Nail Art Meets Fine Art at San Francisco's 24k Gallery

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The nail art craze officially has reached its zenith. At 24k Studios, a new studio-cum-gallery space in San Francisco’s Outer Mission district, the creative manicure trend has been elevated to high art—literally. The studio showcased collaborations between fine jewelers and nail artists, resulting in a completely unique exhibition that blends street art and studio design like you’ve never seen it before.

The exhibit, cleverly titled Hand Jobs, is mounted in the studio’s cozy blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 24th Street space. It features fully decorated nail tips (similar to the ones a salon will bring you to showcase colors and designs) and accompanying jewelry.

Nail artists were paired with jewelers and asked to design either nail tips or rings to match an existing nail tip or ring, depending on the creator. “It’s interesting to see how differently they all interpreted that. Some of them are very literal and some of them are just vaguely inspired,” said Elizabeth Woll, a fine jewelry artist and co-curator of the exhibit. “There’s a fantastic range of materials used by both the jewelers and the nail artists: seashells on nails, one of the rings has moss, there’s plastic, silver,” says Elizabeth. “The jewelers and the nail artists are in totally separate worlds, but we have a lot in common. Nail art is three dimensional now; it’s piercings, studs. The combination of rings and nails felt very natural.”

The nail art trend has taken off dramatically in the last couple of years, so this innovation couldn’t come at a better time. “A lot of articles have talked about the trend in conjunction with the recession—and it is sort of an easy way to represent yourself and to show your style,” said Hallie Scott, an art historian and co-curator of the show. “It’s exciting because it’s a world that’s connected by blogs and Instagram and a lot of the nail artists here haven’t met in person before, so it’s really nice having an event that brings them together.”

Elizabeth added that the current fashion zeitgeist is especially relevant for a visual art medium like Hand Jobs: “Tacky and over the top is in right now, so you wanna have your nails done, and it’s okay to wear more accessories.” This kind of ‘80s-era excess was repopularized in recent years by the likes of Lady Gaga and her pop star contemporaries, and it’s easy to see how the look filtered down into more wearable, street-ready trends like nail art.

The opening reception on January 25th brought together artists of both genres (local nail technicians Nail Jerks and Nail Swag even painted nails on-location!), as well as gallery circuit regulars and cosmetics professionals. Said Hallie, “We’re excited to be showing them as the art objects they are, and to be bringing in different types of people who wouldn’t necessarily know about nail art but are familiar with the gallery scene.”  

The exhibit is a fascinating example of what happens when two distinct art forms collide. As Hallie concluded, “We’re really excited about the way these two worlds have inspired each other, that’s what this show is all about.”

24k Gallery’s next show is called Coifs, Shocks, and Locks (they certainly have the awesome names down!). The exhibition will feature artist Lidija Ristic and hair stylist Shannon Kehoe. According to the press release: “Models adorned and styled by Kehoe will move through an environment created by Ristic, who uses human hair as a material in her sculptures and posters.” The work will be available for viewing during the opening (April 12th, 8-11pm), and selected pieces will be displayed in the store-front windows facing 24th St. until May 19th.

We can’t wait to see what 24k comes up with next! Check them out on Facebook, or stop by in person at 2400 24th St. in San Francisco.

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