Andrés Guerrero Interview - 11 January 2008


Andrés Guerrero - photo by Fader

Andrés Guerrero INTV.

So tell me how all of this got started?
Well the Gallery got started by - I guess dumb luck. I met up with Justin Giarla – from the Shooting Gallery. So doing shows with him and then we just started kicking the idea around that “why don’t we do something together as far as a bigger space - and now here we are.

The Shooting Gallery (Justin Giarla’s Gallery) is not only right next-door – but connected together – How did this come about?
Well after about two and a half years into working with the Shooting Gallery was when we opened up White Walls; which so happened to be right next-door. And in the build-out process we punched that hole through the wall – Now we’re connected by the hip.

So what made you make the jump from selling sneakers to hipsters on Haight Street to opening an Art Gallery?
It is quite a jump for sure – I don’t know. I just didn’t want to work anymore – I wanted to work for myself. Nah – like I said it just kinda happened. I met up with Justin [Giarla] and while I worked at the shoe store I was doing my own work and curating shows and getting to know people – which was dope cause at the shoe store they gave me a free schedule. I only committed to them for three days a week – the rest of the time I was doing my thing painting – doing murals or whatever. So that allowed me to lay a lot of footwork. I had to make a lot of sacrificed – like not making that much money trying to get somewhere – and it just so happened to be this.

White Walls InteriorIn the days of working to make the gallery possible - what principles and goals did you establish you wanted to frame the gallery around?
Taking advantage of your time – you know hustlin’. Trying to get established and trying to get some traction. As far as the ‘art world’ – I didn’t get much traction. I established a lot of contacts with other artists that were into what I was doing or at least trying to do.

“What you [were] doing” - Do you mean as far as your personal work or the gallery?
Personal artwork and curating. I mean that’s how I started out and I think that they respected that. It was fun – it was a lot of fun man – and I got a taste of painting, going to art openings, and being a part of it while being involved in part of organizing that shit. Dude I love it! Over time it just progressed and then I saw that I could make something of it – be a little successful – at least pay my rent – I mean fuck it! I’m cool with that. Try to maintain a low maintenance life – and with that I am having a good time and doing something with my friends. We’re showing their work – helping out each other and representing each other – I think that had a lot to do with it. Mainly what was most important at that time was learning how to hustle – and not be complacent with just another ordinary job. I never wanted a routine – I was never satisfied. I mean I guess I’m hungry and I go for it and I want to do it the best that I can.

You are attracted to the risk and ‘sink or swim’ environment?
I think that it is more about personal growth and also the challenge of being able to accomplish stuff on my own – I think that is a big thing. And along that road I have made a lot of friends – as well as bring a lot of friends with me and they have helped out a lot too. So you know – it’s dope! – It’s a growing process – you know? It is very motivating as well. You get to meet all of these artists that you have looked up to – and kinda pick their brain a little bit and hang out with them and then next thing you know they are contributing works to shows that you put together. It is good – it just grows. And that is what is inspiring. When I first moved here I looked up to [Mike] Giant, MarsOne, Andrew Schultz – you know like DozeGreen – all of those dudes - And to meet them and try to do some work with them – whether or not I have done stuff for them is another story.

Your gallery contains some work which, is a bit more formal/‘fine art’ while incorporating the classic ‘street art’ – containing the drip, splatter/spray aesthetic. How do you maintain that balance between the ‘fine art’ and the other side to where you are not just another gallery exhibiting some graff writers ‘artwork’ on the walls with ‘limited’ clothing for sale?

Well, I think that it is really easy to get caught up with the whole graffiti thing – I still am. I love that stuff - I am all about it. But at the same time I am attracted to the ‘fine art’ stuff as well. There is a really great appreciation for both worlds. Now if an artist is doing both – and combining them and doing it really well and is establishing themselves – then fuckin’ awesome. If an artist is doing well and I like the graffiti stuff – you know – then cool – as long as it doesn’t look too dated. That is the exact problem with ‘graffiti art’ in the ‘fine art’ world – it looks dated. Sometimes I have to veer away from that – but naturally that leads to the other side, which is the ‘fine art’ world.But to me the ‘fine art’ world is somewhat boring and stagnant. You see the same thing over and over again – and I don’t want that. So I want a cross over – I want a balance. I’m just trying to show what I like and that’s about it.

White Walls InteriorYou were talking about graffiti art being dated. Do you wish to articulate on that any further?
I guess it could sound like I’m hating. I guess what I am trying to say is that graffiti and trying to translate it directly to canvas – a graffiti piece I guess – or like some letters or something like that – which have more cultural style –whether it be like Philly or New York or LA or San Francisco – it is specified to where it comes from and to people whom are doing graffiti whom can identify the time period of a person’s career by looking at it - In the essence more so than art - It is not a timeless thing. Also the thing with graff is that you don’t want it to get gone over out in the streets – but eventually it is going to disappear. So I think that there is something with that that holds much more value out on the street – where as in the gallery world if you have a piece on a canvas it stays. There has to be more than just straight graff into an artistic level – there has to be more of a dimension – more personal experience or vibe to it – weather it depicts a story or not and other key elements. You are seeing a lot of artists that are succeeding now that have some graffiti background – but aren’t necessarily focusing on the graff – it is more artistic. In a sense it is a little bit more illustrated. Graff has its place – and I fully support it there.

So don’t just post something on a wall and think you are doing something original and significant that is going to get you in a gallery?
If you have a bigger plan or create an environment to instill that feel into a gallery than cool – that makes sense. But at the same time - it is very limited.

