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Stylin' Art for a Fraction of the Cost

For budding art connoisseurs disheartened by the lifestyle it takes to frequent San Francisco galleries in style, there's a new venue devoted to corralling money-conscious patrons. Artist-Xchange, a Mission district gallery conceived by owner Scott Mitchell in December 2003, was officially instituted in its 16th and Guerrero space almost a year ago. Mitchell's vision is simple -- to help promote the art and culture of San Francisco in a venue accessible to everyone.

Artist X-Change is a cozy gallery crammed from floor to ceiling with an array of tchotchkes, jewelry, city memorabilia, and original artworks that convey the diverse aesthetic and cultural tastes of San Francisco. Dedicated to carrying art in all forms of media, from postcards to handmade sari purses to sculpture, Artist-Xchange aims to be a community resource for both artists and the public. Connecting interested buyers directly with artists through the gallery's regular promotional events, the space also offers classes to the community, from children's art workshops to seminars led by in-house artists. The gallery's monthly artist openings give people the opportunity to check out new artwork in a relaxed and casual space, and to interact with local artists in depth. (The next opening is March 4.)

One of the gallery's most attractive qualities is its unique alternative to buying and selling original artwork from traditional high-end galleries. The gallery's consignment-based retail model enables local artists to set their own asking price without having to pay the high fees often associated with traditional gallery display spaces, according to Mitchell. Additionally, the merchandise is constantly rotating, and fresh material pours into the already prolific space on a continuous basis. Members of the community can check out art and peruse merchandise at both the gallery and the comprehensive virtual gallery and online store.

While many works on display at Artist-Xchange convey a distinctly San Franciscan ambiance, from photographs of popular tourist spots to abstract interpretations of the Golden Gate Bridge, the gallery's versatility is what makes it a prime spot for folks looking to adorn their walls and shelves with quality one of a kind items. While Mitchell, who selects the artworks, has a wide-ranging aesthetic, all the pieces at Artist-Xchange exhibit special attention to complexity of craft and material.

Wendi Spiers' sculpture, which is currently being showcased at the gallery in a selection entitled "New Beginnings", includes shadowy ceramic pieces in which anthropomorphic figures struggle to escape the confines of their three-dimensional frames.

Artist Melanie Miguel offers eclectic and quirky clay and copper mobiles full of color and festive appurtenances, as well as wire jewelry with a well-executed DIY feel, for $125 and under.

Roger Licot, who currently has a wall at the gallery devoted to his distinctive acrylics on canvas, is a peddler of some of Artist-Xchange's most provocative works. Licot's paintings are erotic, hyper-realistic pieces with a sensibility somewhere between Japanese anime and Playboy pin-ups. Licot specializes in strategically placed body parts that look like they're being viewed through the eyes of a Peeping Tom. It's a tantalizingly eerie effect that comes at a surprisingly low cost. Licot's assorted pieces range from $200 to $2000.

Aside from its dedication to the work of Bay Area visual artists, Artist-Xchange is expanding into another niche: music. The in-store listening station allows customers to listen to local musicians' work without necessarily buying it, which is another facet of the gallery that emphasizes the importance of connecting community with the city's artistic treasures, both known and unsung.

San Francisco is full of peddlers that emphasize the importance of connecting community with their merchandise in a deeper way, but few galleries offer the opportunity to create community the way Artist-Xchange does. And few galleries offer such a tantalizing and eclectic selection of art, so be sure to drop by the store one of these days -- you just may find the piece you've been waiting to splurge on, at a fraction of the cost.