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SF galleries’ show boasts whimsy, dark comedy

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Lisa Hanawalt’s amusing “Birds Hungry for Worms” is on view in “Tiny Bubbles” in the Veterans Building. (Courtesy San Francisco Arts Commission)

Fantasy creatures, candy-colored dreamscapes and darkly comic depictions of life’s grimmer realities created by more than a dozen artists are on view in the San Francisco Arts Commission’s spring exhibition. Viewers will smile throughout.

Continuing through Aug. 19 in the SFAC’s main gallery in the War Memorial Veterans Building, the spring show consists of four parts.

These include “Civic Art Collection Focus: Roy De Forest,” which sets an overall tone of fancy and playfulness.

Associated with the Bay Area “funk” and “nut” art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, De Forest (1930-2007) is known for his fauvist paintings featuring animals, often dogs.

Coinciding with other De Forest shows in the Bay Area, this exhibit includes the large whimsical painting “Homage to Zane Grey” (1978), which features fauna, flora and De Forest’s trademark dots, and “Hunters Secret” (1965), an early work.

De Forest’s spirit was the starting point for “Tiny Bubbles,” the largest component of the exhibit, curated by former gallerist Steven Wolf and showcasing about 10 artists who create dreamlike worlds and surreal and darkly funny narratives in a variety of media.

Cartoonist and podcaster Lisa Hanawalt’s (“BoJack Horseman,” “Baby Geniuses”) works, which include “Birds Hungry for Worms” (2014), boast amusing scenarios involving human-animal hybrid beings.

Local drag performer and mixed-media artist Jerome Caja, who died of AIDS in 1995, created grotesque but affecting miniature works from nail polish and other drag-queen essentials, and from personal materials, including his blood.

The show contains about 40 Caja pieces, painted on objects as small as bottle caps and featuring anxiety imagery, like skeletons.

“Tiny Bubbles” also features sculptor Megan Reed, who uses enticing colors and addresses consumerist culture, and video-game designer Porpentine Charity Heartscape, the only Bay Area artist in the current Whitney Biennial.

Contributions from video artist and podcaster Kate Rhoades, RE/Search publisher V. Vale, children’s-book creator J. Otto Seibold, rapper-producer Boots Riley, and prankster Longmont Potion Castle round out the exhibit.

Alison Pebworth’s “Innards and Upwards, A San Francisco Wunderkammer” is the current rotating show in the gallery’s entry area.

Created from items found at the San Francisco dump — Pebworth is drawn to the “lives and stuff” one can unearth there — the installation has roots in the old-fashioned cabinet of curiosities. Painted black to avoid miscellany overload, the structure contains doors that, when opened, expose compartments filled with fun arrangements of collectibles.

The exhibition’s final presentation, “Sugar Circus,” in the building’s nearby cafe, offers works by Camille Holvoet and Yukari Sakura from Creativity Explored, an organization that serves artists with developmental disabilities. Holvoet’s subjects include Ferris wheels and desserts; Sakura’s include cultural figures and also sweet edibles.

San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries’ spring season
Where: War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays for main gallery; 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays (cafe); closes Aug. 19
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 252-2244, www.sfartscommission.org

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