Five awesome (yes, I said awesome–what of it?) discoveries at Friday’s Oakland Art Murmur

Gregorio de Masi explaining his "The Steambox Dreamworld" exhibit to a couple of visitors to Classic Cars West Gallery during Oakland Art Murmur.

Can someone explain to me why anyone would try to drive down 25th Street during Oakland’s monthly Art Murmur gallery walk? All night I watched cars turn down the street then get stuck in the mass of hipsters, hippies, art connoisseurs and curiosity seekers spilling out of galleries and gathering to watch outdoor musicians. Even if the cars did manage to find a path through the crowd, they soon found themselves nose-to-nose with a similarly misguided driver coming the other direction.

The good news is it’s a very encouraging sign to have the streets teeming with so many people. This was my first time devoting an entire evening to wandering through the art district on the first Friday of the month, and I was struck by how fortunate Oakland is to have an area like this with such a concentration of galleries and bohemian entrepreneurs.

There was no shortage of awesome on display, and I only saw a small percentage of what was exhibited this month, but these were a few of my favorite discoveries:

"Port of Oakland" by Melissa Ramos (via whyichooseoakland.com)

1. Melissa Ramos’ entry in the “I Choose Oakland” photo contest

Following the sound of an oompah band playing the “Axel F” theme from Beverly Hills Cop, we suddenly found ourselves hobnobbing with Oakland’s elite, including Mayor Jean Quan. It turns out we’d accidentally stumbled upon the reception for the city-sponsored “I Choose Oakland” photo contest. The winners were fine selections, but my favorite was one of the runners-up. Melissa Ramos snapped a picture at sunset in Jack London Square that captured silhouettes of tall ship rigging and the Port of Oakland’s iconic cranes, creating striking geometric contrasts, plus a jet’s vapor trail streaking across the sky. It somehow seems to capture the city’s past, present and future all in one image. I’d have given it first place.

"A Whale's Lament" (via gregoriodemasi.com)

2. Gregorio de Masi’s “The Steambox Dreamworld” at Classic Cars West Gallery, 411 26th St.

In the world of Gregorio de Masi‘s “steamboxes,” painted images of whales and shipwrecks; patterns of dark stained wood; and sections of copper piping all mesh together in a dreamlike combination of the organic and industrial. De Masi was working on a piece at the gallery on Friday that was hooked up to something that actually bellowed steam out of the pipes. It was maybe a bit over-the-top, but intriguing and mesmerizing nevertheless.

"Leaving Tower Two" by Jane Elliott (via janeelliott.freehostia.com)

3. Jane Elliott’s “New World Dioramas” at Uptown Body & Fender, 401 26th St.

The main, ongoing exhibit at this combination gallery space/repair shop features gigantic collages by James Swinson, but I spent more time looking at a side display of dioramas by Jane Elliott, featuring colorful landscapes populated by a host of cartoonish robots. Although they didn’t have faces, per se, the machine’s droopy stance gave them somewhat melancholy personalities, like they don’t particularly enjoy the work they were designed to do. They reminded my fiancee of the episode of Futurama we’d just finished watching.

(Photo by Tomo Saito via annaash.com)

4. Anna Ash performing outside FM Gallery, 483 25th St.

A big part of the traffic congestion on 25th Street was the crowd watching Oakland singer-songwriter Anna Ash, whom I later discovered used to be a Michigan gal and ran in the same alternative-folk circle as a bunch of my favorite artists from back home. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more likely it seems that I’ve seen her perform before.) My fiancee loves female singers with the type of haunted, emotional voice that Ash possesses, and so we listened to the rest of her set and bought a copy of her EP, My Oh My, when she and her band had finished. On CD, Ash’s music takes on a whole new dimension, utilizing elements of Tin Pan Alley pop, classic soul and instruments ranging from banjo to clarinet.

5. Customers’ drawings at Amazonas Pizza, 2427 Telegraph Ave.

Honestly, some of the most creative artwork I saw all night was drawn in crayon on the back of paper placemats and taped to the wall at the popular pizzeria. It ought to be a part of everyone’s Art Murmur tour.

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