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My Art Show at Live Worms

This weekend I realized a dream of mine: to show my paintings in an art gallery. The show was for three days in the Live Worms gallery on funky Grant Ave. in the North Beach district of San Francisco, as hip a gallery as can be imagined.

I met the gallery owner, Kevin Brown, at an art workshop this is summer, and learned that he likes to help emerging artists by letting them rent the gallery for a three-day weekend—thereby covering his rent as well. He’s a good guy, and quite encouraging, and we hit it off.

So I formed the plan of putting on a show here. The rent isn’t terribly high, and my publishers, Tor Books, helped out; we’re using the show to help promote my new book Postsingular. To that end, I gave a joint reading with fellow Tor author Kage Baker in the gallery on Saturday.

For the last week I’ve been working my butt off, putting out a mass emailing about the show, getting it listed on various online calendars, framing a couple of my paintings that needed it, organizing them into a list (I was a little surprised to realize I’ve done thirty paintings now), taking high-quality slide photos of the newer ones, writing up annotations on the paintings for a catalog to post on the web and print for the gallery, figuring out which paintings my family didn’t want me to sell, setting prices for the others, getting chairs for the reading, carting the paintings up here, hanging them, setting out refreshments, and talking to all the people who wander in.

About six months ago when I photographed my earlier paintings and began selling prints of them online through ImageKind, our friend Mimi was kidding me about learning to “suffer for my art.” Boy was she right.

Writing this note on my laptop for use in my blog, I’m alone in the gallery, feeling happy. Sylvia’s been in and out, helping make the place look civilized and giving me moral support, but just now she’s off getting a breakfast bowl of pho in Chinatown.

Friday I had more walk-ins, but today is pretty slow: a wino unemployed carpenter, a stoned beatnik in beret and three-piece suit with yellow glasses who kept saying “far out,” a tourist woman and her impatient husband. I know how that feels, you go into a gallery and as soon as you’re in there you’re wanting to get the hell out without the artist begging you for money. Not that I’m doing a hard sell.

The space looks so beautiful. I have one painting in the big glass storefront window, the “logo” painting, Da Nha Duc, that I have on my business card. On the back wall is my Hylozoic triptych, refulgent in its glory. And lining the two long white side walls are twenty other paintings, ten on each side. Like a cathedral with a rose window!

The paintings light up the room; they’re so warm. Looking at them all together—for the first time ever!— I see that I have a fairly consistent palette. Lots of cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, and shades of green (usually made by mixing blue and yellow, though recently I’ve gotten to like mixing cad yellow with thalo blue or thalo green). Wonderful to see them mingling, talking to each other, breathing the air.

The reception Friday night went well. A lot of my friends showed up, maybe two hundred people over the evening, at the peak we had about fifty people in the gallery. It was gratifying to have a few artist friends here too, saying nice things about the work: Paul Mavrides, Glen Moriwaka, Rudy’s friend Nicholas Coley, Vernon Head.

Late in the evening, the crowd degenerated—Friday night in North Beach—and I closed down the party at 10:30, after the crowd had dwindled to a speed-fueled Hungry I stripper in goth-clown makeup, plus three intimidating 6’ 3” soccer-hooligan types itching for a fistfight.

I’d fantasized about selling out the show, but realistically, most of my friends don’t have much money. And for the average person, actually buying a picture is not within the compass of possible behaviors. I only sold a few.

So I’m not quitting my day job. “What’s your day job?” “I’m a writer.”

Yesterday I had a lot of walk-ins, including at least half a dozen local painters. Shabby guys; there’s a fine line between being a painter and a homeless bum. All with a kind of freshness and innocence about them. Some of them high, some of them wearing berets, mostly unshaven, paint on their hands, a few of them wise-cracking, but mostly slow on the uptake. My favorite two were a pair of pals called Joe and Eddy. I felt right on their wavelength, discussing the craft, joking with them, happy to be accepted as a peer. I think of the end of the Todd Browning movie Freaks when the main character is taken in by the sideshow workers, and they’re chanting, “One of us! One of us! One of us!”

I’m so used to being a writer and hanging out with writers, that I don’t see being a writer as a big deal, or as commanding an elite cadre type status. But I’m enough of an newcomer to painting, that I still feel excited at the thought of being a painter—and a bit like a charlatan. But now I’ve had my first show, which is some kind of a milestone.

