For a decade now, Varnish Fine Arts’ Jen Rogers and Kerri Stephens have created a sense of community and family that embraces the Pop Surrealism/New Classical/avant-garde world. Their gallery showcases strong, strange art, and their mango-saki cocktails served at openings are notorious. They are stand-up gallery owners with an appreciation of both art and the nature of work. Varnish’s presence in San Francisco and awareness of the artists they represent has expanded with Varnish’s participation in art fairs, and the gallery has worked to create a vital community and forge connection between artists.
For their ten year anniversary Varnish opened a group show celebration featuring a wide array of artists who have helped define the gallery’s last decade. Their dedication to artists is inspirational, and in turn artists speak highly of them.
Isabel Samaras (sort of) remembers her first show there and what she loves about Varnish, Jen, and Kerri:
It might have been the show “Skin Deep” in 2004. (Which was probably also when I became acquainted with the mango-saki cocktails they used to make, the consumption of which might have something to do with my failing memory.)…What I’ve always responded to and appreciate so much about Varnish is sense of “family,” that we’re all working together in an already tight community of artists. We’ve gone on camping trips together and we’ve all stayed in the same house in Miami for the art fairs. They strike a great balance between being top notch professionals and warm human beings. Plus they’re both ultra foxy!
Noted print artist Chuck Sperry created his screen print Victory for “Decade – 1” inspired by Jen and Kerri. He recalls:
I remember coming down to meet Jen Rogers and Kerri Stephens at Varnish for the first time. Ron Turner [of Last Gasp] had introduced us, and told me, “Jen and Kerri are rock solid, you’ll like them.” I remember walking into this incredible space, Kerri’s dog Hector was curled up on the floor, and all the love in the details of this incredible gallery space. The beer and wine bar was a piece of art in itself, the mezzanine rails and its metal decorations, the bathrooms were also detailed and crafted. I remember my first conversation with Kerri about all the love and detail of the work everywhere, even the bathrooms, and a big smile grew on her face, and she said, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
Sperry also gave some background on the gallery and its founders:
Varnish is unique for standing for quality; I know every gallery will say the same. Allow me to qualify that, so you can see what I mean by that in regard to Varnish Fine Art. As I understand Varnish, the quality of the art production in the works they exhibit is prima facie, immanent in the art itself, and can be irrefutably seen in the finished work itself. For this fact alone, Varnish raises a high bar in the art world, and stands rather immune to hypes and mad scrambles evident in the contemporary gallery circuit.Jen Rogers and Kerri Stephens worked at a foundry, producing sculpture work professionally for artists, and from that hard and exacting work, their commitment to art production grew. You see, simply put, the art they show is well made.And then there’s that added plus-factor that Jen and Kerri have an instinct for, the artist and his vision, his context, the challenge of the artist’s philosophy and his practice. This criterion is somehow about who the artist is. I imagine this synthetic appraisal can only come from the gut – a well-refined “feel” – an intuition. That’s Varnish too.
It was a seriously warm fuzzy moment standing there with all the artists and Jen and Kerri. I’ve always been interested in issues of community building and extended “family” and I think a lot of us were standing around looking at each other and feeling that vibe.
“Decade – 1 It’s Been a Bloody Good 10 Years,” Group Show
April 20 thru May 18, 2013
Varnish Fine Art
16 Jessie St. #C120
San Francisco, CA 94105
Open Tuesday thru Saturday 11am – 6pm