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SF-born muralists debut special exhibition of studio paintings

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Artists Max Marttila and Eli Lippert say that since their early years they have had a special spot in their hearts for one of San Francisco’s primary culture and arts hubs. Here, they’ve painted with Precita Eyes, the neighborhood’s premier street art nonprofit in the heart of the Mission.

“I could live in Fillmore, Ingleside, Alemany… still, [the] Mission always ends up being home base, no matter what,” said Lippert who, like Marttila, lives in Ingleside.

On Feb. 9, the two artists took their work across the street from Precita for their exhibition, “Castles Made of Fog,” at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery located at 24th and Alabama streets.

“Castles Made of Fog” is a curation of Lippert and Marttila’s studio paintings, new and old, most finished in the last year. Many are like cousins, created in the same time frame and studio, located in the Haight.

In the show, Marttila focuses on figurative portraits, sometimes layered over landscapes familiar to city-knowers, such as Market Street or a segment of a Muni map. Meanwhile, Lippert provides mainly abstracts that nonetheless draw from his experiences in San Francisco.

Eli Lippert poses for the camera in front of two of his own paintings at a share studio space in the Haight, Feb. 5, 2019. Photo: David Mamaril Horowitz

“[In Lippert’s abstracts] even though it’s not imagery necessarily…there’s something about the color palette and the way the lines are moving that speaks to the energy that you feel in the neighborhood,” said Fatima Ramirez, Acción Latina’s cultural arts manager.

Recalling her first visit to their studio, she said:  “It sort of felt like we were in the Mission.”

Three other artists share their studio, where years of work adorn white walls splattered with paint. Although the two already paint the studio daily, Marttila and Lippert have expressed renewed commitment with the completing of “Castles Made of Fog.”

In a group statement, the two artists explained that their show is a dialogue between paintings, the result encompassing San Francisco movements, burdens and triumphs as well as other aspects of urban life.

“The city is always the biggest inspiration,” Lippert said. “What you see and go through on a daily basis is such a level of mixed emotions: growing up here and staying here and living here, and seeing the city evolve and change.”

Marttila came up with the exhibition’s name, formed from his own and others’ defensive feeling of San Francisco, a reference to the city’s weather and the Jimi Hendrix song “Castles Made of Sand.” Castles can represent people, objects, spaces or other interpretations.

“I consider all of the people I paint to be like royalty,” Marttila said.

For Marttila, portraiture is a means of respecting and immortalizing those he knows.

Marttila attended school in the Outer Mission, Excelsior and Russian Hill, Lippert in the Mission, Noe Valley, Western Addition and Park Merced.

Both have had an affinity for art since youth.

Lippert recalled that for his birthday, his mother gave him a picture of himself standing in front of a Juana Alicia mural. He was two years old.

“That [interest] has always been there,” Lippert said. “Once I got involved in doing murals, it was kind of over from there.”

While growing up, Marttila learned from other artists the possibility of turning art into a career. He too developed an interest in murals that would turn into attraction.

Now 30 years of age, the longtime friends have murals that can be found throughout and outside San Francisco.

The two expand their repertoires and make ends meet by producing a mix of fine and commercial art. Marttila teaches youth at nonprofit mural association Precita Eyes during the day and works the studio at night; Lippert works as an artist full time.

The paintings they’ve curated for “Castles Made of Fog” are, they say, more personal than their murals.

“I’m just happy people can come and see it,” Marttila said. “As long as someone feels something, that’s a win for me.”

Lippert agreed, adding the hope that his art makes someone feel empowered or inspired to act on something.

Even before the opening reception on Feb. 9, Ramirez said it already felt like they had the neighborhood inside Acción Latina.

“Castles Made of Fog” will be on display until March 15 at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Story by: David Mamaril Horowitz