Saturday afternoon I held a reading. It was a rainy afternoon, the streets shiny. I got my guest-reader Kage Baker to read first. She read a funny story from her new story collection Gods and Pawns, featuring old-time England prostitutes; she did a great job on the Cockney accents. Her sister was in the audience with a large green parrot.

The audience started out small, but people kept trickling in, and by the time I read, the place was full. I read from Chapter 3 of Postsingular, the part where Ond releases the orphid nanomachines upon the world. It was nice to read in the “chapel” of my paintings; when I mentioned a cuttlefish, I could point to my painting of the cuttlefish under Frek’s bed. Jude Feldman of Borderlands books was there with a table of our books to sell; she did pretty well with them.

Several of my old students were there—they’ve been successful in the world: a Pixar programmer, the head of a philosophy department, a programmer at IBM, an arcade game programmer—it made me proud to see them. (That’s Alvin Cho on the left in this picture, and his friend Phi on the right.)

A guy told me he’d read Postsingular online this week—things had been slow at work—and now he wanted to buy a copy, both to read at leisure and to share with his girlfriend, who wasn’t amenable to reading a whole book on a computer. Proof positive of this new marketing concept! I like the idea of people reading it at work; somone else had already emailed me that they’d done this. Perfect for those days when all you’re really doing is serving time at your desk.

Sunday afternoon people were still coming in: tourists, North Beach artists, old students, friends. And at the last minute we even got a few celebs. Ron Turner, owner of SF comix publisher Last Gasp turned up (in the right on the picture), accompanied by George and Peggy DiCaprio (in the center), parents of the movie star Leonardo DiCaprio .

The guy on the left is a North Beach local that I just herded into the picture. He had a heavy Italian accent. I liked him because he reminded me of Richard Arneson, the offbeat sculptor who made monumental ceramic pieces, often depicting himself.

I always liked Arneson’s California Artist, I saw it right after moving out here twenty-one years ago. The sunglasses lenses are empty holes giving onto the void inside the artist’s head. The pedestal is decorated with a beer can, a pot plant, and a nut. “Yeah, we’re different in California. You could learn from us.”

Someone asked me what my painting style is called. I’d never thought about this, but I think my term Transrealism for much of my writing could apply to my painting as well. It’s about taking everyday reality and adding something.

I can still hardly believe that I had an art show in San Francisco. I’m lucky.

19 Responses to “My Art Show at Live Worms”

  1. Alvin Says:

    Hi Dr. Rucker,

    Just saw your new entry pop-up. It was a great show, wished I had gotten there sooner (blasted traffic & weather). Hope you have another show soon, that way I can get there early. =D

    It’s difficult to prounce his name & even harder to spell. Wait until you see what his lastname looks like, haha.

    Phi => Piyachai

  2. COOP Says:

    ” Shabby guys; there’s a fine line between being a painter and a homeless bum.”

    Hey! I represent that remark!! Congratulations on the show!

  3. Mac Tonnies Says:

    I’ve been looking forward to seeing some pictures from the show and wasn’t disappointed! Looks like a great time!

  4. John Hurd Says:

    Congratulations on your show. What fun! I love what I see.

  5. Steve H Says:

    What a bunch of old Pheezers! I’d fit right in, gray as I am now. All that wild color and shape in one place seems to be stretching the dimensional boundaries. Luckily Tom Sawyer whitewashed that fence behind them in time to stabilize the forces.

  6. Jasper Says:

    I’m so disappointed I missed your show! I looked at the days, but not closely enough at the hours you’d be there, and wandered to an empty gallery. Damn.

    I’m a big fan, and was looking forward to saying hi. I’m a circus and burlesque theater director in SF, and was looking into making a 4-d cabaret, with inspiration from some of your books.

    Just finished Postsingular, and I think it’s one of the best things you’ve done (although, writing wise, I’d say “as above so below” moved me the most). Will you be making any more public appearances soon?

    Also, way to be an inter-disciplinary artist–it’s so interesting what perspectives it can give!

  7. Rudy Says:

    Jasper, sorry you missed me. 4D cabaret, great idea.
    I’ll be performing a light show in Berkeley this Friday night.

  8. paradoctor Says:

    It was a great show, Rudy. I’m glad I made it by Sunday, anyhow. The gallery and the neighborhood were fine, but I had to park over the hill.
    ‘Twas wonderful to see you living your dream.

