'Home': Artist puts out the welcome mat by Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer , San Francisco Chronicle,
November 18, 2008
'Home': Artist puts out the welcome mat
Some artists hang their work on the walls of their home. Megan Wilson's art is her home.
Over the last five years, Wilson has transformed her Nob Hill flat into an eye-popping installation that revels in color and pattern. It's a psychedelic swirl of shapes and hues inspired by Indonesian textiles, Indian design, the landscape and sunsets of her native Montana.
Floral, feather and onion forms in blues, reds, orange and maroon - cut from vintage 1970s curtains - flow across yellow ceilings and green walls. Those organic shapes are set off by squares of multicolored carpeting on the hallway and living room floor and the bedroom ceiling. In the office stands a stack of thin, rock-like forms covered in suede that Wilson burned floral patterns into. A wooden owl she got from her mother - one of the female artists and craftmakers in her family to whom she dedicated this "Home" installation - sits atop the suede slabs.
"I work in decorative, craft art. I'm an artist, period," says Wilson, a spirited redhead who sees no distinction between "fine" art and craft. The installation, which is open to the public Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons and by appointment, is a homespun wonder that incorporates a zigzagging knitted quilt made by her great-grandmother and pillows and a blanket her grandma knit.
"Everything that's in here is part of the piece," says Wilson, who's in her late 30s (she prefers to leave it at that). That includes the tomato-red tea kettle and the floral-patterned plates; the bulbous red, green and yellow Indonesian lamps dangling from the ceilings; the elegant stacks of glass jars - each containing a flower floating in shampoo, mouthwash, hair gel, wine or oil, depending on the color of the room - glowing like some mysterious science project.
Wilson loves minimalism and clean white walls, but that's not her way. "This is maximalist art," says the artist, an easy laugher with a gleam in her blue eyes.
She's standing in her living room, where bright blue and red sequins dot the elaborate sunburst pattern on the ceiling, and intricate floral and fan forms are painted and pinned on the wall. The baroque space was created with Victorian designs in mind, "but from a 1960s and '70s psychedelic San Francisco perspective," says the artist, whose parents lived here during the '60s while her father clerked for Judge James Browning of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
A self-proclaimed obsessive compulsive, Wilson would've kept adding more details with no end in sight, but at the end of the month she's being evicted from her apartment after living there 12 years. The landlord invoked the Ellis Act, which allows him to evict all the occupants of a building in order to change its use. The other tenants left months ago, but because Wilson has multiple sclerosis, she got to stay a year after the eviction notice was posted. She's lost some vision in her right eye but is otherwise in good health. She's putting the artwork in storage and heading off to Manila for a while with her girlfriend, artist Eliza Barrios, whose family is from there.
Wilson hadn't intended to turn her home into an art environment, but the thing just snowballed.
The artist, who got a bachelor's degree at the University of Oregon and a master's at the San Francisco Art Institute, had been traveling back and forth to Indonesia for two years. She'd organized and run an exchange program between American and Indonesian artists and felt the need to stay home. Rather than going to her Mission District studio, she began working in the apartment, cutting up curtains bought at second-hand shops and pinning the shapes to the wall.
She liked what she saw. "You know," she thought, "I'm going to transform the whole place into an installation."
She didn't sketch or plan it out, but rather improvised her way into each room as she went. The process was "very intuitive, very organic," says Wilson, who was influenced by 1970s feminist artists who worked with decoration and untraditional materials, as well as the self-contained environments of artists like Yayoi Kusama and designer Verner Panton.
She covered her wooden desk with suede, then burned wood grain into it. "Again, it was more pattern. I just love it," says the artist, who's grown accustomed to living amid all this stuff but still gets a jolt when she comes home after being away for spell.
She thinks, "Oh my God, this is really overwhelming," says Wilson, who got a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to help pay for this labor-intensive work. Being immersed in all these shapes and colors makes her happy. She'd rather stay, but she's philosophical about having to strip the place bare after spending five year filling it with objects of her affection.
"I've done a lot of work where I've spent tons of time on something, then it's gone in a moment. That's been part of my practice," says Wilson, who's heading off to Idaho to install a show of her textiles and paintings, dedicated to her late father, at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.