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ART SMART: CLUB JINNAKA
Take a walk down Fulton Street and you can't help but notice the giant neon sign that looms over local restaurant and landmark, Tokyo Gardens. But those who have a sharp eye might also notice a new neon sign in the neighborhood. Beckoning from a neighboring window a slightly smaller sign glistens. Local artists Michael Garcia, Michael Phillips and Geoffrey Spach recently renovated the storefront next door to Tokyo Garden and turned it into an art gallery. Stuffed full of paintings and photos and ceramics, the newly dubbed Club Jinnaka will be opening its doors on Thursday, June 2nd.
Famous recently had the chance to sit with the artists and ask them a few questions about their art and their new club.
Whose work is whose?
Michael Garcia: Michael [Phillips] is the photographer and Geoffrey [Spach] is the potter.
Initially, what made you want to put something like this together? Why'd you guys decide to open an art gallery?
Michael Phillips: Well, awhile back we had a show at Three Rivers, at this place called Court Gallery. We put together a show. We all went up there together. The show was poorly attended, of course.
MG: The show looked beautiful though.
Geoffrey Spach: We went up there over and over again looking at our own work.
MP: It's the whole destination. The gallery was located right on the river. It's a fabulous venue. From there we decided to start looking for spaces and we couldn't find anything that would work and then this location just sort of opened up and blossomed.
MG: I have a studio in Madera and people come out there and I don't mind that. I sort of enjoy that, but it is a work place and it is not a place to show work. I've been waiting a long time for a situation like this.
So how long did it take you guys to renovate this place?
MG It took about a month to get this going. A little bit before the beginning of May Toshi [Yoshioka, owner of Tokyo Garden] came up with the notion of getting some work up in here. The place has been vacant for quite a while. It was a karate studio and after that it has been nothing but dust and that doesn't do him any good. He suggested that we maybe put some art in here and we immediately said yes.
How'd you and the other artists all meet?
MG I've known Mike since about 7th or 8th grade and Mike introduced Geoff to me.
How'd Mike Phillips and Geoff meet?
MP: Through our kids. We were at Woodward Park and tour kids started playing together and we said, "Do you want to start a playgroup?" Later I found out Geoff liked art.
How did you guys all get into art? Into your separate disciplines...
MG I started painting as a kid. Always. Everybody had a forte. Some were good at spelling or sports or whatever and when in art class I was able to express myself and get some praise. Every kid needs to get some praise and I got mine there.
I noticed that there aren't any canvases up here though. They're all panels. How did you get into painting on wood?
MG: I work in canvas and paper sometimes. I started that way. I was living in Japan and one day I went to an art store to pick up some materials and they had these wooden panels. I had no idea what the hell they were using them for, but I just took them home. So it was just pure simple accident. I thought I would try it out and ever since then I've worked on wood.
Mike [Phillips], how'd you get into photography?
MP: I started photography when I was 18 at City College and I fell in love with it and I didn't know what else to do with my life so I thought I might as well go to art school and learn photography. I got my degree and came home and actually worked at Takahashi Studios -- which is the building where Bill Bruce is now. He did wedding photography and portraits. He was there for forty years. He was an icon.
It's strange that you did weddings and portraits, but all the photos you have up are of rural landscapes and architectural stuff.
MP: It is just a different mix of architectural slash landscape stuff. I have a lot of abstract stuff within the landscape that I'm not showing right now. But I'll be bringing more of that in as we progress. Keep things fresh. I just wanted to show a big cross section of my work.
Are the photos digital or are you still an old school guy with a darkroom?
MP: I'm converting over. It's all analog capture. I shoot with my big view camera, my 8X10 and I scan it, so it is a digital output.
Is there a common theme or inspiration for these?
MP: A lot of these photos are just good memories of trips I've had with a lot of different people, my brothers, my brother-in-laws and stuff. A lot of these are from kayak trips. That shark's head photo is from a sea kayaking trip in Baja. I went down to Baja for 5 or 6 years straight and kind of photographed down in the Sea of Cortez.
What about all these ceramics?
GS: Like Mike, who is throwing in a mix of everything he does, for this show I've thrown in a mix of wheel thrown and hand built ceramics. I don't do a lot of glossy pieces but I think I've got a good cross section and you can see the wheel thrown stuff and see that I'm moving more towards the hand building stage. More earthy textures.
It's sort of primitive, primordial. How'd you learn?
GS: It started off with drawing. All my background was in drawing and then I started going to Fresno State and it was my first year there and I walked past the ceramics room and as soon I started that I was there 16 or 20 hours a day. Just trying to get it down and get the rhythm of the wheel down. Then I dropped out of school and stopped doing any kind of art for almost 6 years and then I actually met Mike and his wife and they saw a couple pieces I had done before and pushed me to get started again. Everything rolled from there.
MP: Here we are, it's pretty bizarre.
Are there any ties between the different styles of work? Or are you guys just working with different ideas?
MG We're working off different ideas. I know we are because we're coming from different directions and now we've all sort of collided. But we appreciate each other's work and I feel that in many ways, especially Geoff's stuff all this terracotta and earth, I have an attraction to it. For me it seems to work with some of the darker images I am dealing with in my work.
Mike [Garcia] you also have many Japanese characters in your work ...how did you start working with those?
MG: I lived in Japan for ten years and that is sort of coming out in the work. Even before then when I was eight maybe nine my mom took me to San Francisco and I got blown away when we went up to Chinatown. I saw this calligraphy and I said, "Holy shit, this is really weird." I was having trouble with the ABCs and these guys are scratching and scribbling -- it was cosmic to me. I remember I found a piece of newsprint on the sidewalk there and I stashed that away and whenever friends came over I'd be like, "Hey, look at this." It was a treasure. I was just interested in it.
You have put some work into renovating the space. It has a very mature feel....urban.
MG That's wonderful. We were going to go funky at first and then we pulled off all this paneling and there were thousands of holes in the wall and a bad paintjob so we started attacking this problem and then the next thing looked shittier now that we had improved that and then it sort of snowballed. The lighting was a big issue, and then we checked stuff out at these other galleries and we decided that this setup was what we wanted. I like the light.
The light warms up the room nicely. This place feels like it could be in a real city.
MG: What? Like Kerman?
MP: Like Riverdale?
GS: Hey, Riverdale is hopping.
Is the plan to keep it going for awhile?
MG: As long as possible. We have our own lives, we have kids, we're married and all that kind of stuff so you know it is sometimes difficult to get everything together but we would like to see this go for the long haul if possible. There's other variables s that we have no control over. But Toshi seems very happy with this and when we proposed this he thought we were just going to sweep up and tack stuff on the wall but he sees how we're far more aggressive with it. I think he is pleased with that.
Club Jinnaka is located at 1701 Fulton St., next to the world famous Tokyo Garden.