Meet the Tenderlocals: Akira Beard

In case you haven’t heard, the two Leftovers stores that used to be on Sutter & Polk and Polk & Bush were consolidated in one huge awesome space on Van Ness a couple of months ago. It seems somebody already took over their former store on Sutter, but the one on Polk remains vacant. Vacant but not empty, since the Space/Lopo Galleries guys had the genius idea of setting up a temporary gallery annex there under the name ‘Vacancy‘. We quite enjoyed it when we checked it out last month, and on top of that we scored a free print of the piece above by Akira Beard.

Akira Beard is an artist based in the Tenderloin, but that we’ve somehow never met. He is best known for painting layered portraits of pop culture icons with text around them, and awesome images of altered American currency. He teaches at the Academy of Art University and at an art center for elders, and we first saw his work at a show he had last year at the Shooting Gallery. We quite obviously quite liked this piece because the message could very well be our own motto about the Tenderloin, “it drives some people crazy, others can see the beauty in it”. Apparently he even made some t-shirts with it, in collaboration with Bayfitted on Ellis & Leavenworth (we’ll have to investigate that).

While we like the pieces where he uses the portrait of a historical figure or of a celebrity as a base (such as this one or this one), we really like his art with elders series and the sketches he takes of people sitting in cafés.

By the way, do you recognize the person in this portrait? (hint)

There’s a sister in my Loin

Sister Tammy Fae Bakkersfield at Hooker's Sweet Treats

We love the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, but unfortunately they don’t seem to hang out much in our fair neighborhood. Or so we thought until a few days ago we had our sensibilities rocked when we bumped into Sister Tammy Fae Bakkersfield getting some coffee at Hooker’s Sweet Treats (where else). She’s apparently not only a regular there, but also a Tenderloin resident and was thus very happy to pose for our Tender readers to enjoy.

I have to respect putting all that effort in the outfit just to get coffee. Most of my days consist of deciding whether the red or the grey hoodie is better and that usually just based on whichever is cleaner.

Meet the Tenderlocals: Jim Nelson of the Flat Earth Collective

We haven’t featured any Tenderlocals in a long time, and that’s not because of a shortage of interesting residents but more the opposite…

So without further ado, meet writer Jim Nelson, one of the best-dressed guys you’ll ever see in the Tenderloin, always wearing a coat and fedora, always looking like an intriguing character from a hardboiled novel.

As you all know, the Tenderloin has a very rich literary scene, with several reading groups and writers based in the neighborhood and drawing inspiration from it. One of such characters is Jim Nelson, who has been calling the Tenderloin home for the last six years and counting. More precisely, he lives on Geary between Jones and Taylor very conveniently across the street from the famous glass dildo store. He says he enjoys the neighborhood a great deal and has no intention to move, I mean, who would when you’ve got such rampant access to a glass dildo store (among other things)?

Jim is not only a writer, but also one of the founders of an unusual literary group, Flat Earth Collective. This is the description from their website: “for the last four years, as members of the Flat Earth Collective, Jim Nelson, Andrew Touhy, Tom Andes, and David William Hill have been subverting the notion of a writers’ group by not meeting to talk about writing. Join the conversation they’ve been avoiding”. Although it seems that their original intention was to not meet, about two years ago Jim came across an exhibit that caught his attention at Kokoro Studio on his way home. After meeting the lovely owner of the gallery, Keiko Kuramoto, they decided to start holding quarterly readings (in the first one she even sketched the attendees). The last one, which was cryptically titled “The Headbanger’s Bütterball”, took place on November 20. Although we only attended it part of it, due to the conflicting schedule of The Tenderloin Reading Series that same night, we must say we quite enjoyed it.

Jim Nelson at Kokoro Studio during the last reading of the Flat Earth Collective in November

Jim has been writing for a long time, but about 15 years ago he gained some notoriety with a web zine (that we would probably call a blog today) named Ad Nauseam that he maintained for a few years while he was a software engineer in various Silicon Valley startups. It was even nominated for a Webby Award, in the Weird category (we wouldn’t have expected less from him). Since then Jim has published his stories in a bunch of online and offline magazines and journals, including We Still Like, North American Review, The Erotic Review, Instant City, Switchback, SmokeLong Quarterly, Watchword and Cosmopsis Quarterly. Jim has written a few Tenderloin-related stories, of course, including this one in “The Loin’s Mouth” pondering the distinction between a dive or a dump bar (a fine subject of debate for sure).

