Open Studios spotlight: Calixto Robles

Angel of dopeness: Calixto Roble's original tees will be on sale at his Open Studios event (Sat/9 and Sun/10)
All photos by Caitlin Donohue

Because Open Studios is about more than just the free wine and occasional sushi board score. Really! The annual organized voyeurism of creative space in the city will showcase artists' studios in different neighborhoods each weekend this month. In gleeful anticipation, we visited screen-printer and long time Mission visual artist Calixto Robles, who is helping to throw open the doors to his Life Art Studios (151 Potrero, SF) this weekend.


“Meeting new people, that's the best thing.” Robles is sitting in his studio of six years, surrounded by shelf upon shelf of his lucid dream style paintings, screen printed posters, and a new project that will be on sale at this weekend's Open Studios: T-shirts covered in iconic prints from the world's religions, their overlapping designs forming a riotous invocation of peace.

Get inside Calixto's mind... or at least his print shop

The T-shirts designs are echoes of similar schemas on canvasses that sit on the ground near Robles' desk area. The Virgin of Guadalupe (herself a figure with one foot in Catholic lore and another in indigenous Mexican faith), Buddha, and Hindu gods, the word “peace” thrown in at intervals for good measure. The brightly colored collages are a favorite of Carlos Santana, who is a good friend of Robles. In fact, the canvasses by Robles' feet represent different options for Santana to peruse for his family Christmas card this year. 

The beauty of Open Studios is the ability to sample divergent snippets of San Francisco artistic life. In addition to Life Art's neighborhood in the corner of the Mission that abuts SoMa and Potrero Hill, this weekend's event will feature open doors in Bernal Heights, Castro, Duboce, Eureka Valley, Glen Park, Mission, Noe Valley, and Portola. Art Span, the organization of artists that coordinates the event, does so to connect artists with budding art aficionados in the hopes of connection at the point of inspiration.

Robles, a longtime Mission resident from Oaxaca who was part of the art movement that erupted in opposition to the dot com evictions of the late '90s, has participated in for “fix or six years” in Open Studios. He's exhibited his art for visitors in both group studios and in his home on Guerrero Street, relishing the opportunity to let passers-by into his private creating space. 

Lotus hearts, community art at Open Studios 2010

He's famous for his screen prints. Wife and fellow artist Alexandra Blum and he bought an ancient printing press from UC Berkeley years ago. It now sits in the center of his studio, an aluminum print  on top of it featuring a “Justicia” banner that a friend drew for Calixto to print. One wall of the lobby gallery of Life Art is still covered in handmade Mexican propaganda posters that Robles and friends displayed in a recent exhibition of political art. 

The beauty of Open Studios, Robles says, is not always the financial bottom line. Rather, it's the chance to share art with those around us, people with whom you'd never otherwise find yourself discussing artistic vision. 

This weekend will be the first time that Life Art hosts a group show -- exciting for that particular artist community, whose artist produce disparate works from Calixto's peace prints to massive canvasses covered with a mixture of adhesive and table salt. The artists hope to benefit from the foot traffic of people strolling between SOMAarts Cultural Center and Art Explosion, the massive warren of studios that both sit a block from Life Art and will also be participating in this weekend's Open Studios. 

Some people, Robles tells me, pass through quickly after scanning the works on the wall – but other art fans will go for the more interactive experience. Chill with the guy who makes Carlos Santana's Christmas cards? It's a good reason to hit the studio circuit. 

Open Studios: Bernal Heights, Castro, Duboce, Eureka Valley, Glen Park, Mission, Noe Valley, Portola

Sat/9 and Sun/10 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free

151 Potrero, SF