From the outside, Studio Fallout looks like the other modest Victorian rowhouses lining Bannam Place, a sleepy North Beach alley. But step into the basement gallery and event space, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by contemporary underground art that meshes with North Beach’s deep counterculture roots. Not surprising when you consider that the site was previously the studio of Winston Smith, a prominent montage artist and punk designer who’s worked with the likes of the Dead Kennedys and Green Day.
Smith now serves as creative director for the recently expanded and reimagined Studio Fallout, working closely with gallery co-directors Farida Mazlan and Hank Von Hellion. Originally known as Fallout SF when it opened in 2022 with a focus on punk art, the artist-run organization relaunched at the end of last year with a new name, website, and design services—and a fresh vision.
“We’ll always have punk roots and focus on sub-culture elements,” said Mazlan. “But the idea of expanding the space was to go larger on our format. We now also have a pool of volunteers and collaborators who are kind of autonomous in what they do.”
Current collaborators include indie vendors Out of Sight Records—the vinyl shop’s owner, David Tutton, is also a DJ who spins tunes at various Studio Fallout happenings—and Alisha Amnesia’s Punk Majesty clothing. Artist Txutxo Perez has a dedicated zone in the gallery as well.
Von Hellion, an artist himself, hopes to build more buzz about the gallery and draw folks in to view and buy phenomenal art. “But we also want to temper that with artwork and artists that are civic-minded, community-minded, and have some activist attitude,” he said.
Those traits are all on display in Studio Fallout’s ongoing Black History Month celebration, featuring a series of special events that honor the legacy and ideology of the Black Panther Party and support the Black Panther Party Alumni Legacy Network. Founded in Oakland in 1966 by Merritt College students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton, the Party supported Black Nationalism, social services programs, and armed self-defense, especially in the face of police brutality.
Through Feb. 25, you can catch “Power of the People: Poster Art of the Black Panther Party,” an exhibit showcasing historical and new pieces from original BPP members Malik Edwards and Katherine Campbell. The exhibition also includes work by artists inspired by the Panthers, by Rufus Dayglo, Raeghan Buchanan, Songe Riddle, Moses Lawson, Stealworks, Jake Hout, Hank Von Hellion, Jason Chandler, Noah Nothing, and Matthew Kadi.
At the show’s opening, Edwards shared a bit about his work and what led him to become a Panther. The self-taught artist landed a job as an illustrator for the US Marine Corps after a tour of duty in Vietnam. Upon completing his military service in 1970, Edwards immediately joined the Black Panthers in Washington DC.
“After being in Vietnam and fighting for a country that didn’t care for me, I figured I might as well fight for my own life,” he said. “So I went down to the Black Panther office with a bunch of my drawings.”
Recognizing his artistic talent, the DC chapter quickly put him to work creating flyers and posters. Later, Edwards moved to Oakland to train under Emory Douglas, the Party’s Minister of Culture, to be an artist for the Panthers’ newspaper. Emory helped him see art as a powerful revolutionary tool.
Although Campbell studied graphic arts and has used painting as a form of therapy, her series of watercolor animals at Fallout is her first public show. Mazlan told 48 Hills that’s because Campbell always puts being a Panther and serving her community first. In her artist’s statement, she explains that each animal represents a significant time in her life. Some are “…a contemplation of being still a Panther, but content in her observation of the community as she believes to listen to what they need, stillness is required.”
The multi-talented Campbell is also a reggae singer. She’ll perform on Sat/17, 1pm-7pm at the space. In a nod to the Panthers’ Free Food Program for underserved communities, the festivities will also include a food giveaway for those in need. And on Feb. 25, Campbell returns with Edwards to wrap up the series with an artist talk from 2pm-5pm.
While checking out the Black Panther events, you can score specially designed hoodies and tees. Courtesy of a collaboration between Obey Giant artist Shepard Fairey and Oaklandish, the gear is only available at Studio Fallout. Merch sales support the BPPALN.
Von Hellion and Mazlan are knee-deep in planning events for the rest of the year, including some collaborative affairs with other galleries.
“We’re always open to hearing exhibit proposals,” said Von Hellion. “We love the artists we already work with, but we want to be able to work with lots of different kinds of artists and people. I think that’s really exciting and what will keep the space fresh.”
Located at 50-A Bannam Place, Studio Fallout is open Thursday-Saturday, noon-6:30pm. More info here.