Jim tells us that he met the founder of the sadly defunct zine The Loin’s Mouth, Rachel M, while studying at SF State together. Back then, he was living in North Beach and (like every San Franciscan living elsewhere) didn’t think much of the Tenderloin. But hearing her talk about it he become interested in it and wrote a couple of articles about the neighborhood, which made him realize that’s where he wanted to live and has enjoyed it ever since.

Although Jim has several projects in the pipeline but he’s now working on a book called Everywhere Man. He says it’s a high tech ghost story/mystery set in San Francisco that revolves around the cable cars. Union Square and Nob Hill feature prominently in the story (but, unfortunately, not the Tenderloin). It should be released in September. Other projects include the novel that inspired the title of his current website, Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People. Until it gets published, you can read the first chapter here.

In case you’d like to know more about Jim, you can often find him hanging out in the neighborhood finest drinking establishments, such as the Geary Club. Don’t let the suit in a sea of frump make you afraid to approach him, he loves to chat. Also, stay tuned for the next reading of the Flat Earth Collective that should happen some time in the next few months (keep an eye on our Tender Calendar).

Tenderloin artist Hugh Leeman awarded Masterminds grant

Last week, SF Weekly announced the winners of their Masterminds Grants during their fourth annual Artopia event. More than 300 artists — a record number — submitted materials in to the competition. So, of course, we were thrilled to learn that Tenderloin street artist and Tender friend Hugh Leeman was awarded one of the three highly coveted grants. As you might recall from the interview we published back in November, Hugh’s work focuses on drawings and paintings of marginalized inner city residents (mainly in the Tenderloin and along Market street). I’m sure that by now all of have already seen Hugh’s wheatpastes at some point, as he’s put up several of them in the neighborhood as well as around San Francisco, but you might be less familiar with his interesting t-shirt project. Basically, he prints his works onto t-shirts, and then gives those shirts to the very people who pose for his artwork. They in turn sell the shirts baring their own likeness, keeping 100% of the profit.

Here you can see Blue, one of the models for Hugh’s artwork who’s often playing at the Powell cable car turnaround, accepting the oversized SFWeekly grant check on behalf of Hugh’s t-shirt project.

Photo by Gil Reigo Jr

Since Hugh Leeman received the grant for his art as well as the t-shirt project, we asked him to tell us a bit more about it, especially about how he came up with the idea and what his plans for the future are after receiving this grant:

The project began by giving away my old clothing on the streets of the Tenderloin and in turn asking if the clothing recipients would like to pose for a painting. The response was overwhelming in that I was initially filled with doubt that anyone would care or even dislike the idea of having their picture taken for a painting. The idea to put my subjects images on the clothing was less my idea and more that of people who received clothing at these first giveaways, “Hey can you do one of me?”, “what if I bring you a picture of my friend or cousin, can you draw one for that?”. Over time it has evolved into what it is now. Having gone from old clothes to new threads baring real peoples likenesses, the project acts as a real life Facebook. Introducing people who otherwise unlikely to meet can now not only know of one another, but be included in a project and possess a wearable part of it. The t-shirt and murals in turn act as an advertisement for the very project they were created from. Introducing not just people to one another but an entire micro economy based on the artwork, driven by all who pose, and funded by virtually anyone.

The project has acted as a self empowerment project for the homeless and low income residents of San Francisco. Realistically the project is drops of water in the ocean, however those drops have made a sincere difference for some. The project vendors have used their t-shirt incomes to furnish an SRO unit on 6th street a la Goodwill to being used by vendors to buy tents offering some sort of shelter. Steps have been taken in a powerfully positive direction. One of the recent successes of the project, is that after two years of being entirely self funded it has, in the last three months, become entirely self subsidized by people going to my site, and purchasing their own shirt for $10. With this success has come the idea to expand, however the reality of this expansion has been painfully slow. One of the shortcomings of the project has been that in keeping the projects capital tied in so that shirts can be consistently produced to be sold by “vendors” I have previously taken on, I have found expanding to new vendors an incredibly slow process.

