This is not an exit door at Studio 17 The Artists Space


Often we resist endings—not wanting to exit the familiar structure we have inhabited for years—because these structures help define us—we form our identities around these structures.

Studio 17’s survival is fragile—each of us must ask, “Where do we go next?” As I walk through these hallways, talking to artists I have known for years and meeting new artists—I am more slow to descend the stairs—looking at the bricks and the exposed pipes—looking at this strange sign that always reminds me that— “This is not an exit.”  What has this community enabled me to do? What have I taken for granted?

In Studio 17 there is no hierarchy—and this is actually rare—because when you step out of the studio, often the first thing an artist is asked is “What gallery are you with?” Because in a capitalist market of buying and selling—the acquisition of things is the key—but inside this maze of studios we can let go of this concern and work—and the conversations center around the things we are truly excited by—the material, the tools and ideas—ideas before they have to be perfectly articulated. Qinmin comes into my studio—we talk about bodies—space and architecture of language—and Daniel talks about an editing system—Kate about Japanese artisans and craft—and I see Andy working in his studio painting a thin line of black on the edge of wood—and Truong’s open door always leads to language and strange conversations about subjugation, identity and American life, and I am learning—there is this incredible limbic growth.

Does every artist in this space feel like the enforced departure is terrible? No! Some artists are embracing change: “For me, this change is welcome—it is the change I needed”—“My space is finally exactly set up after years of being here—and still I see this as something positive.” The closure of the studio space is the push out of the comfort zone and into the place of the unknown—and that push is welcome.

Artists can be deeply private, especially when their work is in transition—transitions can be internal and external. It is a strange type of privacy—on the one hand, the work is an internal dialogue— but it eventually must be shared—that is it’s purpose. An artwork’s development undergoes three iterations: the idea, the making, and then putting that idea out into the public sphere.

This third iteration is important—it is where the conversation engages the world—as Lexie pointed out in her work, “The narratives that the viewer sees are always unexpected.” Far from what she actually intended, when the work is placed in other peoples hands, it takes on new dimensions.

There is a time for exposing the work and a time of incubation—this brings me to the privacy of the artist—there are some individuals in Studio 17 whom I have known for years—we talk in the halls—but they are deeply private. I stopped by one of these spaces recently—this artist’s work is meticulous—everyday objects are transformed into forms that are no longer recognizable as an ordinary object—built with symmetry and attention.

As I study this object,  my mind undergoes a similar process to what the object underwent—a total transformation of perception—it is fleeting—so I keep looking at the piece because I feel that flickering—that opening in my mind. I remember the first such piece I encountered was years ago at an open studio—I remember holding this small, delicate object that was both so unfamiliar and familiar—it is hard not to mention the material—but the material will reveal the artist —so I simply want to say, I remember holding that object in my hand—and having my mind walk through the material.

I am trying to work as hard as possible this last month—because I love my space—the sunlight comes in and I have painted the wooden ceiling white—covered the walls with white paper—and against all this white light I am photographing bodies—relationships—the space they hold—trying to capture a type of language—in the afternoons the fog roles in over twin peaks—the pigeons take off and land all day—this architecture—this space—built of shelves—of tools—of objects tacked to walls—is a familiar structure. 

As I watch boxes pile up outside the doors—and brown paper wrapping up paintings—I want to think about the structure—about ending—about self-reliance and identity—I want to memorize these halls and this stairwell—time is going fast but I want to go slow.

About STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

At the end of June—a community of over 70 artists—at the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District—must leave STUDIO 17 to make way for high-cost working space. This blog will catalog the end of this community above Thrift Town (on Mission &17th Street) and what it means. To understand what is being lost—I will spend the next two months carefully observing how artists work in their space—to give an intimate look at the inside of this community.

More about Alex Nichols:

Read more:

Feature on Alex Nichols and STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space

How the journey began… STUDIO 17: The Artists’ Space by Alex Nichols

More Featured Artists:

Lucinda Buxton Martin

Rick D’Elia

Jeffrey Martin


Daniel Lichtenberg

Ellen Rosenthal

Lauren Marchetti

Adam Barry

Lexie Bouwsma

Denise Laws

Andy Vogt

Qinmin Liu

Truong Tran

Kate Nichols

Published on May 8, 2015

Published by Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist and writer who deconstructs the experience of self, tracks the perceived and performs the narrated idea of self through a disarming physicality, rigor and humor. Her current projects utilize video, monologue, performance, and installation, reconstructing the physical boxes, strings and language of constraints.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: