Alumnus Peter St. Lawrence: Oakland-Based Artist and Entrepreneur
Posted on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 by Jim Norrena
Peter St. Lawrence is a codirector of Oakland's FM gallery
The 35-year-old artist is adept at experimenting with new concepts, collaborating with artists, transitioning his career path, and reinventing himself as needed. In short, he's an entrepreneur who is making his career happen, rather than waiting for it to happen.
Among St. Lawrence's most notable accomplishments, he is one of the founders and directors of FM art gallery, located at 483 25th Street (between Telegraph Avenue and Broadway) -- smack in the middle of the Oakland Art Murmur, a nationally celebrated evening gallery stroll and art celebration that attracts up to 25,000 art enthusiasts on the first Friday of the month.
Art Murmur: Good for Oakland, Good for Artists
It's not everyday an artist has the opportunity to take hold of affordable Bay Area real estate and use the opportunity to give back to the arts community. St. Lawrence has a firm grasp on his good fortune: "Since I have been in this neighborhood, I have watched this vibrant gallery community spring up out of nothing and start to gain national attention.
'When I got an opportunity to rent a warehouse right in the middle of it, there was no hesitation; I knew it was something I identified with and finally had a chance to share what I see happening in Oakland."
St. Lawrence cofounded FM art gallery in 2009 with partners Ofra Fisher, Michael Steffen, and CCA alumnus Joe Kowalczyk (BFA Individualized Major 2006). They each serve as directors for the gallery, positioned in Oakland’s newly coined Uptown district, which was called out in San Francisco Magazine’s Best of Bay in 2011.
FM gallery rents half a dozen art studios and features a formal gallery space in the foyer, where numerable artists from the CCA community have been featured:
- Anja Leonora Ulfeldt (BFA Ceramics 2002), director at Oakland’s Basement Gallery
- Jessica Jenkins, a senior Individualized Major and also a resident studio artist at FM
- Ceramics faculty member Juan Santiago (BFA Ceramics 2000)
- Jesse Rose Vala (BFA Individualized Major 1999)
A Market for Craft
St. Lawrence on craft: "I think the level of craftsmanship represented at the Murmur took a huge step in the right direction with the addition of all the galleries on 25th Street. If there is a theme emerging at FM with the artists that we select for the studios and the gallery, it is craftsmanship. We all make things by hand, and appreciate hard-working artists with attention to detail."
He adds, "If you think about it, each artist involved is a small business."
"My CCA education mostly provided me with an incredibly fertile work environment that gave me the opportunity to refine my technique and aesthetic," St. Lawrence explains, regarding his accomplishments in the art world. "The [CCA] community, more than anything, provided a cross-pollination of ideas and values that caused my practice to cross thresholds of effectiveness.
"Anything I was interested in making or learning, there was an expert nearby, willing to share. I learned to shamelessly reach out to the people I admire, learn from them, and collaborate."
Two CCA faculty members stand out most: "[Current interim chair of Ceramics] Arthur Gonzalez always encouraged me to diversify my skills and pursue all my interests. One of the reasons I felt so at home in the Ceramics department is because he made sure I was able to leave and blow glass, paint, or even enroll in a class at Mills College, and still come back."
Barney Haynes was also a huge inspiration in this way," recalls St. Lawrence. "He made sure to communicate encouragement to me and make me feel supported even after I graduated."
Continued CCA Collaboration
St. Lawrence enjoys continuing to work with members of the CCA community in and out of his gallery. In 2011, for example, as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Art's Bay Area Now 6, which is an annual celebration to recognize the Bay Area is an enormous source of creativity, innovation, and experimentation, he collaborated on an installation with the collective Rio Babe International, which was founded by CCA Individualized Major alumnae Samantha Strand and Kirby McKenzie, each of whom graduated in 2010.
He quickly added, "Another thing I was reminded of recently, was that taking advantage of CCA's galleries provided me with skills that serve me well. Not only did I have solo shows while I was enrolled, but I curated many group shows. Now I help run a gallery space and get to refine the curator side of myself."
Floral Design Company
St. Lawrence also owns and operates Peter St. Lawrence Design, a floral design company that specializes in fine-dining restaurant interiors. A few of his high-profile clients, both of which are in San Francisco, are Quince restaurant in Jackson Square and Zuni Café in the upper Market district.
St. Lawrence was called out in 2011 in a San Francisco Chronicle feature, called "Restaurant florist tips for DIY floral designers".
He's come a long way, especially considering he used to be a delivery driver for Bloomies flower shop in Market Hall in Rockridge!
Business Prospects that Define and Redefine
I've also learned to keep my mind open to different opportunities and consider new experiences in order to resourcefully make ends meet while working with meaningful, visual fields," St. Lawrence explains. "For instance, I never imagined myself designing a restaurant, but my hard work in floral design and gallery presence in Oakland led to that opportunity. And it turns out, that is something I love being involved in."
More recently, St. Lawrence collaborated with Strand designing the interior of Duende, a new restaurant and bodega in downtown Oakland that features authentic regional Spanish cuisine. (The eatery was launched by chef Paul Canales (formerly of Oliveto in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood) and restaurateur/impresario Rocco Somazzi.)
The artist's talent and entrepreneurial spirit both play a role in his career success: "No one can magically make you into an artist," he advises. "They can only provide the community, facilities, and opportunities that a motivated individual can use to grow.
"Absolute immersion in an infinite range of concept, aesthetics, and student demographics gave me the tools and clarity that have served me well as a curator and studio manager as well as an artist.
"This is why you go to CCA."
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