Marrying Art & Tech in San Francisco
Here at brokeassstuart.com we tend to give ‘Tech’ a hard time. But in reality we have nothing against people who write code for a living or design things on machines, quite the contrary, we love people who create things, in fact we use some of those extraordinary things everyday. We just hate to see our city change so fast and lose so much of its diversity. When all the artists are priced out, and the new residents work all the time in order to pay for a $3600/month closet to live in, it’s a recipe for a…homogeneous, boring city with a single flavor. That is why we want to shed light on Tech companies that are doing cool things with artists, things that make our city more interesting and creative.
Software company Kenshoo teamed up with Code & Canvas to be the pilot office for an Artist in Residency program here in San Francisco. What does that mean? It means a program that matches SF artists with tech offices, a temporary union so to speak, of art and tech. It also means that the chosen company’s employees get to learn about making art, as well as end up with a much better looking office.
For 10 hours a week, artists Nathan Richard Phelps makes and teaches art to Tech workers. He gets $5k/month for the duration of the residency, and gets to see inside the inner working of an international tech/marketing firm. Which Nathan openly admits is the first time he’s ever ‘worked in an office building‘. Nathan showed his new corporate pupils the process of making art, from starting with a blank canvas, to making artistic decisions from design, to color pallet, to scale, to finishing a single piece of art that can be put on display, and then creating a body of work that can be used in a show.
For an hour or two COO’s, CMO’s & and perhaps some techbros, took a break from their machines and collaborated with an artist to make a type of art Nathan calls ‘washes’. It combines paint and water to be absorbed into paper canvas like these:
“Someone in an office environment gets to leave that world and visit an art studio for an hour or two, they leave their world and enter mine, I think there’s an inherent value in that, a fresh perspective and process,” Nathan said of his time and collaborations with Kenshoo employees. Patience Yi, the founder of the Code & Canvas artist in residency program had this to say about their intersection for artists and technologists, and the potential union of science and art, “Kenshoo is a company that already believes that there is a natural intersection of art and science that is necessary to create innovative, cutting-edge technology, and its employees are a mix of creative, passionate and hard-working people. We matched Kenshoo up with the artist, Nathan Richard Phelps because he is an advocate for connecting these two worlds, outspoken, positive, fun.”
“there is a natural intersection of art and science that is necessary to create innovative, cutting-edge technology” – Code & Canvas an intersection for artists and technologists
We also looked at the murals that Nathan created on the company walls, his style is one that “takes simple shapes and creates an illusion of complexity”. His work has both an organic and modern feel to it, as he describes it, “I want to play with perception, there’s no negative space for the eye to rest, the eye is drawn to the source of the line work which can be perceived as an ending or a beginning…or both”
The otherwise blank white walls in an artificially lit office building are much better for it. Nathans mural dubbed “Nova” is a work in progress using a big, thick, silver, industrial pen, typically used in graffiti art, and there is more line work to be done. About his other piece at Kenshoo, Nathan described how he used only an ‘s’ curve to create a much larger design, taking something very simple and using it to create something new. “The significance of art is discovering a new perspective, new places and experiences that you normally wouldn’t find.”
Kenshoo’s COO, Shirley Grill-Rachman happened to walk by while Nathan and I were chatting, I asked her if she thought that introducing an artist into corporate work life was a positive thing, she said, “We’ve always been been talking about how science and art have a lot in common, it’s been a very popular program, in fact when employees hear it’s ending they say things like, ‘really? Already?’ I think that seeing this creative process and introducing a new perspective is very valuable.”
There is a lot of money in the tech sector and they are typically not afraid to spend it, in fact certain select bay area artists have been winning pricey commissions for work, murals are especially popular, but the artist in residency model is more sustainable, it brings people together in a real way, it’s not just a business transaction. I asked Nathan how the two world are getting along. “There’s a lot of goodwill from the tech sector towards art, they just don’t know particularly how to contribute, there’s not exactly a clear way to get involved.” To help bridge that gap Nathan invited all the company employees to a cool gallery event with live music and drinks. “People tend to be nervous about going into art galleries, there’s a stigma that if you are not an expert, you don’t belong.” I heard many people say the same thing about the tech world. Nathan went on, “it’s not about that in reality, it really just about showing up, stepping into each other’s world, not being afraid of being curious.” Props to Kenshoo for doing just that.