Paul Madonna needs no introduction in San Francisco's art and literary circles—he's the pen and voice behind the locally beloved and award-winning SF Chronicle series All Over Coffee (2004-2015; published as a book in 2011), and his murals and drawings can be seen from restaurants to museums. Now the artist-writer has released a stunning new illustrated novel, and is getting his due with a solo exhibition, his first in five years, at Union Street's Dryansky Gallery, opening tonight.


Close Enough for the Angels tells the story of Emit Hopper, a San Francisco artist, as he explores Asia—and the meanings of luck, love, and creativity in his life—through pen-and-ink drawings and sprinklings of text that help to illuminate Hopper's tale. The exhibit at Dryansky will feature framed original drawings, and will offer literati the chance to buy one of the 50 beautifully hand-bound books, works of art in their own right, made by Madonna himself.


Artist Paul Madonna(Photo courtesy of Paul Madonna)


Earlier this week, Madonna took us for a sneak peek at the exhibit (check it out in the slideshow above) along with the gallery's founders, sisters Janel Dryan and Jilian Monribot. With a tattoo sleeve and spectacles, the soft-spoken artist embodies the enigmatic and thoughtful work for which is he is known. His "comic strip without the comic" is a blending of masterful and painstakingly detailed ink-wash drawings and poetic prose that tends toward the dreamy or haunting. Many even credit All Over Coffee with establishing an all new art form—one that shook out of the place the typically linear nature of graphic fiction.


Madonna, who seems to relish the role of rebel artiste, continues his boundary-breaking ways with Close Enough for the Angels—its magical drawings and transformative text shatter the old rules that demanded a sequential relationship between pictures and words. "Here the images tell part of the story but without stepping on the toes of the words, so to speak," Madonna says.


My quizzical expression led him to grab the book, flip to a drawing of an empty waiting room and ask, "What do you see?" After answering correctly (phew!), he says, "This won't make sense until later....The reader may be asking why is he making these drawings, but I am looking at the spaces in between. It all comes together in the end."


But what about the beginning?


"I knew for a while that 'All Over Coffee' was coming to an end and that I wanted to do larger stories. I also knew I wanted to set my book in Asia, a place that I fell in love with in the '90s."


So, every year for six years beginning in 2009, Madonna traveled for a couple months at a time to Thailand, Japan, China to create the line drawings, on location, for all of the novel's 100 lush drawings of landscapes, facades, and interiors. Then, back in his SF studio, with the help of reference photos, he added depth to build up the emotional tenor of the drawings with India ink on cotton paper.


Madonna is clearly anxious about how the show will be received in his hometown: "I really wanted to do this show for my base in San Francisco."


If purchasing an original drawing or limited-edition book isn't in your budget, an e-book version is also available as of today. "This way, everyone can own a copy," says Madonna, twinkle in his eye.


// Opening reception 7-9pm May 19; Close Enough for the Angels, through July 14, at Dryansky Gallery, 2120 Union St. (Cow Hollow), thedryransky.com