“Whereas many academics study and write about hip-hop-style graffiti, few books have been published about stenciling,” says the Chicago-based activist Josh MacPhee, a longtime stencil artist and de facto historian of the medium. Granted, stenciling doesn’t have the same cult of adoration as traditional aerosol art — mostly because slogans made by pushing paint through cardboard have less sex appeal than freeform graffiti letters. Yet, lest stencil artists be accused of faking the funk, MacPhee points out that the two forms fall under the same lineage: Both allow for a novel presentation of political or absurdist statements, and both are about appropriating public space. A variation of an ancient Asian technique for decorating fabric, stenciling is a spiritual cousin to modern printmaking and silk-screening. It became popular in the United States at the end of the 19th century, when people used cutouts to decorate their birdcages or bedroom furniture. MacPhee describes bygone American stenciling as “a kitschy, country-kitchen thing, for people who wanted to paint eagles or ducks on their furniture.” During the ’60s and ’70s, stenciling found favor with radical artists who used cardboard letters to paint anti-Vietnam War slogans on newspaper stands, mailboxes, sidewalks, or the sides of buildings. Clement weather made San Francisco an ideal place for artists to paint these public spaces, but the form also gained popularity in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Mexico City, Canada, and Australia. SF’s own Scott Williams, who has done stencils in burger joints and helped paint the murals in Clarion Alley, says the form caught his eye in New York, where punk bands sometimes stenciled their names on sidewalks.
MacPhee’s new book, Stencil Pirates, is the culmination of a decade spent documenting this street art form. Having amassed prints and photographs from all the major metropolitan stencil scenes in North America, he shows how painting through cardboard can be a way of engaging with society at large. He will appear at AK Press, 674-A 23rd St., Oakland, at 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) with the local artists and zine publishers Melissa Klein and Erick Lyle. Admission is free. AKPress.org –Rachel Swan
Somewhere, beyond the sea, you’ll find the dazzling cliffside community that figures in Donlyn Lyndon‘s attractively illustrated book The Sea Ranch, whose debut is being celebrated far from the ocean spray at Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley (Wed., 6 p.m.). … Girlhood pals with depressed moms meet again as adults in Alameda author and clinical psychologist Michelene Esposito‘s coming-of-age-and-coming-out novel Night Diving. Don’t ask her to diagnose you at Alameda’s Spellbinding Tales (Wed., 7 p.m.). … Once upon a time, storyteller Joel Ben Izzy graduated from Stanford, traveled the world telling and collecting tales from Europe, China, India, and beyond, then got sick and lost his voice and found it again, and wrote about it in The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, from which he reads at Altamont Books (Sat., call 925-443-4354 for time). … Ebenezer Scrooge gets his comeuppance and Tiny Tim tugs your heartstrings for the zillionth time as the Teen Playreaders perform Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Berkeley Public Library‘s North Branch, recommended for audiences age six and up (Sat., 3 p.m.). … Pear orchards bear fruit and pain in On Kelsey Creek, Kensington author and Lake County native Phyllis Whetstone Taper‘s lush novel about life in Kelseyville circa 1927. Try a pie while Whetstone reads at Leaning Tower of Pizza, 498 Wesley Ave., Oakland (Sat., 7 p.m.). … Ring in the winter solstice with an all-day mother-daughter ritual and workshop at Berkeley’s Belladonna, cohosted by artist Laura Amazzone and Shakti Woman author Vicki Noble. They’ll be teaching daughters age six and up and moms of all ages how to make the most of the year’s shortest day and longest night (Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.). — Anneli Rufus
He’s a gay romantic. He’s sex-addicted and compulsively confessional. He’s acoustically oriented, but with a decidedly pop bent. If singer-songwriter Jeremy Gloff lived in the Bay Area, he’d fit right in. But the prolific artist (thirteen albums in eleven years, yo) lives in Tampa, Florida, in the heart of that red state’s accursed I-4 corridor, and therefore has spent his years there railing against Christianity and other binding assumptions. But what Gloff really likes to sing about is love: unrequited love, mostly, but also broken love, ideal love, and forbidden love. And he does it all in his breathy, melismatic alto, with bouncy beats or tender melodies, and dashes of Fleetwood Mac, John Cougar Mellencamp, and the Scissor Sisters. Gloff’s fellow Tampanian singer-confessor, Summer Virshup (whose style has been compared to Joan Armatrading and Norah Jones), will appear with him on Mama Buzz’ back patio during its annual craft sale, Sunday between 1 and 3 p.m. 2318 Telegraph Ave., uptown Oakland. 510-465-4073. — Stefanie Kalem
Exile on Asylum St.
Spanking old, spanking new
Who knew that the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” would make a swingin’ boogie-woogie number? The Asylum Street Spankers did, as it’s been a live staple of theirs for some time, and it’s one of the fourteen odds ‘n’ sods covers that the ten-year-old Austin outfit recorded live to tape at a restored wooden church in their hometown for the new CD Mercurial. Jazz and big-band nuggets (“Digga Digga Doo,” “Shine on Harvest Moon”), blues classics (“Sugar in My Bowl,” “Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue”) and even Black Flag’s “TV Party” get spanked by the ASS’ all-acoustic, vaudevillian punk-boogie-bar-bandtastic skillet. Mercurial was recorded using a vintage tape machine with old-school tube pre-amps and microphones, and if the album is decidedly warm, the band’s live show — stocked with such trademark originals as “If You Love Me (You’ll Sleep on the Wet Spot)” and “Breathin'” — is bound to be hot. Christina Marrs, Wammo, and Co. play the Starry Plough Friday, with Comfy Chair opening. Show starts at 9:30 p.m., and cover is $14. 510-841-2082. — Stefanie Kalem