Moth Belly Gallery co-owner John Vochatzer refuses to surrender San Francisco to its late technocratic occupants.
In spite of the influx of giants like Salesforce and Twitter, Vochatzer – who for nearly two decades has worked in the Tenderloin as a multidisciplinary artist, exhibiting paintings and creating street art under the name Calamity Fair – rejects the idea that San Francisco has been reduced to a tech town.
“I can identify, but at the same time it doesn’t paint a full picture,” he says. “It’s a little bit insulting to the people like me who are still putting in the work to make [San Francisco] a vibrant and creative city.”
In October 2021, Vochatzer opened Moth Belly Gallery at 912 Larkin St. with KT Seibert, a friend and muralist who exhibits work under the name Seibot. Since then, the gallery has hosted monthly exhibits spotlighting a broad range of artists.
More recently, Vochatzer launched Moth Belly Media, a series of studio visits and interviews with an eclectic variety of artists from the Bay Area and beyond. The series culminated in Moth Belly Magazine, a quarterly publication partially inspired by Vochatzer’s longtime admiration for art magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose. The first issue is available upon request.
In order to fund such ventures, Moth Belly is hosting an online fundraiser auction through Saturday, accompanied by a live exhibit in the gallery. Some 125 works by more than 60 artists are for sale. Participating artists will receive 50% of the proceeds; remaining revenue will be used to maintain the volunteer-run, nonprofit operation.
Describing the exhibit/sale, Vochatzer says, “There are artists I like, artists who are engaged and active in our community, and then always a little bit of curation.”
Vochatzer is drawn to what’s strange, championing artists who might be dismissed as too unconventional for mainstream gallery exhibition.
“Surrealism has always been my own foundation as an artist, but I’ve been gravitating a lot more towards Art Brut and Outsider Arts, arts that are divorced from mainstream art consumption and made by artists who usually don’t have much knowledge of art history, per se, or don’t know much about what’s going on in the contemporary art world,” he says.
Although Vochatzer and Seibert prioritize local artists for exhibition, they’re not setting rigid limits.
“I don’t think maintaining a strictly local rule for exhibits is necessarily healthy for a gallery,” Vochatzer says. “It creates stagnation. Bringing in new artists helps create dynamic, creative ecosystems and that’s something I want to bear in mind.”
Going forward, Vochatzer hopes to expand Moth Belly’s programming. Punk shows, zine release parties and open mic nights are among events the gallery may host in 2023.
“The sky’s the limit for sure,” he says.
In addition to running the gallery, Seibert and Vochatzer manage First Thursday Art Walks in the Tenderloin and Lower Polk. On the first Thursday of each month, all participating neighborhood galleries open their doors to the public from 6 to 10 p.m.
Although turnout has suffered post-pandemic, Vochatzer is enthusiastic about increasing momentum.
“San Francisco’s got a lot of problems, and that’s undeniable,” Vochatzer admits. “But it’s still a great city for skateboarding, tattoos, lowbrow art and graffiti. There’s a lot of great subcultures and creative outlets in the city that haven’t gone anywhere, and they’re not going anywhere.”
Moth Belly Gallery hosts a closing reception for the auction from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 26.