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2010 Hot 20: Michelle Blade, Painter, 2010 SECA Art Award Finalist and Owner of Sight School Gallery

Photography by John Lee

Artist Michelle Blade is the first to admit that she has rightfully earned her role as the token black sheep of her family. Instead of staying in LA to join their restaurant business, she fled to SF in 2006 to pursue a master’s of fine arts in painting at California College of the Arts. Soon she was organizing social experiments such as group hugs with strangers in Golden Gate Park and a full moon feast and fire ceremony that entailed burning bits of paper scrawled with people’s wishes and burdens. “In grad school, I started painting large groups of individuals going out into nature and doing crazy things,” says Blade, whose canvases nod to Romanticism and German Expressionism. “A teacher of mine asked, ‘Michelle, why is this just a painting?’”

A sense of community continues to motivate her, and this past year Blade opened Sight School, an art gallery and social-experimentation platform in North Oakland. “San Francisco’s close-knit society stems from its rich hippie history,” says Blade, who lives in the back of the gallery. “It’s another way for me to blur the line between art and life. I keep my apartment open. People are in and out all the time.”

Besides anticipating shows in Berlin, Dallas, Chicago, and New York (where she’ll be exhibiting sculpture works in addition to her paintings), Blade is hoping that her future holds a prestigious 2010 SECA Art Award from the SFMOMA. If her name is announced in December, a group hug may be in order.