The Cognoscente: Inside the Abstract Life of Painter Stevan Shapona

The Cognoscente: Inside the Abstract Life of Painter Stevan Shapona


Stevan Shapona, 59, is one of the last remaining artists from San Francisco's fabled golden age. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Shapona worked alongside his father as a sign painter for decades—touching up the awnings of the St. Francis hotel among other local icons—before pursuing art full time. Now, the traditional realist works out of his studio/garage in the Excelsior, where he manages to survive without an email address or an internet connection. The result of Shapona's somewhat-isolated lifestyle is a series of gorgeous female nudes, silhouetted against dark backgrounds, that are striking in their use of single color tonalism. 

We sat down with the hard-to-reach artist (who took our call on a borrowed telephone) to talk paintings, life in the Bay Area, and his upcoming participation with SF Open Studios. 

My favorite thing about painting is ... the potential. The infinite possibilities.

My signature style is ... a semi-academic tonalism in which there's one color that permeates all the other colors. Think of a cereal box in a fish tank filled with honey— that's my style. Though, right now, I'm in a bit of a transition period. I'm moving into more impressionistic and abstract painting with lots of layers. 

I live in the Bay Area because ... I was born in the Bay Area. I like the weather here. I know the area. This is where I'm established. 

A recent find in SF was ... I don't go out much. 

For pure aesthetic, there's nothing like ... a harmonious canvas. 

If I could have my paintings featured in any gallery, I would like to be feature in ... The Louvre, of course! Or The Thomas Reynolds Gallery, if it were still open. 

An indulgence I would never give up is ... painting the female figure. 

My favorite SF neighborhood is ... The Sunset for the park and the pizza. 

In order to clear my head and relax, I ... take a nap. 

My favorite color to work with is ... warm gray. But now I really like a crimson. 

A project I am excited about is ... learning to paint in layers. 

My heroes are ... James Whistler, Anders Zorn, Gustave Moreau, and Norman Rockwell. 

My average workday ... I work from home in my studio/garage. I usually work for eight hours every day with a one-hour lunch break and nap. I used to work with my father as a sign painter, and he kept to a very structured schedule. I've carried a lot of that schedule to my everyday life, including the post-lunch nap. 

Want to get up close and personal with Shapona's work? Heads to Weekend 3 of SF Open Studios (October 31st and November 1st), where Shapona will showcase his work along with hundreds of other emerging and established local artists in their studios. // Various locations, artspan.orgSee full schedule here

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