[Toes cannot be pulled off] 

Today I walk down the hallway—and realize that there are seventy artists to cover but not seventy days—even if I were able to observe and write at an incredible speed, it would be hard to include everyone—so suddenly this task feels more urgent—in the main gallery a meeting is taking place with SF Land Trust—four of a core group of artists who are actively engaged in finding a solution are sitting at a thin, tall, rectangular bar/table taking down notes—the main gallery is an open white space—down the hallway I find Lexie’s door open—

Detail in Lexie Bouwsma's studio
Detail in Lexie Bouwsma’s studio

Like Denise, Lexie is in an interior space—a giant table constructed to hold paper 7’ x 5’ fills the room—Lexie is standing with her finger touching a bee carefully drafted and flying into a white sky—she is considering the quantity and placement of bees in the drawing—creating a movement on the page. “Are they too evenly spaced?” she asks Kate who is standing above her on an eight foot ladder—“Or too few?”—A person is throwing a basket over her shoulder—yellow flakes that look like seeds and bees are spilling out onto the paper. Looking at Lexie’s drawing from a distance, Kate thinks about the question. Chad is on the left of the table—if you work big—over six feet—distance from the piece is essential to get a sense of how the details are forming on the page—there is a balance and composition that every drawing and painting works to establish—

From the height of the ladder, one can see over the wall into all the other studio spaces—22 studios in this main complex—from the overhead perspective it might look like a maze for mice—various sized rooms and doors opening onto multiple halls—it is constructed to establish as many working walls as possible while still maintaining privacy—unless, of course, you are standing on a ladder.

Overhead view of studios
Overhead view

Hanging over a shelf of pens and pencils and paper—near stacks of glass pressing the roosters—is a small drawing of toes and fingers between the toes—underneath the title “Toes cannot be pulled off”— titles are important to Lexie—

What does “Toes cannot be pulled off” reference?—“A Winnicott quote I wrote down in a class I took at CCA”—I went home and on my computer began a hunt for the line to which she referred. D.W. Winnicott was a British psychologist born in 1896 who developed theories about play— “Playing is something that happens in the interface between our inner world and external reality” and the exact quote refers to a child with whom Winnicott worked —a child who discovers that the toes cannot be pulled off and thrown to the ground unlike a spatula—

Studio Materials
Studio Materials

So let’s discuss play—because Lexie’s work is about play—her whole manner is playful—as she works she nicknames her subjects—‘Bee eater’ and ‘Cereal dumper’—eventually the large drawing on the table will gain an official title—her narratives are open—leaving free space for someone to reveal their personal story without judgement. Embedded in the work is “Mythology,” “Domestic pathology,” “Ideas from everyday life,” the images might begin from watching her boyfriend re-pot a plant—she looks at—“Exaggerated emotions—displays of comedic rage” —and with “These overly muscular, crazy women” she populates the walls and the scenes—using traditional drafting lines like the old masters—hatching and crosshatching to build volume. The pictures remind me of Rubens—an extravagance—like his paintings “The Fall of Man,” “The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus,” a sort of wild chaos of movement and subjects piling toward the center of the canvas as if space were something to move away from—

Studio tools
Studio tools

Lexie’s work is anti narrative—post apocalyptic—people are struggling for no apparent reason—housewives going insane—hiding places that don’t make sense—a woman under a lampshade—like the absurdity of children covering their eyes so you can’t see them—

I go back out into the hallway—it is late afternoon—and the sunlight is streaming in from the west and the studios are getting warm, almost hot. Each of these spaces contains a story—my words are getting crushed up into a center of a painting—with a frenetic energy—because at some point the studios will empty out and the walls will get torn down and none of this will exist—

More about Lexie Bouwsma:

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 April 12, 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.


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