Since Seibot and I first started Moth Belly Gallery in the late autumn of 2020, one of my unexpectedly gratifying side projects has been the curation of our Instagram page. Over the past year I've spent hours and hours browsing over hashtags, location tags, and other art sharing pages in search of new creators. I've been constantly blown away by all of the new artists and even new styles of art I've discovered throughout the world and it is truly exciting seeing everything that's out there, and amazingly so much of it seems like to be flying almost completely under the public radar.
It's also interesting how much my taste in art has developed, expanded and even changed over the course of the past year. I'm a big fan of all types of creativity, but I've always been drawn more to the weird stuff and lately I find myself gravitating increasingly towards the self-taught and more "outsider" art forms. The Bay Area itself is home to TONS of amazing and unique artists and with the launch of Moth Belly Media I decided to put together a little article to highlight some of the emerging artists I really enjoyed following in 2021 and am super excited about seeing what this next year holds for them. It was really hard narrowing it down to just 10 and I may very well need to do a second article or an addendum of sorts. And although numbered, the order isn't really intended as a rating system and everybody's art is beautiful and special and we're all #1. Enjoy!
@Chentevee, better known simply as Vargas, is an artist working right here in our very neighborhood in the Tenderloin. I first found out about his work around a year ago and was immediately into it because to me it’s the kind of art that falls right on the cusp of outsider art and more contemporary lowbrow or pop-art styles. While usually not jam-packed with direct pop cultural nods and references, Vargas’ mixed media paintings definitely feel very reminiscent of 90s cartoons albeit put through some kind of crude stream-of-consciousness blender.
While most of these pieces fall much more into the abstract figurative arena, there’s also others that feel more like political allegories with commentaries that read at varying levels of ambiguity. Golf, golden showers, and a Trump-like figure with a yellow glob for a hair-do seem to be some of the recurring elements in this category of Vargas’ work. There are also the occasional cop cars and colorful, boggle-eyed figures donning automatic weapons that feel straight out of some sort of Nickelodeon TV style police state. Whatever it is that is going on in these pieces, they’re interesting to look at and fun to try and dissect.
Vargas' art to me feels very liberated, and if I had to guess I'd say it's art that is done for exactly the right reasons; for fun and expression. It doesn't have a lot of the pretensions, or dare I even say ambitions, that can tend to spoil the genuine, raw creativity of a lot of artists. One metric I often like to use to gauge whether or not someone is a true artist at heart, is would they be making art just as they are if there was nobody at all around to buy or even look at it? Vargas seems like the type that would be.
@Joes_absurdities is definitely an artist who you can tell has a very vivid and developed inner imaginary world. One thing that I really like about her work and that attests to this, is her broad range of mediums. Her dark surrealist style seamlessly extends from illustration and painting, to sculpture, assemblage, costume art, and most recently into tattooing. All of it is super immersive and inspiring.
Most of her paintings are set in this dark, forested wonderland and populated by green or red, shiny gelatinous humanoids engaging in strange and sometimes sexual acts. In one piece, a gleaming, gummy female character clad in only sneakers is being penetrated by some type of fruit or cactus while caressing an anthropomorphic strawberry. In another piece a triad of blue canines engage in what looks to be some type of sinister, moonlit foreplay. The work all feels very narrative and each painting is wrapped in its own sense of mystery, leaving the viewer with a great sense of curiosity and intrigue.
Although still stylistically congruent with her other work, Joe's tattoo flash appears to be playing more off of the circus freakshow/cabinet of curiosities approach. Just as in her paintings, red seems to also be a very dominant color with the tattoos, with many of the designs done with just a straightfoward red and black palette. It's super interesting to see this extension of Joe's creativity and I can't wait to see more!
In my opinion, the work of Marvin Velasco (AKA Muttermilk) is pop art done right. Gravitating between relatively simple acrylic paintings, and their slightly more complex digital illustration counterparts, Marvin's paintings usually feature famous cartoon characters and are filled to the brim with a degree of existential anxiety and dread that could only exist in a generation raised in front of TV and computer screens. It seems like most pop art and even pop surrealism made these days doesn't really serve any purpose other than to wax nostalgic, whereas Marvin's work effectively does its job of illustrating just how deeply these man-made archetypes of late 20th century pop-culture have infiltrated our individual and collective psyches.
Characters from Teletubbies, Spongebob, Mario Brothers, Sesame Street, and old school McDonalds commercials seem to be some of the main cast members in Marvin's neurotic universe, just to name a few. It's not uncommon to find these familiar icons with disparaged words and phrases like "make it stop" or "sucks to be you" blasting out of their eye sockets in enormous block letters, or engaged with each other in other absurd, unexplainable situations. Kermit the frog also makes pretty regular appearances, often pitted in battle against the Simpsons or just against his own insecurities. Marvin's art is like a nervous break personified and broadcast live as a Saturday morning cartoon: Welcome to your next angst-ridden melt down, brought to you by Garfield & Friends.