The power of this grant, however, is that I will be able to expand and in turn help others whereas in the past it would have taken weeks or longer to get the money together to bring a new subject’s photo shoot to a drawing or painting then a silk screen and finally to a consistent flow of shirts all while keeping other subjects stocked with shirts.

As far as the project has come, it has an incredible potential to multiply exponentially and go so much further.

You can get your own shirt or a free interactive street poster at

Meet Neighbor Mike Giant

While surfing Vimeo (where we have an account with a couple of videos, check it out), we came accross a very interesting documentary project with the working title of ‘Neighbors‘. Produced by Agency Charlie, it is a series of short stories about individuals from various neighborhoods in San Francisco. Part conversational interview, part documentary – we get to know the individual in the context of their work and home environments, in order to gain a deeper understanding of their influences on the community.

So far they have trailesr for eight unique individuals in different neighborhoods their Vimeo account, and of course the one living in the Tenderloin caught our eye: Mike Giant. He’s a graffiti and tatoo artist who talks about being an efficient illustrator. Since this is just a minute and a half trailer, we assume he talks about more stuff in the full version. Perhaps about living in the Tenderloin? We sure hope so…

Meet the Tenderlocals: Artist D Young V

We first mentioned him in a post about the artwork in Cup-A-Joe’s toilet (more specifically, the Nob Hill uniformed man pictured on the right), then again when we wrote about the mural that he put up on 606 Ellis with friends Eddie Colla and Hugh Leeman, and also when we brought you pictures of another very similar mural on Polk next to Space Gallery. So after coming across D Young V‘s name around the neighborhood so many times, we decided it was time to catch up with him for The Tender, to learn about the inspiration for his work, living in the Tenderloin and plans for the future.

D Young V (David), who’s originally from New Jersey, has been living in the Tenderloin for about 5 years (7 in San Francisco). He’s lived in a number of apartments, and is currently in a corner studio on Jones with views of lots of interesting happenings down the street (such as the wall where he put up a mural with friends a few months back or the ever-present line at Dottie’s). Some of his favorite places around the neighborhood are Cup-A-Joe (of course), Angel Cafe (especially the falafels) or the Hemlock Tavern.

Most of David’s works are black on white ink drawings. He says he discovered micron pens when he was 18 and has loved them ever since. His subject matter has changed over the years, but he’s still most comfortable with ink pens. He also says in one way or another he’s always been influenced by comic books, fantasy and sci-fi. A few years ago he started looking at street art and became interested in the revolutionary aesthetic, namely the Cuban revolution and guerrilla men in uniform posing proudly with guns.

In those days he was often hanging out in the Babylon Falling bookstore (now closed), and the owner showed him a lot of interesting revolutionary art that he became attracted to. In his head he started combining his old love for sci-fi with revolutionary imagery, and his imaginary characters and situations came out naturally. The inspiration for his current ongoing series, that he calls ‘Live Forever’, comes from the times and age of fear we live in, immersed in a poor economy and distant wars we don’t understand or feel involved with. The series presents an alternate version of the San Francisco after the socio-economic collapse of the world financial system and the deterioration of what we have known to be the American way of life. Civil unrest and widespread factionalism result in a prolonged and unsuccessful military occupation of the Bay Area.

Although most of D’s current work seems to feature weapons and military apparel, he says he doesn’t like guns per se. He’s merely attracted to the idea of survival and protection, the necessity of defending oneself and finding inner strength. He says he likes imagining ordinary people in extreme situations in hostile environments, with limited resources and struggling for survival. That’s where the idea for his Neighborhood Watch series comes from (pictured above), which is probably our favorite work of his. It represents of abandoned military and public service vehicles that have been re-purposed to fit the patrol needs of the surviving local population.

In a place with no operational government, people have to organize new forms of law and social structure amongst themselves. This results in the formation of district and neighborhood based militia groups and volunteer police forces with the intention of providing safety and security in their own territories. Some of them are in charge of delivering information between zones, such as the Nob Hill militaman mentioned a the beginning of this article. These characters can travel between neighborhoods without harm since they’re information carriers and therefore very valuable. Of course, we had to ask about the existence of Tenderloin carriers since we’ve seen mostly the Nob Hill guy around the city. Of course, there are TL carriers such as the one on the left, but he’s only displayed them in exhibits and not so much in the street.

