Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Dog, A Van and A Plan: Meet Artist Zannah Noe

Zannah Noe is a painter and mixed media artist. She has created the series American Bones. She sits in her studio in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA on September 25, 2013.
We see a wealth of street art on our walks around Dogpatch -- multi-hued hearts hidden on the big AT&T boxes, work vans without a spare square of original paint untouched, the vacant lot on Third Street that every morning sports a new image despite the landlord's preventive measures.

But an image that has intrigued us for many months is the stencil of a roller coaster, generally with the words "American Bones"at the bottom, that has popped up on sidewalks, overpasses and then finally, the billboard at the bottom of the 20th Street overpass that usually is advertising something much less interesting.

The billboard was very obviously not a sanctioned project with its street art banner look.  Not long after the billboard mysteriously appeared we started spotting flyers advertising The American Bones art project that was on display at the studio of artist Zannah Noe on Tennessee Street -- located right next to that 20th Street billboard.

We were greeted at the airy light filled loft by the artist as well as by her rescue dog Diesel Lamar, a beautiful and gentle ten year old greyhound.

The studio walls were covered with the many creations of this mixed media artist but what caught our eye was the red acrylic 48" laser cut metal stencil of the roller coaster -- the American Bones image we had been seeking.

What is the American Bones Project?
Everyone has a roller coaster story.  It is such an American icon and it transends race, class and gender.  The infrastructure of a roller coaster reminds me of scaffolding -- of bones -- of what is left standing.  I first used this image of the roller coaster in my series of paintings called Amusement Architecture -- portraits of Coney Island and the Santa Cruz boardwalk.  I started wondering, what are the images that represent America now? And just as important, what icons are still left in America?

I decided to search for and then document those icons through my photographs and paintings.  I was greatly influenced by the book, American Nations which looked at American Regionalism. 

In 2012 I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the trip.  My mode of transportation is a Chevy van I lovingly call, Foxy Brown, and she consumes lots of fuel!

In April 2013 the American Bones road trip began.  I traveled throughout the U.S. -- trying to stay off the beaten path as much as possible.

I discovered that while some of our remaining icons are obvious ones, such as cowboys and guns, there were also less obvious ones such as water towers.  I also discovered that America loves the mash up -- two icons that you wouldn't think go together.  For example, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is a park but it is also a missile testing site.

But my favorite mash up had to be the Prison Rodeo in Louisana.  Only in America could we put together a prison, rodeo and art show all in one place.

I love portraying these mashups as public art.
Zannah Noe traversed the country in her van, Foxy Brown. 

Why do you do what you do?

Through my art I attempt to reveal what is personal but also universal.  The American Bones project very much represents that to me.

I love the act of creating, whether it be photography, painting or catering.

I grew up in Massachusetts.  I studied fine art in college as well as photography.  After college, I decided I could only live in New York or San Francisco.  I used to think that those were the only two places an artist could live in the United States.  Of course I feel differently since my road trip!

When I first moved here in 1991 I was a photographer for the club, The End Up.  I like to say I started from the End Up!

I also did editorial photography for the SF Chronicle and the SF Weekly.  I eventually went back to school and learned how to be a web and graphic designer.

The catering comes in because editorial and fine arts don't necessarily pay the rent so I also became a caterer, working mostly as a personal chef on yachts.

Why Dogpatch?

In the 1990s I had a darkroom in this neighborhood that I used.  I also photographed a lot of punk bands with this neighborhood as a backdrop.

The neighborhood reminded me of a neighborhood I love in Boston, Fort Point Channel.

I have lived many different places in the city from the Lower Haight to a tugboat at Pier 50, but it wasn't until 2010 that I finally found a place to rent in Dogpatch.

I love the industrial mix use -- almost the feel of an urban desert.  It is less so now of course but the creative mix of people are still here.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

A traveling photo journalist.  I certainly became one as a result of this road trip.

And we have to ask, why did you name your Chevy van, Foxy Brown?

It reminded me of something out of a Quentin Tarantino film.  And I guess you could say that the van is also an American icon. 

Greyhound Diesel Lamar is the constant companion of Zannah Noe.
Article written by Patricia Kline
Photographs by Scott R. Kline


  1. Great article and interview Zannah. Congrats.

  2. Great Article and a beautiful adventure that is continuing!!

  3. Zannah is elegant and wonderfully down to earth and the hearts, hopes and lives of people everywhere are reflected in her work.