The first week of May was all about growth in San Francisco’s still-expanding downtown art district. There, on the City’s first great no rain/warm weather weekend of the year, what’s clear was that spring had sprung, and if there was less pavement you’d see the green shoots had shot. The new season brought a new gallery, Spoke Art, an artist new to the US in Rodrigo Luff, and in Luff’s “Moleskine Project” a chronicle of the artist’s growth over the previous year.

First is the gallery itself, a permanent space from Spoke Art impresario Ken Harman. After a string of successful events (read that one as “lines around the block”) hosted in borrowed spaces in SF and NYC, Spoke now has a place of their own. The established crowd may remember the room as the former home to HUF skateboards, the younger art-school crowd will come to know it as “that cool place near my dorm,” and the art critic-slash-serious buyer crowd has already placed the space on their radar – there were a few tucked-in shirts and expensive blazers mingling amongst the Academy kids and gallery regulars at Spoke. No matter where you fit in, it seems, Spoke Art’s recent track record and exciting slate of things to come have made them a welcome addition to the scene.

Then there’s the artist himself, Rod Luff, making his first appearance in SF and only his second in the US. The young El Salvadoran-cum-Australian spent the previous year working to fill an entire moleskine notebook in a mix of pencil and oils. Still a year or two short of 25, Rod shows in his work a maturity of subject and technique rarely grasped – too rarely sought, maybe – by artists at his age. The framed pages from the notebook run the gamut of possibilities, from the vibrant immediacy of pieces like Feeding Birds Study or Skip to the classicist portraiture of Rouge, through to the Impressionist nature of works like Frost and the almost Victorian staging of Red Room Study and Trickster. The pieces radiate with light, and Rod can move freely from a delicate intimacy into violent outburst. As a bonus for lucky buyers, Spoke had the work framed with glass on both sides: Rod filled the entire moleskine after all, so each piece has work en recto and en verso (“on the front” and “on the back” for those of you in the cheap seats).

Luff was forced to work fast and work often to fill the moleskine, and the pressures of completing the project explain the varied nature of the output. The illustrative nature of Rod’s work makes it easy to see yourself in the artist’s place, traveling the world, finding widely disparate influences…it’s almost voyeurism to see how Rod has stolen the lives of strangers for his sketchbook. If there was a constant theme to the commentary in the gallery that night it was that eyes were opened to a potential next-big-thing. “This guy’s going to kill it in five years” was the kind of statement bouncing off the gallery walls, and it wasn’t a comment on the limitations of working notebook-sized but rather an eagerness to see Rod move off the page and onto larger sheets or canvases. Luff is clearly fluent in any number of visual languages, and it will be exciting to see him master a few in the future.

So it might have taken until May for San Francisco to rid itself of the rain this year, and it took a while for Rod Luff to cross our radar, and we’d been waiting for Ken Harman to set up his own shop, but if the winter left us cold then the spring has brought the thaw. And what’s the warm weather for but the promise of a new day.

– Story and Photos by Chris McCreary for Warholian

For more on Spoke Art’s new Gallery visit:

For more on the art of Rod Luff visit: