A cat named Poo

Art power-broker John Trippe triangulates his favorite coordinates: Fecal Face, Low Gallery, and a certain special feline.

By Lori Spears

SINCE ITS INCEPTION as a bimonthly, Xeroxed art zine in 1998, Fecal Face has grown into a full-blown online art party, overseen by self-taught Web master John Trippe. Its Web incarnation (www.fecalface.com) now receives 6,000 hits daily.

FF's aesthetic is varied: You can see black metal photography, collaged postcards, and video game-inspired paintings. You probably won't see oil paintings of fruits, nor polished granite busts of dead presidents. Be prepared – the art is humorous and edgier than what you'd find strolling through any average downtown gallery. Visitors can find out when and where Bay Area art openings are happening, read interviews with international art stars Yumiko Kayukawa and Gary Baseman, and even purchase prints by Jeremy Fish at the online store.

Bay Guardian contributing artist and Fecal Face regular Jeremy Fish says he owes Trippe: "John has provided a rare springboard for young artists. It is a chance to show your work to thousands of people without any e-mailing or portfolio-pushing. Four years ago I had three local shows, and this year I have had 20 shows all over the world. I am grateful to him for all of the opportunities it has led to and all of the amazing artists it has introduced me to." San Francisco resident actor and comedian Robin Williams recently bought five paintings by Fish.

With a name like Fecal Face, you can expect some raunchy bro-ing out – and you won't be disappointed by the misadventures and drunken forays found in the site's blogs, including Dr. Dolphin Sanchez's relationship column. Recently, Sanchez (whose real identity is well guarded by Fecal pals) played matchmaker by pairing up Bay Area singles, Dismissed-style. The activity started with some revealing and giggle-inducing online questions: "Let's say we had been going out for a few months and I got locked up for some old shit – what would you do?" and "What was the last song you fucked to? Seriously, people, this is about music. Be fucking honest." The answers led to a Chinatown outing called "Dolphin Safari Date" – the subsequent photo essay documented a beer search, a roman candles frolic, and making out.

Low tide, much art

Trippe launched FF online in 2000 – hence the name of the "5 1/2 Year Anniversary" exhibit, at 111 Minna Gallery, and show, at Slim's. Paul Urich, Trippe's then-roommate at the "dirty-ass skate house" known as the Howard House, was FF's first featured visual artist. Urich's handsomely framed, quiet, minimalist bird gouaches now garner red dots galore, and his shows often sell out.

"We went on a surf trip to Baja with a bunch of people and saw a lot of [Urich's] art then," Trippe recalls, pacing Low Gallery with both pant legs rolled up as if he were ready for low tide. "When we got back, I asked him if I could scan some of it and add it to my site, which at the time only had a bunch of random crap, including some of my shitty writing and photography on it. I added it to the site and from there kept adding my friend's art and photos from my nights out with friends getting drunk." Kyle Ranson, Mat O'Brien, Bigfoot, and Albert Reyes are a few other friends turned featured Fecal artists that have benefited from Trippe's support.

Fecal Face focuses on art, but it is also references other forms of culture. Trippe's favorite bands are mentioned, records are reviewed, and breaking news is linked to. Currently Trippe is looking for serious writers to fill out Fecal's content with more educational pieces, such as Anthony Skirvin's "How to Screen Print a Poster from Start to Finish," a photo-heavy lesson great for anti-reading art geeks.

'Arty Parties'

These days you can find the workaholic Trippe in front of his computer – growing Fecal Face and managing IPATH footwear's Web site – and in person at his own gallery space, Low, at 487 14th Street. Essentially, Low is the child of Fecal Face. Wanting to give the site's "Arty Parties" a permanent home, the six-foot-tall chain-smoker and self-proclaimed "perpetual college dropout" opened the gallery in January of this year, and it is already booked until spring 2006.

At Low Trippe showcases emerging artists, usually painters, sometimes photographers, and rarely sculptors, who range in education and style. His loyalty remains with Bay Area artists, although the audience and artist demand is swelling beyond northern California. In February, LA eccentric Albert Reyes displayed his precarious, interactive crawl-through piece, along with his twisted celebrity paintings, at Low.

When a show fell through in August, Trippe decided to bring in new artists and old friends and call it "Daily Dose." It became an ambitious, rotating exhibit featuring more than 20 artists. "Without the help of intern Adam Schwarcz, I wouldn't have been able to pull it off," he now says, given all the wall and floor repainting, hanging of art, staffing the gallery, as well as the long hours spent mingling during reception nights.

With the space, Trippe – along with the other 14th Street merchants (Needles and Pens, Record Collector, Woodward Flats, and Box Dog Bikes) – fosters a mellow atmosphere, weaving art, music, and fun in a sincere way. There is no "cooler-than-you" vibe. The 13-by-27-foot gallery has just enough room for a solo show and maxes out at 50 patrons – although many more inevitably spill onto the sidewalk during opening receptions. There are usually benches out front, parked with local lurkers. Dogs mill. Bicycles cluster. It has quickly become one of the Mission spots to show your out-of-town visitors. (Full disclosure: I have known Trippe for years, and Low is a place I visit as if it were my own living room.)

Arriving on the Fecal Face name in the usual "dude" way, with bad potty humor, Trippe, as it turns out, loves his work so much that he has named his kitten Poo. And he is grateful to all the "Fecal pals" who monitor the forums and volunteer at the gallery so he can run errands. For fun, he surfs, skates, makes films, and plays softball. Some call him neurotic, many ladies are simply crushed out on his Midwest, humble demeanor and hearty looks, and frankly, critics occasionally dismiss FF as cliquey. Yet, although his work and personal-life worlds inevitably blur together, the fact remains that he has helped propel numerous Bay Area artists' careers by giving them space to exhibit online and in the real world.

It is difficult to decipher who plays the muse for whom: Trippe, or the artists who help build the Fecal community. Hoping to fulfill his own artistic ideas, Trippe dreams of one day leaving the gallery in capable hands so he can pursue his cinematic visions.

Fecal Face celebrates its 5 1/2-year anniversary with performances by E-Zee Tiger, the Mall, Hightower, and Darker My Love, Fri/9, 9 p.m., Slim's, 333 11th St., SF. $9. All ages. (415) 255-0333. On Sept. 17, Mission Art Walk (www.missionartwalk.org), organized by Diane Vargas and Breezy Culbertson, will include Low on the tour. Throughout the month of September, patrons can take in a "5 1/2 Year Anniversary" group show of Fecal artists including Chris Duncan, Porous Walker, and Kelly Tunstall at 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna, SF. Call for hours, (415) 974-1719. Or stop by Low Gallery, 487 14th St., SF. Wed.-Sun., noon-7 p.m., (415) 552-4057, www.lowgallery.com.