  9. Agnes Kaminski Says:

    Hey Rudy,
    I feel your excitement as well as your pain. I just had my first opening in Manhatten. The turn out was great and the comments all most encouraging but not much money came behind them. I’m interested in showing next in San Francisco and if you could e-mail me some info on where you were hooked up at there maybe I could show there as well sometime in the future. Looking forward to hearing from you.. Agie..a fellow artist.

  10. Agnes Kaminski Says:

    You can check my art out at

  11. Rudy Says:

    Agnes, good luck with your work, I checked out your site. At the Planck temperature space and time melt — like a Dali watch. I’m far from being connected enough to “hook you up” for a gallery show in SF. What I can tell you is that I arranged the Live Worms show with Kevin Brown, an artist who uses Live Worms as his studio, and rents the gallery out for weekend shows. You can find out about him at his website

  12. Ralf Says:

    Rudy, regarding reading Postsingular ‘on screen’: the novel is already on which makes versions available for PDAs and other devices. And I read it on an Iliad which has an ePaper display.

    Just to tell you how it comes around.

  13. Agnes Kaminski Says:

    Rudy , thanks I need it. Right now that first show just about broke me. I’m learning first hand what it means to be a struggling artist. If I may ask for some advice. Your blog shows up in Google and each time I post to it , it puts your name up in the search engine,how’s that. Do you have a secret? My blog is on and I just posted my newest painting I finished as a commission work, yet I don’t get it up or see it in the search engine. Even if I do a search on my name Agnes Kaminski which is the blog title. Do you know what I can do to fix this. Check my blog out and see my latest of the little girl I did. By the way I like the eyeball in the tree. I sometimes think the trees are watching us thinking how silly we all are.

  14. Agnes Kaminski Says:

    Rudy you inspire me with your free flowing work. I sometimes think my work is too tight. It’ hard for me to be so free. However I went to what we call the bog today and took some interesting phots of trees if you like I could send you some . Just let me know. They were cypress in the water and had moss all along the bases of them. I’m thinking of doing a painting of them myself.

  15. Rudy Says:

    Agnes,cypreses sound good, no need to send photos, I have enough stuff here, anyway, I always like to start a picture, if possible, from something I’m physically in front of, soaking up the vibe and subliminally knowing the True Colors. As for why my blog shows up in Google, there’s no easy shortcut to make this happen. I’ve been blogging and posting tons of stuff for five or even ten years, so I have a relatively high Google PageRank (my blog is 6 out of a possible 10) and therefore the Google search engine lists my links relatively close to the top. Also, remember that it takes the Google data base a day or two or more to update and notice new things that you post.

    Speaking of eyes in trees, I’m seeing the dings in the Giant’s Head rock as eyes, though I don’t think I’ll push it that hard this time. Painting under halogen lights in my basement this cold gray winter afternoon.

    Good deal on getting a portrait commission, I saw it on your blog
    The down side of being a somewhat loose painter is that I don’t think I could ever paint someone’s portrait to look enough like them to make them satisfied…

  16. Agnes Kaminski Says:

    I really enjoy chatting with you. I think your work has hit on a popular note, more than you realize, and with the largest buyers next to women which is kids. Kids would insist on having your stuff in there room and what mom could say no. The painting of the little girl is for a 6 year old. I Couldn’t imagine doing a serious sort of portrait for a 6yr olds Christmas gift, so I made it a bit mystical. When I work in acrylic I can get more free, I think its a mind thing with me, the fear of mudd if you know what I mean. Anyhow I did a huge three panel wall piece for my step son who is 12 for his room and it has all of his strange chracters he likes in a starry night. I’ll post it on the blog so you can see. It’s very popular to folks who like to dress up their kids room a bit. I’m thinking of doing a whole series for boys and girls in my next show and calling it the Kid’s corner. Ya gotta love kids imaginations.

  17. ethora Says:

    Thank you for posting this. My husband and I were truly bummed about not being able to see your paintings for real, but at least now we can attempt to construct the memory that we were here. Pretty please consider showing your art to the SF bay area public again. Your paintings are beautiful. I love how you capture the surreality transreality of your stories with mere color and shape.

    You continue to be an inspiration. Thank you again, and happy 2008! ~Ellen

  18. Floroskop Says:

    I think this try.

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