“Beth Van Hoesen: Portraits from the Castro,” opening with a reception today, is a collection of 1990s-era watercolors, drawings and prints featuring the neighborhood’s distinctive denizens, who posed for the artist at her home in an old firehouse at the top of the Castro Street hill. The 22nd Street spot was known as a gathering place not just for the area’s colorful characters, but also leading artists such as Robert Bechtle, Gordon Cook and Wayne Thiebaud.
Partial proceeds from sales of the show’s works — priced in the range of $10,000 and up — will go toward a long-burgeoning volunteer project, the Rainbow Honor Walk. A plaque honoring disco star Sylvester, the first in a series of bronze plaques on Castro Street featuring prominent, deceased LGBT leaders, is slated to be installed in June.
“Serendipitous” and “thrilling” is how David Perry, a founding board member of the Rainbow Honor Walk, describes Van Hoesen’s designation that gay causes be beneficiaries of her estate. (The artist and printmaker, who died in 2010 at 84, lived with her husband, artist-designer Mark Adams, in the firehouse for 46 years.)
Van Hoesen’s portraits capture the spirit and vitality of her iconoclastic subjects, often decked out in color and sparkles or as Bay Area-centric alter egos.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, San Francisco’s drag, political and street-performance group, are represented in several portraits, including “Sister Saki Tumi,” a 1996 portrait in watercolor, colored pencil, graphite and glitter.
Sporting a fantastic beehive, significant earrings, glamorous makeup and a pink top, the same person posed in drag in “Cookie,” another 1996 watercolor-and-pencil work.
Famed San Francisco gay-rights activist Jose Sarria also is featured, appearing as his social and political alter ego, Widow Norton.
Perhaps what makes the collection so evocative is Van Hoesen’s detailed, restrained, respectful treatment of her subjects, a group that easily could be exaggerated by caricature. But these pictures — as well as the still lifes, portraits and studied images of animals in her catalog, aptly called “The Observant Eye” — have an appealing realism that adds to their beauty.
IF YOU GO
Beth Van Hoesen: Portraits from the Castro
Where: George Krevsky Gallery, 77 Geary St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes March 1
Contact: (415) 397-9748, www.georgekrevskygallery.com
Note: Show reception is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday