro to the max, with mid-century styling.

CeeLo's 'It's OK' video places the singer in front of a Palm Springs neo-modern dwelling, spices things up with cool retro lettering, and features animated drawings of CeeLo's love interest that suggest the look of 1960s paperback covers.

For Train's 'Cadillac Cadillac' music video, at Stawski's request Gay designed "this cool, spiral staircase with dogs and ladies singing" that suggests a 1960s disco as choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

"I wanted to try to animate Serge's paintings and bring them to life," Stawski says. "He would paint the background for the green screen, then I would animate them. We became a well-oiled machine. It made us stand out. No one else [in video] was using acrylic paintings from someone with a background in gallery shows, someone who was painting on canvas."

Serge Gay
From singer CeeLo Green's 'It's OK' music video (2010).

"It goes beyond Serge's paintings. He helps on all creative aspects—set design, wardrobe, storyboards," Stawski says. "He's become a creative partner when it comes to visual things."

Stawski adds: "I wouldn't be the artist I am without Serge."

All told, Stawski and Gay created about two dozen music videos together, and collaborated on 'Side Effects,' an online TV series for children, among other filmic projects.

At one point it looked like the pair would win a chance to do a feature-length film. It was a fantasy film, and they were up against producer J.J. Abrams, who suggested the effects be handled through computer graphics. But Stawski and Gay were betting on "animatronic animals and monsters, like very old school," Stawski recalls.

CG won.

"Oh, we went this far! And it was so close," Gay laments.

Serge Gay
Serge Gay with Matt Stawski on the set of their short film 'North of Neon' from 2017.

This time though, Matt and Serge think they may crack their way into big-league movie making. Universal Studios, which gave the world iconic versions of 'Frankenstein,' 'Dracula,' 'The Mummy,' and the like during the 1930s monsters craze, hopes to bring its ghouls back to life in the 2020s.

If all goes well, Stawski would direct and Gay would design a movie inspired by 'Monster Mash,' the 1962 dance number ("It was a graveyard smash!") by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett.

Yes, if it goes through, if they get the nod, Gay says, he will have to put on hold his beloved studio painting. But that's OK.

"Just to help tell a story, and doing the concept stuff, and doing the post production, creating the monsters and the set design. I kind of like that," Gay says. He adds: "I can always come back and be a painter and do my own thing."


• Serge Gay Jr. shows his art at the Voss Gallery, 3344 24th Street, San Francisco. You can also see images of Gay's work on his website:

Photography: Angela Solouki, Gooch; and courtesy Serge Gay Jr.

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