David’s ultimate goal for this ‘Live Forever’ series is to provoke its viewers to rethink their freedoms, luxuries and identities both as Americans and ‘moral beings’, and take into question their social and ethical roles if placed into a once strong nation that has long since fallen apart. As you can see, he’s not lacking ideas and at some point should probably collect his works in a graphic novel format linking together all the different stories about this post-apocalyptic society.

You can currently see D Young V’s work in Oakland at the Old Crow Tattoo and Gallery until January 5th, and of course at 606 Ellis as well as other street locations around the city. He was also part of a group exhibit at the W Hotel in Miami last weekend during Art Basel Miami Beach which was curated by the owner of White Walls Gallery in on Larkin st (that’s also where he’ll be having a solo show in July next year, so stay tuned). Next door to White Walls, at the Shooting Gallery, he’ll be part of a group show that opens tomorrow that is part of the Broken Meter zine release party. It looks like we’ll be seeing his name a lot in the next few months…

Meet the Tenderlocals: Hugh Leeman

According to my (very messy) photo archives, the first picture I took of Hugh Leeman‘s artwork was over two years ago. It was a wheatpaste of this guy (this photo is from last year, though):

If you live in San Francisco, I’m sure you’ve seen some of Leeman’s artwork somewhere too. All around the city, but especially in the Tenderloin as it’s his neighborhood and the focus of most of his work. A couple of months ago, for example, there was this great wall at the corner of O’Farrell and Jones that had some of this popular portraits alongside other well-known street artist works (such as Eddie Colla, David Young V, Gaia, etc):

(Unfortunately that wall has now been painted over, but you can still see a couple of Hugh’s works surrounded by blank plywood.)

Even more recently, Hugh participated alongside a whole bunch of artists in a giant mural at the corner of Haight and Laguna.

I can safely say that since I moved to this neighborhood, I had gotten used to Hugh’s wheatpastes as part of the Tenderloin landscape. After an exhibit at White Walls Gallery last year, I finally learned who he was. But it took me a whole year to end up meeting him and visit his studio (thank you, blog).

Like half of San Francisco, Hugh Leeman is originally from Indiana (the other half is from Ohio) and moved to SF about five years ago after a long back-packing trip around the world. He had spent three years traveling and doing various jobs to pay for the trip, such as teaching English in China and Vietnam or bartending in the Virgin Islands (which he describes as Groundhog Day). At one point he got a job picking up trash in the Egyptian desert and one day he shared a taxi with a woman from the Bay Area who gave him her card to thank him for his exceptional taxi bargaining skills.

When he was ready to move back to the US, he was deciding whether to go to NYC or San Francisco and gave a call to the woman he’d met in Egypt for some advice. It turned out she was going on a business trip for two weeks, and so she gave him the keys of her house so he could look for a job and a place to stay while she was away. The day before the woman came back he saw several apartments in one day, and ended up taking the one where he currently lives because of its location – Golden Gate between Jones and Market.

Hugh says that during his travels he always had a sketchbook with him, and he would spend hours sitting in a street corner drawing people. Because of the language barrier, he would spend days without really talking, just communicating through his artwork. So making art became increasingly important for him.

His three-year trip also made him realize that there is a whole world out there to explore, a world full of diversity and generosity. During his travels he usually didn’t have much money and so he often stayed in poor areas. But that’s where he usually found the most interesting stories and characters, and he was deeply thankful of the kindness of strangers that he always encountered. That’s why when he moved to the Tenderloin he immediately felt that it was his time to be generous towards the community, and he volunteered for a while at the Saint Anthony’s Foundation around the corner from his apartment.

Volunteering in a soup kitchen he met a lot of homeless or low-income people who became the subjects of his portraits. Such as beloved Tenderloiner “Indian Joe” (pictured on the right in full feather headdress), whom we featured here a while back giving his opinion on budget cuts. (He’s also featured in Mona Caron’s mural “Windows into the Tenderloin“.) Hugh was happy to report that, after being homeless for 34 years, “Indian Joe” finally managed to get a room in an SRO and is very happy about it (although he’s very stressed about loosing the key).

