“I wanted to teach people, tell them how to do it. I always dream about taking back the city through art.” Reynaldo Cayetano Jr. is showing me his photographic prints in a Lower Haight coffee shop. He's explaining to me how a guy who grew up in San Francisco came to be on the brink of his third art show in San Francisco (Purpose: Beyond Reach, coming up on Sat/20 at Rancho Parnassus).
Is it weird that this trajectory needs explaining? Common sense says that growing up in a world-class art city would give you a leg up on an career amidst darkrooms and gallery openings. But that's not the case in cities, really. Local kids get the boot for all kinds of reasons in today's 21st century – especially creative types who aren't ready to divest their days to the rat race necessary to stay and live in our great urban spaces.
Maybe to look for real, SF-grown artists you have to see beyond the standard downtown gallery scene. Cayetano's art shows take place at non-traditional venues – the most recent of which was Bayanihan Community Center on Sixth Street, in the neighborhood that Cayetano grew up. The 23 year old populates the shows half with friends he grew up with and half simpatico souls he meets around the city (full disclosure: my boyfriend falls into this category for the upcoming Sat/20 show).
Cayetano (Rey to friends) says he's always been "a spectator of art." He began sketching as a teen, copying his older brothers who liked to draw. “But soon I was getting better than they were,” he tells me, smiling over coffee and a pastry at the round table we're sitting at with fellow Inks of Truth artist, photographer Chris Beale (whose shots illustrate this article).
We're passing around the portfolio of the two men, who met in a City College photojournalism class and bonded over being the only ones working with film in a digital world (“making it, like, twice as hard on ourselves,” they tell me, clearly relishing the challenge). Cayetano's folder of prints shows street scenes from his recent trip to the Phillipines -- a journey he's made only twice since his father, mother, two brother, and he moved to California in 1993.
Real talk: Reynaldo Cayetano and a new friend downtown. Photo by Chris Beale
I turn the page and there is a black and white closeup of his uncle's knotted hands, then photos from his life in SF: friends, protesters at immigration rallies, corners and streets he's walked for years. Beale, a long time SF resident originally hailing from Baltimore, has crisply developed shots of Rey in his own book, a dissenter giving the finger to City Hall's golden cupola, an image of the two's friend – and emcee who'll be playing his new album at Saturday's event – Patience the Virtuous, gazing into the MUNI bus yards.
Rey started curating his group shows -- which display the work of a loosely bound collective called Inks of Truth -- to fight ignorance in the SF community. Ignorance of pedestrians, that is. Spurred by a good friend's death on the Alemany and San Jose S-curve (the young woman for whose 21st birthday present the camera he shoots with was intended), he brought together creative acquaintances for an event that “was supposed to be an art show, but leaned towards awareness.”
Photos from that show and Rey's second depict a crowd of young people enjoying themselves amidst the physical evidence of their collective creativity, at one point clearing the floor for some b-boys to get in on the show and tell. It's hardly the scene you see at many wine and cheese receptions that mark the debut of an artist's work at other places around the city.
The events' orchestration were big moves for a guy that has trouble seeing himself as a professional artist. “As soon as I call myself that, it comes with... I don't want to say baggage, but it implies a lot of knowledge,” Rey tells me. “At first I thought that I shouldn't have a show because I'm not a photographer, but then I thought no – that's why I should do it.” When I ask him whether he sees a lot of the peers he grew up with in the Sixth Street neighborhood getting in on the SF art scene, he's hesitant to make sweeping statements. “I feel like it's lagging, but it's not to the point where it's hopeless.”
Perhaps this lag is what gives Cayetano the motivation for his inclusive shows. Saturday's will feature works by sixteen artists in a variety of mediums. Cayetano is hungry to give others the adrenaline rush and fufillment that comes from finally, seeing one's work on the wall.
But it's not always easy. In the midst of his own worry over producing events without professional guidance, Rey's dealing with the varying levels of commitment of artists showing their beloved creative mindsprings for the first time. But overall, the process is one he seems to take inspiration in. “It's great to give them that kind of anxiety, it's a good stress. If you're not stressing in the process, it's not explosive,” he reasons.
In addition to bringing a taste of artistic involvement to the talented around him, the upcoming Purpose: Beyond Reach show at the Sixth Street cafe has another, even more salient community connection. It's a food drive for Martin de Porres House of Hospitality, a place that Beale says is the soup kitchen of choice for many of the homeless people he's spoken with.
Cayetano elected Martin de Porres as the beneficee for its relatively small capacity. After speaking with representatives from larger shelters like Glide, he discovered “even if you raise a lot of cans, for a big shelter it will be gone within a meal.” Art show attendees are expected to load down their backpacks for entrance: those over the age of 21 are expected to donate at least five cans of food.
For Cayetano, it was important that his third show reflect the entirety of the community where he was raised. “It's a testament of growing up on Sixth Street. The people out on the street now are the same ones that were there when I was growing up.” All the better to reflect the real community of San Francisco -- if not that, then what are we painting for?
"Purpose: Beyond Reach"
Sat/20 4-10:30 p.m., free with can donation (21 and up, five to seven; 20 and younger three to five)
132 Sixth St., SF