SF’s Queen of Stained Glass: Kerbi Urbanowski
The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights artists before they exhibit their work somewhere awesome or while they are doing so. It’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place.
Meet Kerbi Urbanowksi, a San Franciscan who specializes in creating stained glass. She does wonderous installations, windows, nightlights, and more full of deep colors refracting light. When I first heard her name I naturally assumed she was some kind of Polish crime fighter, after all, ‘Kerbi Urbanowski’ is the perfect cover name for the Polish Batwoman, I was 62% certain she was the ‘Peter Parker’ of Portage Park, before arriving in San Francisco in 2008. But after speaking with Kerbi I found that she prefers to cut glass, create art, and mix cocktails at night. Kerbi, will be at JigShop Holiday Pop-up Dec 7, and other fun artsy events this winter & spring, so go check out her work.
Name: Kerbi Urbanowski
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Medium(s): Stained glass, Painting
When did you arrive in San Francisco?
I moved here from Chicago when I was 17 in 2008. I was stereotypically naive and learned everything about California from The Beach Boys and the movie Valley Girl. I had no idea San Francisco was so cold! I only packed one pair of pants, a pair of extremely unpractical cheetah print jeans! That week, we walked the city till the sun came up. We even ended up sneaking into Esta Noche – an iconic Latino drag bar in the Mission. Sadly It closed its doors a couple of years ago.
What was your first job in San Francisco?
My first job in SF was at Three Twins Ice Cream on the corner of Haight and Fillmore. When the building burnt down, I started nannying for a family that would come in with their kids. To this day, free scoop day was the worst shift in my life! The coolers overheated, and people had total breakdowns from waiting in line so long. It’s been years, and I still don’t eat ice cream!
I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!
Ha! I guess I’m a bit of both? I graduated from SFAI in North Beach with a degree in Painting a couple of years back. I loved going to school. Art School allowed me to indulge in the playfulness of making and, to be honest, bought me a bit of time before entering the real world. I was allowed to create whatever the heck I wanted, and it didn’t matter if it was sellable or marketable. This freedom was invaluable. A group of us painters would regularly pull all-nighters in the studio. It was a great community of people, listening to music and painting till morning. We were all so different, but we all had the same compulsive urge to be there getting things done.
What’s your most recent favorite project?
I recently installed a 9-foot by 5-foot stained glass arch in Bernal Cutlery’s new Valencia Street location. It was a fun project because not only was it for an awesome store, but the owners Kelly and Josh are excellent, kind people. They gave me complete creative freedom and trust while making it. As an artist, I am genuinely thankful to them for taking that leap. As for art openings, I was able to exhibit a series of stained glass light boxes at one of my favorite spots in the Mission – Faye’s Coffee and Video on 18th street! I live around the corner, and it was nice to work on something in my neighborhood.
Is making stained glass now different than in medieval times?
I’m sure there are many stained glass artists with firm opinions on this subject! I, however, have to assume that things are so much easier now. Old master painters would have to grind their pigments by hand, whereas I can swing by the art store on the way to the studio. There’s an art theory I like called “The Paint Tube Revolution.” Renoir was quoted saying it was one of the most pivotal moments in painting history because it allowed people to travel with paints, giving birth to the impressionists. I think the stained glass world is much the same. While the finished panels are quite similar, new techniques, subject matter, and use of refined tools have allowed for some extraordinary work to be made. Judson Studios in LA is a perfect example of what can be done with modern technology. Thanks to glass manufacturing companies like Bullseye, there is a broader spectrum of colors, more precise kilns, better grinders, light tables, etc.
Any SF artists you think are particularly outstanding right now?
I decided to take some liberties with this question and break it down into categories. All the artists on my list are currently living/working in the Bay Area.
Cher Strauberry https://www.instagram.com/cher_strauberry/
Mark Aubert https://markaubert.com/
Jeffrey Cheung https://www.instagram.com/unityskateboarding/
Cianna Valley https://www.instagram.com/ciannavalley/
Kelly Hackett https://www.instagram.com/milkweed_sf/
Dan Gamaldi https://www.instagram.com/cradleofthesun/
Joanna Lioce just published a book with Last Gasp. It’s all about her interactions with customers at Vesuvio Bar in North Beach. She is immensely talented and hilarious!
What are some of the coolest galleries in SF right now?
Minnesota Street Project http://minnesotastreetproject.com/galleries
Hashimoto Contemporary https://www.hashimotocontemporary.com/
Jack Fischer Gallery https://www.jackfischergallery.com/
Guerrero Gallery https://www.guerrerogallery.com/
Favorite SF street art right now?
I love the new Precita Eyes mosaic storefront on 24th street! http://www.precitaeyes.org/ There’s also an impressive mural going up down the block on 24th and Capp! Can’t wait to see it finished up.
How do you think SF has changed over the years?
My friend and I were talking about this just last week! He’s 71 and has lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years. We joked that the last people living in SF that aren’t millionaires are just incredibly stubborn people who won’t give up! It was so funny because when I look around at my friends that are still around, this is the case! I feel a true camaraderie with these people.
What’s coming up for you?
I have a solo show coming up in February 2020 at JigShop Gallery as well as a group show called In The Middle Of Things opening in March/April 2020. There are also many smaller local events (holiday pop-ups, art walks, etc.) listed on my website too!