A while back Hugh thought it would be cool to print a portrait of a guy he met on a t-shirt and gave it to him, and then made others for other people who asked. At one point his t-shirts became so popular that he decided to turn them into what he calls “The t-shirt project”. Which basically means that he prints his portraits of Tenderloin residents and then gives them to those people in bulk for them to sell around the neighborhood and keep 100% of the profit for themselves. At first he wanted to sell them (at the low cost of $1 or so) so that people would appreciate them more than just free stuff, but one day he almost got busted by the police as he was doing the transaction in the street. So now he funds the full cost of printing the t-shirts, although donations to help him are appreciated.

On November 29th he will be showing new street works as well as pencil drawings in conjunction with a clothing release at Black Scale in San Francisco.

After several years of working with marginalized people in the Tenderloin, documenting other people’s lives, Hugh says that now he’d like to branch out and add more of himself and his own feelings into his artwork. We can’t wait to see the direction his work will take, so we’ll keep an eye out for his street art.

Meet the Tenderlocals: Cambo & The Life

A couple of weeks ago we received one of those emails that we love receiving, the ones that invite us to cool, behind-the-scenes stuff. It was Jeff Chambers, the guitarist of the band Cambo & The Life (who happens to live one block from us) inviting us to meet them. Also, it was an invite to see their rehearsal room at the mythical Hyde Street Studios and we were dying to see the inside of the building, so we accepted as fast as we could.

We have to confess we hadn’t heard of Cambo & The Life before, but since we’re as informed about the music scene in San Francisco as much as my mom is about blogging, we thought we might have been missing out and proceeded to spend a few days listening to their songs online. We feared we wouldn’t like them and then we would have to lie and pretend we did so we could still go see the Hyde Street Studios (which incidentally we do very well, but aren’t too proud of it).

Fortunately we didn’t have to lie about enjoying the tunes like we do about other groups from SF (hint: Train). It turned out that they’re really awesome and we found ourselves listening over and over to their catchy songs, and even doing some dorky dancing in the apartment (okay, that was mostly me).

Our ‘date’ got re-scheduled a couple of times due to a flu epidemic in the band, we started getting really impatient, feeling almost like silly teenage groupies who are about to see their favorite musicians. When the day finally came, we were invited into a hot cave-like tiny room covered in grandma carpets, complete with a wall clock that had a painted Jesus, a dolphin and an oil rig (don’t ask). Two of the seven band members, including the drummer, were still down with flu while the rest of the crew was still recovering. In spite of that, they played a couple of songs for us:

And then they played a couple more, and a couple more, all the while bouncing around and making us shake our leg uncontrollably. Cambo even tried to multitask and take up the drums while singing, to give us a better feel for what the full band sounds like. We do have a video of that, but we’ll let you imagine.

Even drum-less, their music was so good that we forgot to ask many questions. What we do remember is that they used to have another rehearsal space in SOMA that closed down, and so about a year ago they decided to move to the Hyde Street Studios in the Tenderloin. In spite of the neighborhood’s reputation, they say they’ve never regretted and that they’ve never had any problems when finishing playing late at night. Naturally, as we learned on the Tenderloin Walking Tour, the studios are under constant threat of being converted to condos, but what isn’t in SF these days…

A natural question that comes to mind when meeting a band is ‘So when are you going to release an album?’, but they have different plans for their music. This new-fangled internet thing isn’t going away, so a few months ago they decided to start releasing 12 tracks, one at a time. Every first Tuesday of every month (which is the normal album release weekday) you can find a new song on their website to download, and each song is accompanied by artwork by a different visual artist (painting, sculpture, fashion, jewelry, tattoo, dance, etc.), such as the image at the beginning of this post by Sean Desmond and the one on the left here by Kelly Allen.

They told us that their hit song is ‘Smile’, and if you watch the video below you’ll understand why:

But don’t just download Cambo & The Life’s songs to listen at home, like we did. This band is awesome live, I think they could make a three-legged sheep dance. So go see them at the Boom Boom Room (corner of Fillmore and Geary) on Saturday at 9pm. And buy your tickets in advance here.

