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Local Legend of the Week: Paul Madonna, Creator of SF Chronicle Series ‘All Over Coffee’

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Paul Madonna writes and draws the weekly series All Over Coffee, which is published in the San Francisco Chronicle, He is the author of two books, All Over Coffee (City Lights 2007), and Everything is its own reward (City Lights 2011), which won the NCBR Recognition Award for Best Book in 2011.  The man has a gift for marrying thoughts with imagery.  At Ritual Coffee where Paul’s drawings are on display this month, I watched cafe goers pause to gaze into his work, at first noticing the familiar SF scenery, but then reading the author’s words and reacting in a way they may not have intended.  A lady with a stroller puts her hand on her chest, a bike messenger cocks his head and nods to himself.  “I love showing in cafes because they are completely disarming and you get a complete mix of people,  says Paul.  No one expects to see art there, but if someone does see a piece of art that catches their eye, it has caught them in an authentic moment, in a pure moment without preconceived notions.” I sat down with Paul Madonna, over coffee, and we talked about his life, work, and reading in the bathtub.

“I like to have the city right outside my door, because when I want to be fueled by people and places I can just walk outside…it’s like going to a good concert, you get amped up, you get energized.” Says Paul calmly with a smile.  I ask him about his artistic process.  “I draw straight to ink, I don’t pencil my drawings first.  I like it because it forces me to stay present, in the moment, it makes my craft more of a performance…my method is to clear space, both physically and mentally.”  

“It’s dangerous to allow one’s art to be about the art, but I like to step into those waters from time to time…pieces like this are self-reflective… I keep notes to myself all around my studio, they’re inspiration notes” 

We discuss one of the murals Paul did for Tacolicious, “I’m not an illustrator, I don’t ‘execute’ someone else’s vision.  I believe in a limited palette, that I create.  When Joe (Hargrave) asked me to do a piece for Tacolicious, I looked at the space like a problem I needed to solve. The mural is designed to be seen both at a distance and up close.”

Tacolicious Mural at a distance

Tacolicious Up Close

Year arrived in San Francisco: 1994

First Job in San Francisco: Bike messenger, I learned the city really fast

Favorite Job: Artist

Favorite District In San Francisco: Emotionally attached to the NoPa, I lived in 3 different places near Hayes and Lyon

Best Year in San Francisco History:   I don’t think it’s the best year, but the end of the 90’s were an interesting time for me, the cafe scene was dead.  I came here partly for the cafe culture which was huge in the 90’s.  But the cafe scene began to die because the first wave of the tech explosion was forcing the artists out, much like today.  After the bubble burst the cafes began filling up again, but this time it was with laptops.  I felt alone, my scene was gone, watching it change was poignant for me.

Favorite eats: Francis3870 17th St.

Favorite Coffee: Four Barrel, 375 Valencia St

Favorite drink: An Espresso or Americano…black

Favorite free thing to do:  Walk

Where is the best place to be at sunset? Lands End

Wheres the best place to be when it’s really hot? Dolores Park

When its really foggy?  South East Asia

“A lot of the time I look at making creative choices like a math problem… I reorder and swap numbers in and out of an equation…different instruments, different canvases, my formulas don’t always work, sometimes the house ‘falls down’ so to speak.”


How has San Francisco Changed over the years?

I have mixed feelings about how SF is changing.  On one hand I like that the city is growing, it’s becoming less of a ‘big town’ and more of a city. On the other hand the housing change bothers me, the types of spaces they are building are cramped and not designed to accommodate people, but rather to accommodate the market, to accommodate greed.

Do you think the creative people are all being forced out?

I think the tech people moving in are creative, but they’re not artists per say. I’m not advocating getting rid of artists—not at all. But at the same time, this is the wild west. And San Francisco is just one of those places that upheaves its population. It’s ironic, but it’s also what we love about the city.

What compelled you to make a book?

People could take my pieces home with them.   Taking the experience out the social context and ‘scene’ of the art gallery.    There’s nothing more private than being naked, in the bathtub, with a book.  Where are you more vulnerable more open to receiving something? (me)  Is it safe to say that Paul Madonna recommends reading his work naked in the tub? (laughs) Sure, I don’t know if this is the book specifically designed for naked in the tub, but I think it’s a good portrait of the experience I wanted to create.

Want to see where the magic happens?

At Sf Open Studios grass roots artist opening up their studios and living rooms for people to come interact with the artists themselves. I (Paul) will be opening my studio up as well, so check it out.  November 1st and 2nd11am-6pm. For more infomation visit

Sf Open Studios begins with ArtLaunch:

  • When: Thursday, October 9, 6:30-9:00pm
  • Where: SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan Street, SF
  • About ArtLaunch: Join ArtSpan as an Art Lover Member to attend the VIP portion of the event from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, featuring an open bar, food, and special treats. At 7:30pm, doors open to general admission and the party continues until 9:00pm, with an open bar, snacks, and a chance to win prizes in our Art for City Youth drawing!  
  • Creative cocktail attire encouraged. Please note that ArtLaunch 2014 is a 21+ event.
  • Purchase Tickets Online!

Paul’s work is currently on display at Ritual Coffee 1026 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

All photos courtesy of Paul Madonna.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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