Bay Area Inspiration: Artists Reflect on Local Landscapes

The combination of the Bay Area’s rich diversity, progressive idealism, and the volatile cycle of economic booms have made it a fertile ground for artistic exploration. In this eclectic video collection, hear from artists whose work is informed and inspired by the history of our local environment.

Visit San Francisco’s wild, gay past with Catherine Opie. Watch as Mildred Howard reflects on the Bay Area potentially losing what makes it special, while Janet Delaney documents a neighborhood undergoing drastic change. From there, take a trip to the past with sculptor Mark di Suvero as he reminisces on his first memories of San Francisco. We conclude with Sohei Nishino, who shares the process behind a series of city “maps” composed of thousands of pictures.

Catherine Opie on finding freedom in the Bay Area

Opie describes San Francisco as a place that “allowed a sense of freedom and discovery” for her as a young artist. She fondly remembers meeting friends and collaborators at her old haunt, Red Dora’s Bearded Lady, finding her identity in the LGBTQ community, and getting her start in portrait photography — all in the beautiful city by the Bay.

Mildred Howard’s houses hold memories

“What happens to a community or a city when all the color leaves?,” Howard posits in this interview. “What would happen if all the artists had to leave because they could not afford a one-bedroom?” The artist discusses how the changing landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area influences her artistic practice, including the creation of installations based on houses, history, and cherished memory.

Janet Delaney on South of Market

“I realized I had a very strong feeling about sense of place,” Delaney recalls. “The idea of being impacted by your neighborhood, by your community, those relationships were always really important to me.” The photographer reflects on capturing another era of San Francisco in her series South of Market (1978–86) and discusses revisiting the ever-changing area for her series, SoMa Now (ongoing).

Mark di Suvero on post-WWII San Francisco

Di Suvero recalls immigrating to San Francisco as a child during World War II, and later, being immersed in the city’s bohemian culture — a period that introduced him to people that would “change” his life. The artist further describes his experience of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, which later inspired his 2013 exhibition of eight large, steel sculptures at Crissy Field.

Sohei Nishino’s maps trace more than the city

Nishino shares the process and inspiration behind Diorama Maps (2004–ongoing), a series of city “maps” composed of thousands of pictures taken from multiple perspectives. Here, the photographer describes how the completed works are meant to trace his feelings, memories, and personal experiences rather than to offer objective representations of each location.

Looking for more videos with artists? Check out SFMOMA on YouTube.


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