[Hpn] Albany Bulb: Art Blooms At Evicted Dump-Squat / SF CA USA (fwd)
Tue, 26 Dec 2000 00:01:54 -0800 (PST)
FWD San Francisco Chronicle - Friday, December 22, 2000 - Page 3
PAINTERS TURN DESERTED DUMP INTO OASIS OF ARTWORK
Kelly St. John, Chronicle Staff Writer
One of the East Bay's most unlikely places to find art is a dump. The old
bayfront landfill known as the Albany Bulb, to be exact.
For years, the stretch of shoreline just north of Golden Gate Fields was a
landfill, collecting forgotten rubble and forgotten people. It gained
notoriety last year when the city of Albany drove out an encampment of 60
homeless people to make way for a shorefront park.
The cyclists and dog walkers who now flock to this emerging oasis find a
delicious secret tucked away at the Bulb's northernmost end. For more than two
years, anonymous artists have maintained an ever-changing, and irreverent,
outdoor art gallery.
Whimsical scenes are painted on giant wooden canvases constructed from an
old dock. There's a rodeo, a raucous hot-tub party and a couple playing
Painted concrete slabs bob in high tide. Foam pieces from an old dock are
the bricks of an archway, reinforced with rebar and topped with a carved metal
plaque. A giant ship constructed from driftwood bears a flag which reads
"Sniff," the artists' signature.
"It's like a painted yelp," said attorney Osha Neumann, 61, of Oakland.
Neumann found the artwork eight months ago, when a homeless man took him to
see it. "It was like stumbling into a cave and finding cave paintings of bison,
" he said. "The work would just appear."
And it appears on Saturday mornings. That's when four men drag a cart full
of brushes and house paint past the Bulb's piles of twisted rebar and
They reach a bayfront spot with views of the San Francisco skyline, the
Golden Gate Bridge and the East Bay hills. Their canvases face the bay, as if
the gulls bobbing in the water are their only audience.
On this overcast day, the artists are accompanied by one artist's wife,
Kelli, two Australian cattle dogs, a 4-pound Chihuahua named Lola, and one
artist's 3-year-old daughter, Eleanor.
They paint, they laugh, and they argue.
Where should the vase go in the Scrabble painting? When did they first
discover the Bulb? Should they permit the newspaper to reveal their identities?
The vase goes in the right corner of the picture. One of the artists
started walking his dog at the Bulb six years ago.
And yes, the Sniff artists have names: David Ryan, 35, Scott Meadows, 29,
and Scott Hewitt, 28, all of Oakland, and Bruce Rayburn, 47, of El Sobrante.
All are longtime friends who work blue-collar jobs. Three have art degrees,
while Rayburn is self-taught.
Working anonymously has preserved the mystery and fun of their art. But
truth be told, it has also protected them.
"Bruce was worried about the cops," Hewitt teased.
"I don't have any friends that are cops, for a reason," Rayburn retorted.
It was Hewitt who used to walk his dogs at the Bulb and told his friends
about the dump with the million-dollar views. The foursome had met in a figure-
drawing class and continued to paint together regularly, and the Bulb seemed
like a natural place to work. They decided to paint under the name "Sniff"
because they saw it scratched out somewhere.
"We liked the idea that nobody knew we were there," Ryan said.
"It's really cool when people stumble across it for the first time,"
Behind him, cyclist Narda Roushdi, 50, smiled as she surveyed the giant
canvases. She rode to the Bulb that morning in search of the art. "I'd heard
about it from my husband. He said, 'You've gotta see this.' "
It's a scene with charms, guilty pleasures and apocalyptic visions. Two
pieces of painted driftwood figures stand side by side, a man and woman taking
wedding vows. In one painting of a traffic jam, a couple in the bed of a red
pickup truck make love. And the inside of a sewer drain is painted with
suffering souls and a caged man.
"We call the inside hell, because it was hell to paint it," Rayburn said.
Sniff's images have done more than simply delight visitors. They've
inspired others to make wild art at the Bulb.
In fall 1999, a second-grade teacher from Oakland, Matthew Behnke, 29, took
Sniff's cue and decided to construct a political art piece at the Bulb, in
protest of the eviction of the homeless there.
With the help of 10 friends and a lot of wire and rebar, he forged 18
shopping carts left behind by the homeless into a giant arch.
Now, Neumann, who is also a muralist, journeys weekly to the Bulb to carve
foam sculptures and paint on rocks and driftwood. As he spoke Saturday, he
painted an 8-foot-high totem pole from driftwood as the San Francisco Bay
lapped at his heels.
"I was ready for this, where I could just do whatever the heck I felt like,
" Neumann said. "Plus, the place is so extravagantly beautiful."
Many of Neumann's works -- including a giant man and mermaid sculpted from
foam -- have disappeared, along with the shopping-cart arch and some of
That's the nature of art at the Bulb, where Mother Nature takes things
apart and vandals take them away. Paint on the concrete slabs fades, and Sniff
Meanwhile, vandals have fueled Sniff's creative process. Hewitt, Ryan,
Meadows and Rayburn painted a picture of Neumann beheading the mysterious
thief who stole his giant foam man. Neumann painted faces on surrounding
stones to accompany the execution piece.
Another painting reads: "A curse upon the souls of those who maliciously
destroy the efforts of others."
Dan Robbin and his wife, Wendy Oser, have recorded the revolving art scene
at the Bulb. Robbin's photos and Oser's 30-minute film about the artists are
on display at the Albany Community Center.
The Sniff artists photograph everything they do. It may not last long, but
that's the price of making public art. "We embrace impermanence," Ryan said.
Hewitt rolled his eyes. "Seriously, we are attached to things," Ryan said.
"But you have to have this attitude, because people can come out here and take
Finally, the artists say, working at the Bulb frees up their creativity.
After all, what's more spontaneous than working with whatever washes up on
shore that day?
"There's a certain amount of freedom," Rayburn said. "You can do whatever
"Yeah," Ryan said. "And you don't have to go home and look at it."
DOCUMENTING THE BULB
Wendy Oser's video, "Art Happens at the Bulb," can be checked out at the
Albany Public Library at 1247 Marin Ave. in Albany. (510) 526-3720.
Dan Robbin's photographs will be on display 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday
and 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays at the Albany Community Center Foyer Gallery
through March 1. The Albany Community Center is at 1249 Marin Ave. in Albany.
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material
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expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information
for non-profit research and educational purposes only.**
FWD San Francisco Chronicle - Tuesday, August 31, 1999
ALBANY SHUTS DOWN HOMELESS CAMP
Squatters leave site of future park
Debra Levi Holtz, Chronicle Staff Writer
[Albany, CA] - A temporary shelter that housed former residents of a homeless
encampment on the Albany waterfront was closed yesterday, clearing the way
gradual transformation of the landfill into a bayside park.
NECESSITY DEFENSE PREVAILS in Albany Landfill Camping Trial. 12 jurors find
for defendant Picasso Mike on all 3 counts. Albany paper headlines:
"Camping Ban in
Question" -- See excerpts from Dec 21, Albany Journal at page:
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