I live here SF: Jonathan

We’ve linked to I live here: SF stories by proud TenderLocals a few times before, but the one today by Jonathan is particularly close to our heart. Not only because we introduced him to the project during an interview we did for Tenderblog, or because he’s one of those people who sees poetry everywhere, or because he’s a truly likable guy full of cool ideas and projects in the neighborhood (The Tenderloin Reading Series or Black Gold Mondays at Koko, just to name a couple). All those things are true, but the reason why this story is so special and we loved, loved, loved it, and you will too, is because it’s full of truth.

There is the velocity of the neighborhood yes; the intensity: sometimes it feels like I’ve stepped inside a pressure cooker, and the rumbling heat from all sides nearly burns me alive; but when we dismiss the madness and destitution of a place like the TL we are overlooking one fundamental tenet of life: regardless of appearance we are all experiencing madness and destitution.

Jonathan by Julie Michelle

We walk around with a sense of propriety about our lives, that somehow we own something on this earth, some singular thing that we get to keep. We put our heads down, and bury ourselves in work. We accumulate all these things, they are on loan to us but we negotiate their false purchase: a car, a house, a family. So many of us are surprised when they are taken away, but we shouldn’t be. We’ve got it good folks, we’re alive.

Go read the whole thing now.

Meet the Tenderlocals: Jonathan Hirsch of The Tenderloin Reading Series

Jonathan Hirsh is one of those people that when you meet them, you have to curse yourself for not having found them earlier. Not only is he our neighbor, living only 2 blocks from us, but he frequents a few of the same spots we like, and has a lot of the same frustrations and opinions about the TL as we do. Most importantly though, he’s the founder of one of the coolest events in this neighborhood: the Tenderloin Reading Series.

For some strange reason, we hadn’t heard about the TLRS until two weeks ago, when a friend sent us the link to a Facebook event page for a reading happening that same night… and which had started two hours earlier. Although it was a Saturday, we were at home in comfy clothes after a long day of running around and solidly in the chill out zone. After reading this, though, we immediately put on some pants and headed to Koko Cocktails to check it out:

The Tenderloin Reading Series is a quarterly reading series featuring creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry on or about San Francisco’s infamous Tenderloin neighborhood. Over the last year, the event has brought together known local writers (such as Stephen Elliot and …Tony Du Shane) with the fellow next to you at the bar to share their perspective on San Francisco’s most dynamic area.

That day we only caught the last reading of the night, by MG Martin who closed the night with a song about the Tenderloin (the third segment in the video). But, we got the chance to exchange a few words and email addresses with Jonathan. After seeing him again briefly at the TenderNight the following week, we caught up with him a few days ago at the Geary Club while Lilian the waitress downed shots of Jagermeister over Sam Cooke music from the jukebox. The bar oozes appeal to young and old alike.

Interestingly, Jonathan first got the idea of starting the TLRS after attending Muni DiariesRiders with Drinks event a bit over a year ago. And I say interestingly because that event also inspired us to outright copy it for organize TenderNights.

When Jonathan started the TLRS, he says he wasn’t part of San Francisco’s literary circles. He simply enjoyed the feeling of community at the Muni Diaries’ event, regardless of people’s backgrounds and feelings towards Muni. So through word of mouth, and asking some people he met at a few readings, the lineup for the first TLRS was formed. The subsequent events had readers who were repeating the experience, as well as new ones found in the same way. Some of them come from San Francisco’s literary community and are well-known in those circles, while some others are newcomers talking about their day-to-day experiences.

Jonathan has been writing all his life, and in fact when we shared a beer at the Geary Club he was carrying a little notebook with him. But he doesn’t define himself as a writer, because he’s many things at once. He’s a musician, a DJ, a poet… and a librarian (though not a singing one, as far as we know). In case you’re curious about his literary style, here’s a reading of some of his pieces which all seem to revolve about some girl. Ah, love…

Jonathan Hirsh has a lot of ideas on how to make the Tenderloin “the best possible place it can be”. He says:

I don’t love it here
I fucking love it

He loves many things and many places. For example, Koko Cocktails, where the TLRS take place and also where he’s the resident DJ every Monday night for Black Gold. And that’s where you should be tonight while sipping on something sweeeeet.

  • The next TLRS reading will be during Litquake, on October 9th, at Dog’s Clock
  • Stay up to date on the latest readings of the Tenderloin Reading Series via their blog
  • Follow the TLRS on Twitter here