As original as Marvin's work is, it is also the type of work that feels inevitable in our modern age. It's a powerful combination of the satirical and the non-sequitur as well as both the wildly humorous and the downright depressing. And it's the type of art that makes me feel very curious (and a little bit nervous) about the art that will be produced by generations to come.
I can't remember exactly how I first came across the work of West Oakland based artist Tia Alcini, but I'm glad I did! Tia's work usually centers around the recurring motif of these charming balloon/egg shaped clown faces that are painted in a variety of styles and usually jumbled together in groups ranging from just a few to a few dozen. The colors used are usually bright and inviting and the execution is more often loose and crude, sometimes even verging on what appear to be rushed and frantic scribbles. From what I've seen, Tia's work is usually done using paint and spray paint, but is by no means limited to these mediums and has also branched out into sculpture, illustration, and the occasional street art.
One of the biggest appeals to me of Tia's art is it makes me feel nostalgic for the San Francisco Bay I first moved to in 2003, and is very reminiscent of the Mission School and other lowbrow art movements that to me defined this area as a creative and cultural hub. Although working with minimal subject matter, her work is jam-packed with style, personality, and flow. Her work is also very carefree and even reckless at moments, but rather than detract from the overall quality of her pieces this actually works as one of their greatest strengths. Mistakes and imperfections, far from ruining a canvas, for Tia become playful opportunities for improvisation.
I don't really know what else to say about Tia's art except that it's hella dope and I love it. It's super playful and colorful and I want to see MORE. Keep those friendly little egg shaped faces coming!
Yelena Yermakova, who goes by @Gromokoshke on Instagram, is a true artist. And on top of that, one of my favorite type of artists: the fringe-of-society, prone to bizarre behavior, and with absolutely no concept or regard for social norms whatsoever type. I first met her in Dolores park in the fall of 2020, where I bought one of her $15 Fed-ex Kinkos prints she was going around and trying to sell out of a binder she had in her backpack. I wanted to buy one of the original drawings but they weren't for sale. Since then, she has come to our gallery once and we gave her a couple canvases to go paint something on for us to put in an art show or something.
Yelena's Instagram profile, which was until recently listed as a "Water Treatment Service," had mostly showcased her rad colored pencil and mixed media pieces I've grown to adore, but lately appears to be more devoted to her grimy, basement-style tattoo practice. While the illustrations are centered around these colorful, almost mythical characters in bizarre, unexplainable situations, the tattoos are all blackwork and in that aesthetic reminiscent of Black Metal logo art that seems to be popular with the kids these days. One thing that I do get a kick out of is her total disregard for any standard of quality documentation or presentation of the work. Some of the tattoos are posted without even having had wiped clean the excess ink before the photograph.
Unfortunately, if you are looking to purchase work from Yelena online, the link to her Big Cartel online shop is currently down, and we are left only with the heading "The website will work when I get clothes and documents" along with an emoji of the Anarchist's black flag. It's hard to ever really chart the course of artists like this, and their creative whims are often as unpredictable as their awkward behavior. But one thing is for certain: wherever things do go for Yelena Yermakova, I am 100% here for it and can't wait.
Hebert Lucio is another artist working right here in our own neighborhood, his studio being just a few blocks away. Of all the things I like about Hebert's work, I think the main quality I admire about it is just how raw and instinctive it is. It's proletariat art that doesn't fetishize detail and labor, and yet the more you get to know it and the artist behind it the more you realize how imbued it is with social commentary, introspection, and depth. Hebert's anti-portraits, per se, strive to create dialogue and to give voice to the marginalized, and they all do so through a bold, gestural, art brut style lens.
Hebert's current series, and the one I'm most familiar with, "La Vida Americana" features a prolific assortment of paintings and pastel works all done on paper. The subjects of the pieces in this series usually tend to be black or brown individuals from here in downtown SF or from his old stomping grounds of Echo Park, Los Angeles. Aside from the very distinguishable style of the works, another reoccurring element in the series is the way he draws teeth which is just with a simple straight line and four connecting half loops on the underside, which has almost turned into a bit of a trademark of his recent work.
Hebert is the type of artist that seems to work mainly in series, but when he embarks on a new series he really goes all out. If "La Vida Americana" is any taste for what's to come down the line, I'm super curious to see what's in store next. Along with sharing selections of his art, Hebert posts a lot of pictures of himself as well which create an interesting contrast with the work he creates. I'd say his personal style is a cross somewhere between LA hipster and early 2000s cartel drug lord. Definitely a good follow.
Aside from being probably the nicest, sweetest, and most affable person you've ever met, Gui Lemes is also an emerging artist of superhuman proportions. Having migrated to murals and fine art from a career in graphic design, Gui's psychedelic poster art inspired work is a true force to be reckoned with. It's hard to believe that Gui's murals are still very much in their infancy by their crisp level of detail and perfection, and his natural eye for design and composition is inherent in everything he puts out.
Having moved to the US from central Brazil, Gui is the type of individual who was destined for San Francisco both because of the nature of his spirit and the stylistic leanings of his creative vision. An infusion of 1960s Victor Moscoso style psychedelia as well as apparent inspirations from comic art and vintage advertising, Gui's paintings are like a cosmic blast of mind melting radness. Empowered, feminine figures seem to be one reoccurring point of focus in his paintings, as well as galactic, ayahuasca-esque animals and not to mention plenty of eyeballs (affirming his lesser used but fitting moniker "The Eyelian").
