Initially, 50 days may seem like plenty of time to complete a project. But when that seemingly generous span of days involves creating 50 original pieces of art — each of which, size-wise, must be limited to 6 inches by 6 inches and all of which must comply with a particular theme — well, the pressure’s on.

For 13 years, the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica has organized the popular “50|50 Show” featuring California-based artists. Those interested in participating in the annual show are required to submit samples of their work as well as very brief descriptions of their intended themes for their “50|50” pieces. “That can be challenging — having to hone in on a theme in 10 or fewer words,” notes Sanchez Art Center’s executive director Cindy Abbott.

This year, 53 artists were selected to participate in the show, and their endeavor to create numerous works of relatively small art is well underway — the start date was June 28, and Day 50 is Aug. 15.

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“I think what’s always exciting is this 6″ by 6″ format,” Abbott says. “Everybody’s basically beginning from the same place, and seeing the creative ways that everybody handles that challenge is really amazing.”

Participating in “50|50” has meant significant artistic downsizing for San Francisco resident Marius Starkey, who “made the cut” as one of the 2021 “50|50 Show” artists. Starkey, a painter, had been struggling to find places to show his work in the past year and a half, as many art galleries have been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s his first time participating in this show, and though completing 50 small pieces in 50 days is certainly a challenge, he’s embraced it and is appreciative of the experience.

“I usually do huge paintings, 180 inches wide and 60 inches tall, so it’s given me a chance to do something I’ve never done,” Starkey says. “It’s an opportunity to expand what I do.”

Marius Starkey built a board in his San Francisco studio so he can look at his portraits and make decisions about their order, the ones he wants to work on further and which, out of the 60 he plans to create, he will deem the “final 50” worthy of the “50|50 Show” at Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica. (J.L. Odom/Bay City News)

Though the “50|50 Show” artists must adhere to the 6-inch-by-6-inch size restriction, they are allowed to create any type of art. And there is typically a wide variety, including three-dimensional work like glassware, pottery and ceramics as well as fabric pieces, acrylic paintings, collage and cyanotype photography.

For the show, Starkey decided to focus on portraiture with the theme of people coming out of the pandemic and their emotional reactions to having lived through it.

Pointing to the small portraits with his paintbrush, Starkey says, “They all have stories. Everybody here, I can tell you about them, about how they’ve affected my life or about their lives.”

Though the artists participating in the “50|50 Show” have to follow the guidelines, such as adhering to the 6-inch-by-6-inch size per piece, their mediums and themes vary. Oakland artist Andrea Ciak has shown pâte de verre glass pieces in multiple “50|50″ exhibitions, and will do so again this year. (Photo courtesy Cindy Abbott/Sanchez Art Center)

He says he’s also showcasing different styles of painting — abstract, impressionism, expressionism — that reflect the individual personalities of those sitting for the portraits in his studio.

Starkey and the other selected “50|50 Show” artists spending the summer producing pieces are aware of the need to complete their work by the given deadline. But they are free to have their own processes in that regard, which often depend on their mediums.

Abbott explains that the Sanchez Art Center doesn’t check in on the artists as they work — it’s up to them to stay on task and finish their projects.

A visitor reads South Bay artist Joie McClements‘ statement on her 50 floral paintings at the 2018 “50|50 Show.” For the upcoming 2021 “50|50” exhibition, the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica will apply several COVID-19 safety protocols, which were in place at last year’s show, such as additional spacing between the artists’ installations, a cap on the number of people in the center and a time limit for visitors to explore the galleries. (Photo courtesy Janet Barker)

“Sometimes we hear folks say that they get to their 30th or so piece and they just kind of hit a wall,” she says. “But they keep pressing on, because they’ve got this timeline and they’ve made this commitment. And we completely understand that everybody’s got to work a little bit differently.”

As someone who’s not a fan of deadlines, Starkey has aimed to stay ahead of the game, having already produced more than 30 pieces in 20 or so days. His goal is to create 60 pieces total and to then evaluate them — making further adjustments to certain pieces.

“There are some things I want to do to them to make them better paintings,” he explains. “And that’s just me being an artist trying to do the best I can with what I’m doing.”

San Francisco artist Marius Starkey’s main studio is in the Hunters Point Shipyard. However, because of the pandemic and for the sake of convenience, Starkey has been working on his paintings for the “50|50 Show” at Sanchez Art Center in his garage studio in the Mission Dolores neighborhood. (J.L. Odom/Bay City News)

From there, he’ll select the final 50 for the show and decide the order in which he wants them to appear on the seven-by-seven grid (seven across and seven down, with one piece on the right side).

And at the “50|50 Show” in September, Starkey’s and the other artists’ production processes, self-discipline, efforts and talents will be presented to the public in the form of these seven-by-seven installations, each unique and inspiring.

As Abbott says, “It’s just always really incredible to see how everybody pulls through on such a challenging task.”

Located in Pacifica, the Sanchez Art Center is a repurposed elementary school, with ample space in former school hallways and classrooms for a show like “50|50.” (Photo courtesy Janet Barker)

* The “50|50 Show’s” opening fundraiser will be held Sept. 10 and 11, with a ticketed time entry (1 hour and 45 minute intervals). Tickets, $35, will be available via Eventbrite in August. The show will be open to the general public 1-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays starting Sept. 12 and running through Oct. 10 at Sanchez Art Center, 1220-B Linda Mar, Pacifica. For more information call (650) 355-1894 or visit