A present from the past

Colter Jacobsen uses a pencil to turn old photos into "Your Future"

One of us is wearing green short-sleeved Lacoste, the other blue short-sleeved Sergio Tacchini. We've looked around his apartment, where he's leaving behind one shoebox-size tranquil bedroom — he’s now restlessly moving his belongings between two larger sun-drenched spaces. He jokingly calls one a massage room and the other a museum and talks about the patterns of shadows through his windows — how there's a shadow that looks like a dancing lady, and how the window that faces a church is both peaceful and a passage to a fantasy about priests. Then we walk down the 37-step staircase onto 23rd Street, and Colter Jacobsen and I start talking about his art.
One of Jacobsen's first shows took place in the exact spot we've just left behind. "Woods in the Watchers," featuring pencil renderings of nudes and seminude photos Jacobsen found at the shop known as the Magazine (on Larkin), was presented in and around his bedroom. "The funny thing is what instigated the whole project was Friendster," he says as we begin an uphill trek. "I was obsessed with it for two weeks and just started seeing everybody as a personal page — as if when they were looking at you, they were clicking on you. It was kind of fucked up. My response was that I wanted something more tactile. The idea eventually came to be one-hour timed drawings of guys wearing watches."
We pass a couple on a stairway taking pictures of each other — the man is shooting video, the woman taking digital snapshots. Jacobsen remarks that one irony of the "Watchers" drawings, which uncover a bygone snail mail universe of intimate connections, is that they're back on the Internet, via the Web site of local press Suspect Thoughts. I say they remind me a bit of the late artist and writer Joe Brainard's casually hot drawings for the book gAy BCs. "[Brainard's] stuff is amazing, it's intimidating to me," says Jacobsen. "It's gestural and quick. I use a mechanical pencil and just thinking about approaching a piece of paper without a pencil scares me a little."
If so, he has little reason for apprehension. In "Watchers" and especially in a recent group exhibition at White Columns in New York (where New York Times critic Roberta Smith singled him out for praise), and now in “Your Future,” a show at Four Star Video's attic space, Jacobsen displays a talent for drawing images in a low-key way that can still saturate the banal with potent emotion — a truly rare ability these days.
A Mormon upbringing and contemplative community college time in San Diego, where he took a single class on color, light, and theory three times, are a few extreme shorthand examples of what led Jacobsen to San Francisco and his current work. He counts fellow artist Donal Mosher and the writers Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian as friendly influences; in fact, he's created a gridlike piece charting Bellamy's and Killian's use of color in their fiction. "From reading their writing and not knowing what's fiction and what's real, I've gone on all these mind trips," Jacobsen admits, as we cross paths with a woman using her cell phone like a loudspeaker. "One time on the Fourth of July I totally thought they were going to kill me."
Jacobsen's favorite course at the SF Art Institute was a creative writing class taught by Bellamy. There, he wrote a story — O Rings, about a blind girl obsessed with the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion — that has somewhat eerily prefigured his current art and life. He's worked at Lighthouse for the Blind and currently is a caregiver and driver for the blind and disabled.
The walk up 24th Street has led us to Grand View Avenue, where the view is indeed grand. As we climb the coiled freeway overpass, Jacobsen talks about the "memory drawings" featured in both the show at White Columns and in the current Four Star Video show in San Francisco.

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