A Dope New Artist-Run Gallery in the TL: Moth Belly
I was invited to participate in a group show at a new gallery in my neighborhood, Moth Belly. The name of the show is “Little Utopias” and “it’s about spaces, both real and imaginary, that are necessary for our sanity and a renewed appreciation for the ones that felt so wildly out of reach for so long,” said Messybeck local Bay Area artist and curator of the show.
After exchanging a few DMs, having them over for a studio visit and visiting their studio and gallery I was so excited about the project and felt like doing a Q+A to introduce them to everyone would be the way to go!
Patricia Colli: Moth Belly is an artist-run gallery, who’s behind it? What made you want to open a gallery?
John Vochatzer: Moth Belly is the child of SF artist & muralist Seibot, and myself, John Vochatzer (otherwise known as Calamity Fair.) The entire idea behind it sort of sprung amidst the height of the pandemic last year. We were initially just discussing finding some sort of shared studio space, but after several conversations and brainstorms the idea snowballed into a full-on gallery, studio, workshop and event space, and eventually a community resource center.
I had had my eye on 912 Larkin for a while, it used to be a Vietnamese community center but had been vacant for a few years before we began leasing it in February. The space needed a lot of work (which we’ve been chipping away at for the past 8 months) but the size and location of it were otherwise perfect.
We held an enormous online auction, print sale, and raffle fundraiser last November to raise the funds we needed to get the project on its feet and now fast forward almost a year, and here we are, finally hosting our first exhibit.
PC: Why did you choose the Tenderloin?
JV: I’ve lived and worked in the Tenderloin for the better part of 18 years now, and Seibot has been here for 12, so this is the neighborhood we call home. A lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about the area, but I think most folks who’ve lived here for any extended period of time can tell you how many great things there are about the TL as well.
This 2-3 block radius in particular has always been a big hub for lowbrow art. So many amazing and talented artists live here because the rent is (comparatively) low, and the gallery, music venue, and dive bar scene have historically been one of the best in the city.
Unfortunately, the pandemic was the coup-de-grace for many of the few places left that hadn’t already been wiped out by gentrification over the past decade. There are still some businesses holding on, and via Moth Belly we’re going to try to carry the torch ourselves for as long as we can.
PC: What kind of art is Moth Belly all about?
JV: We’re about all different kinds of art and all different skill levels of art. Personally, and I think it shows in the curation of our Instagram account, I tend to lean towards a lot of surrealism and abstract figurative work which have always been my fortes.
I’m also really drawn to a lot of naive art, “outsider art” and especially art that find’s itself sort of on the fringe between those and more classic lowbrow and contemporary styles. Right now a lot of the work that I’ve found the most appealing seems to be coming from Iran, Turkey, and Ukraine.
As far as exhibits go, we’re definitely planning to focus as much as we can on local, emerging artists. However, we also want to be able to provide opportunities for traveling artists and our friends outside of the Bay Area. There are so many amazing artists out there and in our community alone and we want to showcase as many as possible. Unfortunately there’s only so much wall space and so many months in the year.
It’s just a pipe dream at the moment but we’ll be hosting a second fundraiser auction next month, depending on how well it goes we’re highly considering trying to rent the adjacent commercial space to be able to show even more artists each month.
PC: The first show opens this week October 7th and it’s an all women line-up co-curated by MessyBeck, can you tell us more about it?
JV: We’re very excited about our first exhibit “Little Utopias” and we couldn’t think of a better theme and a better group of artists for our inaugural opening. We figured after 8 months of fixing up and preparing the space, we’d be pretty exhausted, so we had no qualms entrusting the conception and curation of our first show to our good friend Messybeck who, aside from being an amazing painter, has been super involved and supportive of Moth Belly from the beginning.
The show features work created during or in response to the pandemic and explores themes of escapism, community, and joy. The opening will take place on Thursday, October 7th, as part of the Tenderloin’s First Thursdays, and will be on view for the remainder of the month.
PC: I know you’re planning on having events at the gallery like zine making and drawing night, I think that’s really cool because it brings the community together. What other projects do you have for Moth Belly in the future?
JV: The skies really the limit as far as our nightly events go and we’d love to hear any ideas or proposals any folks have. One of the main principles we’re founded on as far as workshops go is inclusion, and we want everything to be donation based so nobody is turned away on the grounds of financial instability.
We recently partnered with the non-profit Intersection for the Arts as a fiscal sponsor, and we’re hoping this will help encourage donations to keep the doors open and the activities happening. Aside from zine making parties and drawing nights, a few of the ideas I have are monthly mini craft fairs, printmaking workshops, and personally I’ve always wanted to host weekly or bi-weekly collage workshops.
Another goal of our fundraiser auction this Fall is to acquire the last of the equipment and resources we need to host the workshops and events, and if all goes well they’ll be up and running by the end of this year or the beginning of next.
The Lower Polk Art Walk is back! Tilted Brim, FleetWood, Barley and LowKey will be having shows too, for more info go to SF First Thursday Art Walk.
Please note that all San Francisco Covid-19 ordinances will be in effect, and masks will be required. Thank you for your cooperation in keeping our communities safe and healthy.
Little Utopias opens Thursday 10/7 at 6-9pm!
912 Larkin Street