Work of My Hands goes all-in for ArtWalk

Inside a timeworn Hillcrest home, Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael have been busy collecting discarded, dilapidated scraps of various sorts and storing the finds in their narrow side yard. They’re starting to look like hoarders. Recently, the fresh-faced young couple scored a rusted steel pole from their neighbor’s old clothesline. They like how the paint has naturally chipped away over time. Eva and Michael revive the bits of tattered metal and wood in their small home workshop by piecing things together in unusual and unexpected ways—she’s often responsible for adding the organic-looking elements; he’s usually the one pushing for the industrial look. They then affix antique-style light bulbs, transforming the odds and ends into freestanding, functional sculptural lamps.

The sculptural lighting is just Eva and Michael’s latest project in a constant stream. They’re always working on something big out back in the workshop or painting studio. It’s been like that since they met in 2006. They played it cool for awhile—the whole “just friends” thing—but eventually decided to give in, get married and become partners in their art ventures. First, it was mostly painting. They called their first art show Work of My Hands, a biblical reference that communicates the idea that both good and evil can be done with one’s hands, and it’s up to the individual to decide which to pursue.

They liked the title so much that they kept it as the name for all the projects they do ( Together, they’ve produced two of the Port of San Diego’s “Urban Trees,” the large-scale, treelike sculptures that lined the embarcadero until the program was ended last year. Their most recent urban tree, a large, rusted steel trunk and branches with flowing orange, yellow and red leaves streaming down, was a clear precursor to their subsequent work.

“I definitely think the urban trees activated that three-dimensional desire,” said Eva, who, with her tall, thin frame and full lips looks a little like Don Draper’s newest wife, Megan, on Mad Men.

Plus, Michael, who was sick of showing up to art shows that didn’t have the right lighting or wall space, had already begun incorporating built-in light and wall stands for his paintings.

Eva and Michael needed to set a goal in order to jumpstart their transition to sculpting. When you’re a young, hip artist who’d rather hang up your brushes for good than paint watercolors of seagulls, there’s a lot to make fun of at the big, annual Mission Federal ArtWalk in Little Italy. But they decided not to scorn it until they tried it, and they settled on applying for a booth. It gave them a deadline and a space that would need to be filled with new work.

The pair got rejected the first time around but was accepted on appeal. The number crunching began. Given the high cost of materials and new tools and the renovation of their workshop, they needed more money. Like many artists looking for cash these days, they turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

They’d met their goal of $5,484 by March 31 and surpassed it by the time the campaign closed the next day.

“We got really good feedback from people we didn’t even know,” Eva said. “That was encouraging.”

The space that the couple renovated as their workshop is small but just right for the job. A mix of old and new tools hangs on the pegboard wall alongside machines and other equipment. A small window looks out over their backyard—a lush, somewhat overgrown plot of land that looks like a scene from The Secret Garden. As birds swooped in to feed on the birdseed hanging from a large tree in the middle of the yard and a fat chipmunk took advantage of anything that spilled below, it was easy to see how Eva and Michael hit upon the industry-meets-nature theme of their work. Even their house, a weathered-but-strong, cottage-style home built in 1911, is the perfect backdrop for their creations.

“We wanted something that has this American handmade quality that will last through time,” Michael said.

The work that the pair has completed so far simultaneously recalls the past and reaches toward the future. They have a knack for spotting interesting, beautiful textures in the objects they find and combining them in balanced and striking compositions.

At ArtWalk—which is happening in the heart of Little Italy from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29—Eva and Michael will be in Booths 151 and 153 (on Beech Street just west of India), showing their new work to the public for the first time. If things go well, they’ll continue in the direction they’re going, or perhaps they’ll branch off to something new. One thing is certain: They’ll do whatever they end up doing side-by-side.

“I know it’s rare, but we just want to do things together,” Michael said. “I think there’s more of an impossibility of us not to work together. We both just operate this way.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat on April 25, 2012. Follow Kinsee on FacebookTwitter or shoot her an email. 

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