It’s no secret that Oakland is home to a thriving art scene; in the 1.5-mile stretch from Jack London Square to 28th and Broadway, at least two dozen galleries, studios, project spaces and performance venues offer slices of vibrant cultural experience all year round, Art Murmur Fridays or no.
But Uptown and Downtown Oakland certainly don’t hold a monopoly on Oakland’s gallery spaces. Journey further north and you’ll find a slightly different kind of art scene — one composed of lone galleries nurturing artistic community in neighborhoods like Longfellow and Golden Gate, where the collective momentum and guaranteed monthly foot traffic don’t (yet) exist.
The Grease Diner, which opened its doors in early June, is one such space. Located in the stretch of San Pablo Avenue near Actual Cafe and Pepples Donuts, one would expect the Grease Diner to serve up either home fries or bike chain lube. Instead, step inside the Grease Diner and you’ll be met with handmade merchandise, happy plants and the breathtaking large-scale paintings of Laurie Shapiro.
Husband-and-wife team Jon Jon Cassagnol, 34, and Shapiro, 23, bill the Grease Diner as an “art galleria bodega,” meaning that it’s simultaneously an art gallery, a community hangout space, a shop, Shapiro’s painting studio, and a hostel for artists in residence. A back area also houses Cassagnol’s recording studio. (The Grease Diner is named after a nonprofit recording studio that Cassagnol previously ran in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Shapiro was an art student at Carnegie Mellon.)
The duo is also actively in the midst of incorporating a screen printing studio into the space. Their hope is to offer screen printing workshops and casual, affordable drop-in studio time to the Oakland community by sometime in August.
“We’re both working artists, so this [project] originally started as a studio space for us to work in,” Cassagnol said. “We want to be able to make this an institution for creativity. Even though it’s Laurie’s gallery, it’s also a store where a dozen or so artists have their works displayed for sale.”
Currently, the Grease Diner’s inventory of goods includes cards and paper products by Lizzee Soloman, Gutwrench Press and Mateo and Elizabeth; small hand-crocheted plush penises; potted plants; and apparel and crafts made of repurposed materials, all of which are very much in line with the Grease Diner’s eclectic, conscientious, do-it-yourself aesthetic. The walls are dominated by Shapiro’s work, which is arresting and mural-sized, full of patterned fabric pieces and swirling organic shapes depicting themes like love and fertility.
“I get the influence for my work from my life,” Shapiro said. “It’s my way to put my experiences into visuals — things I want to be able to express and share but don’t necessarily know how to put into words.”
Cassagnol and Shapiro didn’t hesitate to channel their art into their community. No more than half a year after moving to Oakland from Pittsburgh (Shapiro had secured a residency at Kala Art Institute), the pair was working to set up shop in their new neighborhood. They looked at a few different storefronts and immediately fell in love with their current location despite the fact that, at the time, the space had old carpeting, baby blue walls, and bars and dark curtains on the windows — it looked, according to them, like Freddie Kruger was holding court inside.
Still, Shapiro said, “I could tell there was no way Jon was going to leave this place without getting it. He told the landlord, ‘I want to marry this place.’”
The Grease Diner
WHERE: 6604 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
HOURS: Saturdays through Wednesdays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
PHONE: (510) 379-0190
MORE INFO: www.thegreasediner.com
Next up: n/a Gallery at West St. and 43rd St.
Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.