In the recent past, it seems the Bay Area has seen more tech company startups than new gallery openings, but one creative entity has not only been swimming against the tide—it has expanded in a neighborhood saturated with deep-pocketed technology outfits.
“Isn’t it ironic?” says Matt Reynoso, who with his wife, Lena Verderano Reynoso, founded the arts complex known as the Compound Gallery in Oakland in 2008. “We’ve had landlords refuse to rent to us because they wanted to lease to tech companies, and now some of those buildings are sitting empty. Whereas we’re going to be doing this for the rest of our lives.”
Both practicing artists, the Reynosos recently moved their operation to Emeryville, where they oversee a 17,000-square-foot hub of creativity and community engagement. With a gallery, retail store, print shop and 27 studios for artists—plus a rotating roster of technique-based workshops—the Compound Gallery is a thriving and symbiotic arts ecosystem. “We think we’ve survived, in part, because we’re driven to create something bigger than ourselves,” Lena says.
The print shop, furnished with lovingly refurbished letterpresses and a repository of vintage wood and metal type, is open to artists around the clock. A few feet away, the gallery hosts art exhibitions primarily curated by the Reynosos, who champion work with a particular ethos: “We look for art that resonates with humor and humanity and reflects the hand of the artist—be it a brushstroke, chisel mark or textured paint,” Matt elaborates. A recent show, “Brushed,” showcased inventive pieces by some 50 artists who were asked to respond to a single quotidian object—the paintbrush.
Adjacent to the gallery is the resolutely non-elitist art shop, featuring prints, works on paper, paintings and sculptures that range from inexpensive to more costly. One building over, the airy artist studios are equipped with kilns, 3D printers, sewing machines, woodworking tools, photography gear, a laser cutter and more, amidst common areas and a reference library. “In essence, we’ve tried to create a whole little art school—minus the school,” Matt explains.
A neon sign on one of the studio’s walls urges viewers to “Do What You Love,” while a letter-pressed poster proclaims: “Proceed and be Bold.” For Matt and Lena—who have weathered landlord issues, real estate booms and busts, and a pandemic—these are more than decorative mottoes—they are a design for living.