By Bonnie Gangelhoff
California-based artist Scott Grabowski was driving home from a friend’s house recently when one of San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” caught his eye. He quickly pulled over to the side of the road and snapped a reference photo. “I was stopped in my tracks,” Grabowski recalls. As native San Franciscans know, “Painted Ladies” is the nickname affectionately bestowed on the multicolored, triple-decker Victorian houses sprinkled around the city, most notably in the Alamo Square area. Grabowski spotted his colorful “lady” in the Diamond Heights neighborhood.
Once back in his studio, the photo of the Victorian home eventually evolved into the painting called THE GREEN MONSTER. “I loved the juxtaposition of the giant blank wall on one side of the house with the front façade that has all the detail. And I was also intrigued by that lone upper window,” Grabowski says. Avid baseball fans may recognize that Grabowski’s inspiration for the title of the painting springs from Boston’s Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox. “The Green Monster” is the popular name for a 37-foot wall in left field.
Grabowski is a Red Sox fan who grew up in Massachusetts. But these days he is a full-time, award-winning artist living in the City by the Bay with a studio in the picturesque Marina District. In the past several years Grabowski has won top awards at Salon International at Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, TX, and in the Art Renewal Center’s Salon competition.
In another lifetime, however, he maintained a successful career in the mechanical engineering field, working as a draftsman and designer for more than 20 years before setting out to follow his dream of becoming an artist. After a job in Dallas, TX, ended due to the decline in the telecom industry, Grabowski moved to San Francisco and enrolled at the Academy of Art University, where he studied with Randall Sexton, Craig Nelson, and Brian Blood. He graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in illustration and in 2008 with a master of fine arts in painting.
His main artistic mission, he says, is to convey a “heightened reality” in his works. By this Grabowski means that he wants to interpret what he sees and not copy a structure or scene photorealistically. “The most valuable thing an art school can teach you is how to see. Your vision gives birth to your technique,” he says.
This philosophy carries through to his works when he depicts some of his favorite subject matter—both urban and rural scenes of San Francisco and Marin County and the architectural structures that inhabit them. At times a particular scene may spark youthful memories, too. For example, in THE DARK SIDE OF THE SUN, Grabowski was inspired by a series of homes stacked on top of each other. “I love the ‘hill effect’ on neighborhoods in San Francisco. We don’t just live next to each other; we live over each other,” Grabowski says. “As a result, the sidewalks and stairs remind me of a three-dimensional version of the board game Chutes and Ladders. Those childhood influences never let go of you.”
Grabowski is fond of creating series of paintings around a specific theme with titles such as Great American Homes, The Streets of San Francisco, and On the Waterfront. In terms of what is currently resting on his easel, he prefers to stay somewhat secretive. “I have a binder full of images from my various themes. They haunt me like planes in a holding pattern,” Grabowski says. “I don’t like to tip my hand until a painting series is done. If I tell you what I’m working on, I probably won’t finish it. That’s not superstition. That’s karma.”
Featured in February 2012.