‘Booze And Brushes’ Movement A Community-Building Masterpiece

By Angela Hill
Oakland Tribune,


The drink isn’t necessarily the draw.

It may start that way for most, as it did for three friends during the recent Booze and Brushes evening at the San Jose Museum of Art. Jane Taheri of San Jose had come across the event notice online and thought it would make for a fun outing with her longtime pals, so they picked up some cocktails at the no-host bar in the museum’s lobby and joined about 25 others who were similarly sipping in a large classroom.

Then art happened. Once brush met hand and color bathed canvas, an intensity saturated the room. A focus. A passion. Cups of chardonnay sat neglected, nearly mistaken for brush-washing pots.

And though many had never painted before, inner Van Goghs and Dalis emerged, with an amazing array of originality: vibrant birds here, a stylized self-portrait there, an abstract city skyline in blacks and yellows, a bold anime robot with kitty in repose.

“I’m so glad Jane made us do this,” said one of Taheri’s pals, Nancy Saign of San Jose, with nary a glance away from her emerging ocean whitecaps. “I never painted before,” she said, as Taheri chimed in that her friend “has an artistic soul.”

The event was a first for the museum, too, its inaugural foray into what’s become a popular, creative and often therapeutic way to socialize around the Bay Area.

It’s creating art communally, working on individual projects, but in a group setting with a bunch of friends or total strangers and an adult beverage or two. More fulfilling than a night out for drinks. More convivial than a traditional art class.

Some, like Oakland’s Drink & Draw, are free, drop-in meet-ups started by individuals. Ten to 20 people, from newcomers to working artists, gather every Wednesday night amid the popcorn aroma of the quirky New Parkway Theater in the city’s Uptown district, hang out, chat and draw.

“It’s that sense of community,” said Ghia Mercado, 23, an Oakland video-game artist, sipping a beer and sketching. “You can work on your project, talk about art, get inspired from each other. Art can be kind of a solitary thing. So this is inspiration through osmosis.”

Some events, like Booze and Brushes, are held at museums. Others are fundraisers for nonprofits, and still others are run by commercial companies with dozens of nationwide locations, such as Pinot’s Palette with a site in Danville, Calif., or Wine and Canvas in San Francisco, which calls itself a “mobile business that brings the party to your favorite venues, corporate events, or living room.”

Almost like Tupperware parties for art, but you come out with a masterpiece instead of measuring cups.

Some charge fees and provide art supplies. Some are free and you bring your own. At some, you’re taught techniques. Others are just for doing your own thing. Regardless, most welcome all levels of experience. It’s inspiring for the established artist and encouraging for the newbies.

“If you never picked up a brush before, or you just got finished doing a replica of the Sistine Chapel in your living room, you are welcome here,” said instructor Denise Liberi at the San Jose museum.

The group that night was mostly clusters of girlfriends in the middle-age range, some younger, some older, with a couple of men in tow.

Sheets of paper were handed out to sketch rough layouts before attacking the 16-by-20-inch canvases included in the $30 fee, plus a full spectrum of vibrant, fast-drying acrylic paints.

Stephanie Grace Lim, a designer for Apple and a photographer of babies, sipped a Lagunitas and pondered what to paint. “How about a robot and a kitty trying to communicate with each other?” she asked her friend, who offered, “Yes, and one should have a flower.”

Lim agreed and soon cool, graphic gray robots appeared with red hearts, and a flower, against a turquoise background.

During a recent meeting at Oakland Drink & Draw, where the motto is, “Friends let friends drink and draw!”, about a dozen people worked on projects upstairs at tables in the New Parkway’s mezzanine, mostly starting on or continuing small, more intricate pieces in pen-and-ink or with colored pencils.

Some inspiration for the Parkway artists may come from the setting itself: walls covered with vintage movie posters and tables topped with colorful collages from Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center, which serves disabled artists. Plus the full bar downstairs doesn’t hurt.

Justin Devine and his wife, Megan Kott, started the group a couple of years ago.

“There are either two of us, or 24 of us filling up this whole section of tables,” Kott said, sipping a glass of white wine.

“Really, it’s all skill levels. Anyone can join in.” The group has even held an art show with works completed during the Wednesday sessions, and has a second show up now on the Parkway walls.

Illustrator David Tenorio, 27, recently moved here from Austin, Tex., and joined Oakland’s group about eight months ago, relishing the community aspect.

“I do a lot of freelancing working in my studio, doing some video game and film work, so this gets me out of my cave,” he said, sketching on a small, spiral-ringed pad. “This place caught me off guard. I was pleasantly surprised that so many are basically working artists and they’re taking it seriously.”

Back at the San Jose museum, Liberi was also surprised at the way the “brushes” aspect superseded the “booze” for the most part.

“The plan was for everyone to take a break, take their drinks and stroll around through the galleries, but no one would go,” she said, laughing. “They painted for the whole three hours. I felt bad kicking them out when the museum closed at 8.”

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