Gui has a few murals scattered throughout SF, but his most prominent work can be found at Black Hammer Brewing in the Soma District where he has also designed most of their branding. Currently he is splitting his time between Las Vegas and here, but I still consider him very much to be a San Francisco artist. Gui Lemes is exactly the type of beautiful and generous human being we want and need in this city and I am very excited for his future as an artist.
God Damnit I FUCKING LOVE GRUMPA POP!!! More formally known as Adam Ansell, this art may not be for everybody but it is most certainly for me. The figures in these usually square-shaped, heavily textured paintings are so distorted, disfigured, and overworked that it's hard to really tell who or what they are anymore. But I know that they're cute, and I know that I love them. As mangled and bizarre as some of these characters are, for the most part they feel very benevolent and non-threatening to me. I wish I could visit a whole world populated by them and hear the stories they have to tell.
Another aspect of these works that I find very curious and appealing is the unnatural sense of composition. Many of the figures are cropped and framed in ways that you wouldn't expect, as if the paintings themselves are zoomed in or even just fragments or snapshots of larger paintings. Even though we know this is not the case, one can only wonder what the intention behind this is. On all fronts, Adam's work is portraiture painting taken to the furthermost edges of the definition of the word.
On top of making amazing art, @grumpapop along with his partner @jasonmecier have gradually become two of my favorite Instagram personalities over the past year. The art on Grumpa's page is interspersed with some of the most random content you could imagine, as well as these hilarious little TikTok music videos of him dancing to miscellaneous pop songs while attired in a seemingly ever-changing wardrobe. Jason, on the other hand, is rather well known for his celebrity "trash art" in which he crafts assemblage art portraits of famous icons ranging from Nic Cage to Cardi B using nothing but junk and detritus. Most recently, he has been printing these portraits onto pillows and selling them under this HILARIOUS new persona called @yourpillowguy. Go check that shit out RIGHT NOW.
I've known @looksnatcher going on well over a decade now, and while if nepotism may be accountable for any entry on this list this is it, I can honestly say he is and always has been one of my favorite creative minds. Together, Looksnatcher and I have seen it all; from being barflies and downright hooligans together, to blacking out on flights, to our two-person exhibit "Serial Killer Ketamine Orgy" in 2015 that featured several cheaply framed & threateningly bizarre ballpoint drawings full of teeth, fingers, eyeballs, and malformed tits and scrotums made while working at the front desk of a strip club together.
When I first met Looks, he was always impulsively and religiously drawing. The dark little Tenderloin SRO he was living in was full of these dozens upon dozens of surreal pen drawings all taped to the wall like a madman, some of them even drawn on napkins or scraps of paper found on the street. It looked like something out of a David Fincher movie and most people would probably have found it terrifying, but I thought it was really magical. From there on, Looks has steadily grown into my favorite person to collaborate with, to bounce ideas off of, and is always the first person I go to when I need a second pair of eyes for something. Although the advice he has given me has sometimes been a little questionable...
After a long period of inactivity, the latest manifestation of Looks' near bottomless creativity has been his beautiful and intricate stencil making which he has been applying both to doing street art and also making canvases and prints. The off- the-wall ideas and elegant execution of his stencil work are proof to me that stencil art can still be dope and original. On top of that, Looks has also gotten back into his old past time of writing graffiti, and this new incarnation of it has been fun to watch develop. Like the stencils, his approach to letters is full of endless variation and doesn't strictly bind itself to any set style or tradition.
Messybeck is amazing and more than anyone else on this list she is the type of artist who when I look at her work I am amazed that she is not more established and well known than she is. To me, the power of Messy's work lays in the dichotomies it creates; her paintings, while giddy and bubbly and hued with a palette of mostly soft pastels, can also simultaneously border on the menacingly nightmarish and disturbed. The themes in Messy's oeuvre deal with anything from the celebration of community and femininity to more serious themes of body dysmorphia and personal identity. All of these elements seamlessly combine to form a very well- packaged and matured artistic persona, and especially for someone her age. Every painting I've seen by Messy is instantly recognizable as hers.
All of Messy's work is figurative, and the figures are very often nude and heavily contorted, regularly bordering on cubism. A more recent characteristic she's been employing is the freakishly elongated forehead which make her otherwise jovial subjects turn suddenly a bit unnerving. As overall inviting as Messy's inner world may seem, there are the occasional warning signs that this is one rabbit hole that might not be 100% safe for passage. And it's exactly that that really sets her art apart and brings it to the next level for me; as posh and charming as it is, it also never hesitates to get super fucking weird at a moment's whim.
Contrary to the "Messy" in her name, Messybeck's paintings are incredibly and almost suspiciously crisp, clean, and flawlessly done. She assures us the name comes more from her process rather than the final product. Either way, whatever she is doing, it is working. With the trajectory that Messy's work is on, we all need to prepare to have our minds completely blown.