Let’s take a second to get to know the man whom keeps a roof over these white walls – where are you originally from?
I moved to San Francisco about five years ago. I came up here for a job in the corporate world – which was bullshit. I wasn’t doing much graff then – compared to when I was down in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. I came up here and tried to do it – that’s pretty much it.

I mean where were you born? [Joint laughter] This isn’t just an interview about ‘White Walls’ – last time I checked you are the owner and the public is interested in hearing from the owner you Andrés Guerrero.
Uh – Watsonville. It is a very small agricultural town – I mean I grew up in the fields picking. I grew up in the fields picking with my grandparents.

So that labor had a big impact on your work ethic?
Oh yeah – totally. It is all a part of it – you know. Yeah so I was out there and my parents scrapped for change and stuff like that and sent me to a private school. It was just a private school down there in Watsonville and educationally that helped me out a lot. I hated the decision that my parents made at first – but now in hindsight that’s really awesome. The education system really helped me out. I am very fortunate with that – not a lot of people get that opportunity. I mean I think I came out pretty good. During that time my only release – as far as an adolescent – was graff. You know I didn’t drink – I didn’t do any of that stuff. And so my only outlet was graffiti. That was my social outlet too – was hanging out with friends doing graffiti. Like it means a lot to me – it is more of a friendship thing to me. It’s not like ‘I got your back’ – well I got your back but it is more about friendships and relationships with that – growing with people and meeting with people. That is what graff is to me.

So as an out-of-towner – how does the graff scene now compare to when you first arrived in San Francisco?
When I first came here it was kinda at a low because of what and how they were cracking down because of Proposition 21 and all that – and so it was a little slow BUT there were still people doing stuff – which was dope! It was really good to see. I don’t care what people say – if it is slow here or not – where I came from you would not see this much graff – period. So for me it was awesome regardless. Bottom line people were still doing it and that is dope. It may have been a slow time but for me I thought it was awesome. I got to meet and paint with a lot of great people too. My experiences were awesome. The main people that really helped me out were Erupto(327) and Diet. They were there and they helped out and supported – and in the end really got to know each other.

What significant changes have you seen?
I don’t know what I see – I’m not here to predict anything or whatever. But what I do see is a lot of young kids doing it. And you know that is a great thing. It is good to see. Regardless toy or not – they are doing it. Weather you get credit or no credit you still have to be out there doing it. Myself – I am not doing it – so I don’t know how much say I have in it.

White Walls InteriorHave you abided by your original goals and aspirations on how the gallery was to be run accordingly to you and your tenets?
Yeah I think that we have done a really good job in that. People are enjoying what we are doing. People are still coming out supporting while the gallery is growing. So I think that we are doing something right. It has been awesome. The original focus was on artists crossing over from the street – or within that realm - and I feel we have remained consistent with that.

Who were some of the significant names that helped make this gallery possible?
Kim Cogan, Mike Davis, Mike Giant, Richard Coleman, Sylvia G. There’s just a lot of guys like Andrew Schultz. You know SP One has helped out a lot. People like Caleb Neelon – the people whom aren’t necessarily showing with us but have helped out a lot because of friends and networking - Roger Gasman too. We have just been really fortunate with the people we have met along the way. And most of it has been because of graffiti. And that’s the thing – we want to separate White Walls from graff, but at the same time recognize the influence. That is where it has come from, that’s what it’s building principles were off of – but at the same time it’s a growing process and it is not all graff – you know – unfortunately. It’s just a little bit different. A lot of contributions and outside help has helped us keep to that format which is awesome.

What is your opinion on the opinion of the critics whom are slandering and attacking the exact direction you are taking with the gallery – as far as having the M.O. of crossing street artist into ‘fine art’?
I don’t really try to focus on what they say. I think that it is unfortunate that they are not giving it more of a chance now – but at the same time some people are. And you can see these people moving into these substantial galleries and are like heavy hitters. You know – Chris Johanson, Barry McGee, Andrew Schultz – there are so many people. I mean ESPO. There are all of these people crossing over and they are finally being accepted. A lot of people who haven’t even really pushed their ‘graff side’ are crossing over – or have already crossed over – and are doing BIG things with BIG galleries – and are being collected by substantial collectors and major institutions. So to say that what we are doing is not necessarily being accepted – it is just a slow process. Like I said time is on the side of the artist and also historically.

White Walls is located right in the heart of the Tenderloin – and your openings can get pretty out of hand – do you have any interesting stories from this combination you would like to reveal?
The funny thing is the people outside tend to stay to themselves. And they really respect what we are doing. But occasionally during the day – that’s when we get like ‘the randoms’ that come in and kinda wig out. You know I have had some people totally strung out on heroin looking at the artwork while totally passing out – like on their crash – and I’m just like “YO! You alright?!”. The stories are just like common things that you would see here – it’s nothing too crazy but, at the same time we live in the T.L.[Tenderloin District]. When we got methadone clinics all around us - so they are all recovering and the people getting straight out of jail. So it is kinda sketchy on the outside - but still they mind their own and they are pretty chill. Once you come inside it is another world – it’s a whole other world. Crazy nights are the reception nights. You know we got a huge place – two spaces and we pack the place! It’s fun. People love it – people love it and I don’t know why. They are loving what we are doing and that is a great thing. So hopefully we can have a few more of those fun nights and keep it going. You know we got a couple of surprises coming up and continue to entertain the city with great art.