In an unassuming side street of downtown Santa Rosa you walk by the indian restaurant and local newspaper building to a door between blacked out windows with white lettering. 4,000 square feet of warehouse with multiple levels and disciplines invites you into a land created for just one night. It’s a gallery but the art is not hung on the walls. It is the walls. Spray painted, wheat pasted portraiture, abstract, political murals from a group that has nothing to sell and alias identities to leave behind. The door frames, floors, stairs, and trash cans have all been given hand tags that fill in what space was left between mural art. Signatures drip, eyes pop out, figures can be deciphered to show the origin stories behind each style and we’ve been invited to a club that never meets but often works together under the cover of darkness.

If we were anywhere else this would be entirely illegal. Yet this has nothing to do with hate, crime or gangs. It is a celebration of an artform that is growing in acceptance, but rarely outside of the larger metropolitan area. Yet our local Riley Art Street and Village Art Supply carry niche spray paint brands with varieties of caps for calibration and pressure control. I am told that people came from across the state to see some of these pieces. Other attendees can be heard commenting “I didn’t know you could get that fine of detail”.

A well known local artist who has been working in this medium for 25 years sees them akin to sand mandalas, with beauty in their temporary nature. The curator likes to use the word “ephemeral” for the style and feeling. Each of the 40+ artists is a professional, they sell their art in other standard fine art and contemporary galleries with white walls, solo shows and rotating collections but with this event, they share a part of their creativity that rarely gives an invitation. We cannot take any of this home, we cannot claim it and add it to our collections. This is a glimpse into a scene that holds secrecy and trust paramount, anything else gets martyrdom. Some choose to add their efforts in the midst of the show. An artist gives out paint pens then fades back to watch their piece covered up and added to by the signatures of patrons.

I learn that there are hard rules. No churches, schools or houses. There is an ego threat, to be known can bring infamy that leads to being caught but a growing fanbase get excited by bolder efforts, although they will certainly get removed or painted over. Seeing an audience with a diversity of ages gives the anonymous creators of this exhibit hope that mainstream views are changing and the aspects of their work can be seen as multi-layered as any classic style. The initial reaction of destructive resistance can make way for an appreciation of color and imagery added to the grey and beige decor of a small city overflowing with creatives.

Santa Rosa is lucky enough to have small groups of determined people that clean out warehouses, put in time after work, coordinate friends and neighbors and open their spaces to show the outside what they’ve been working on. Pop-up events and festivals can be found throughout each season because our weather never really deters them. Something is stirring in our creative sector as more small galleries open their doors, businesses invite in local talent and curators weave together showcases. Events like these are all over the area, and throughout the year you just have to follow the right artist, catch the right conversation or walk down the right side street to share in the creation.

The Corner Store Collective

Convenience Store
Address: 575 Ross St, Santa Rosa, CA 95401