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Most locals familiar with the Camron-Stanford House will associate it with late-19th century stylings and decor. Built in 1871, it’s the last remaining of the original Victorian homes overlooking Lake Merritt. Since 1907, it’s been a museum dedicated to preserving the culture of its day.
The museum will present a different vision beginning Sunday, with the unveiling of a new exhibit, Town Landmarks: Abstract Oakland by Jorge Bejarano.
The exhibit showcases local artist Bejarano’s take on iconic places throughout Oakland—some old, some new—using his hybrid digital and paint techniques to create a technicolor version of the landmarks.
Bejarano, who goes by the artist name “Abstract Oakland,” was at Camron-Stanford House last Sunday, nervously greeting people as they walked through the doors to check out a preview of his exhibit.
“This is my first exhibit, and it’s such a vulnerable moment,” Bejarano said. “You put in so much time, effort, and ideas. And when you put up your artwork on display, it’s a scary moment.”
Bejarano’s work has previously been featured at Crooked City Cider tap house in Jack London Square, and Ale Industries brewery in Fruitvale. The now-shuttered Movement Ink in the Laurel and the pop-up gallery Oakland Artist Collective also displayed his works.
He may be best known for his “Town Lotería”, released in the fall of 2020. The Mexican board game gained enough notoriety to be sold at the local retailer Oaklandish during the holidays. He was also one of several local artists featured in the STARZ show, Blindspotting.
The Bejarano exhibit is the museum’s first spotlight on a contemporary Oakland artist, and part of the new programming that’s being planned at the museum by Iliana Morton, who became Camron-Stanford House’s first executive director in March of 2021. In the past, the museum was run by volunteers. Morton previously served as the museum’s collections registrar and later as assistant director of collections and exhibits. With this new artist spotlight exhibit, Morton wants to help celebrate Oakland’s diversity and history.
Town Landmarks: Abstract Oakland by Jorge Bejarano pairs historical landmarks—some designated by the City of Oakland, like the Paramount Theatre and the Morcom Rose Garden—with other places that, while not officially designated, hold special meaning to Bejarano and others like him who grew up in and around Oakland. Old black and white photographs hang side by side with Bejarano’s technicolor interpretations of each landmark.
The exhibit asks: How do these landmarks make you feel when you think about them? What do they mean to you or to your community? For Bejarano, his painting of the Mormon Temple is his favorite from the collection.
“We grew up poor and couldn’t go to amusement parks, and all we had was the Mormon Temple,” he said. “Our parents couldn’t take us to Disneyland and would tell us that the Mormon Temple was the princess’s castle. A lot of people relate to that.”
When Morton took the job as executive director, she knew how important it was to ensure that the community saw itself represented inside the museum.
“In order to do that, I felt that we had to open up the house to our community in new ways. And that includes collaborating with other people and other groups in our area,” Morton said. “So this collaboration between Jorge and the house kind of came out of that.”
Morton, who was already a fan of Bejarano’s work, reached out to the artist through Instagram. The exhibits at Camron-Stanford House are historical in nature, and trying a different approach to celebrate local history was a chance that Morton wanted to take on.
“I’ve seen Jorge’s work for so long, and I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be so cool if he could come and sketch out this house?’ like he does with iconic Oakland images,” Morton said. “We connected over a mutual love of Oakland’s history and Oakland architecture. We had a shared vision for what we could do in terms of putting together art and history and how that might be fun for people.”
After a few meetings to chat about the vision for the exhibit, Bejarano got to work in early December.
While Bejarano typically creates a piece then gives it a name, he did it in reverse for this project. Bejarano said that Pink Floyd is one of his favorite artists, and he decided to play the English rock band’s entire discography to get inspired.
“I started with the Tribune Tower and listened to the song Time, playing it on repeat sometimes. I’d sketch listening to the songs,” he said. “Listening to that particular song helped me create what you now see,” he said, noting that at the time it was built in the 1920s, the tower was “the tallest building in Oakland.”
Bejarano worked on perfecting each piece until the day he hung them up on the museum’s walls, the week before the special preview opened.
“Every day, we were figuring out how we wanted people to walk around the exhibit. What we wanted to show in the main room, and in the other room. It was definitely a process,” he said. “I’m grateful that Iliana took charge in setting that whole place up.”
Visitors can also play Bejarano’s Town Lotería game at the exhibition, and some are bound to ask how they can purchase a game of their own. Bejarano said he prefers to not revisit past artwork and doesn’t plan on making another batch of this particular version. He is, however, working on two new Town Lotería games: a kid-friendly version and one that will depict images evoking the experience of growing up in Oakland. “I want to highlight real moments, the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he said. He plans to roll out the two new versions of the game in the fall.
Morton hopes that Town Landmarks is the beginning of more inclusive programming at the museum that can be ongoing.
“In the past, all of our programs have been fully in-house, working with historians, with history students, and they’ve all been very academic,” she said. “This one, it required me to convince the board to take the chance.”
Feedback has been positive so far, something she hopes will encourage the museum’s board members to support similar exhibits in the future.
“I’m hoping that people just walk away feeling connected to the city, feeling a sense of pride for the city and the people in it,” she said. “People like Jorge are the people that make up Oakland.”
Town Landmarks: Abstract Oakland by Jorge Bejarano opens on Sunday, Jan. 30 (every Sunday until May 1), 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., $5 (free for members), Camron-Stanford House, 1418 Lakeside Dr. Camron-Stanford House is also offering a virtual viewing for those not ready to visit an exhibit in person.