Learn A Little Geometry With This San Francisco Artist’s Works


Howard Hersh in his studio

Artist Howard Hersh calls his studio his second home.

Nearly every weekday for the past 17 years, San Francisco artist Howard Hersh has reported for work at his studio in Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a decommissioned military site. For Hersh, 75, the simple act of showing up ensures that his work evolves in exciting ways. “This space is a second home to me,” he says. Turning to tortoise-and-hare metaphors, he notes: “I’m the slow-and- steady type. There are always two or three pieces going at once, but it’s not work. It’s my life—art is what I do.”

As a child in Los Angeles, Hersh loved building wooden models, and he dabbled in art and architecture in college. Although the lure of the back-to-the-land movement drew him to farming for a decade, he eventually returned to his artistic roots full time, and his interest in architecture began to express itself in his work.

finished pieces hang in artist Howard Hersh's studio

A number of finished pieces hang on the walls of his studio.

Howard Hersh troweling paint on a framework

Hersch uses a trowel to layer paint onto a framework he built.

metal rack with keys

An artifact from his parents’ travels adorns the space above his desk.

painted wood piece in shades of red

The resulting wall sculpture sees three dimensional.

Graph paper with diagrams on it

The artist maps out his work on paper first.

Today, he calls himself a maker as opposed to a painter. “I’ve never actually used a paintbrush in any of my pieces,” Hersh says, explaining that he applies paint with a trowel. The artist’s newest series, “Timelines,” is a collection of acrylic pieces on Baltic birch plywood that give the illusion of three-dimensionality, thanks to the use of clever angles and paint gradations. “When people see a photograph of the pieces, they swear they must be 3D. In person, you can see that they are flat,” Hersh says. “It’s best to think about my work as hybrids of sculpture and painting.”

The artist begins each piece by creating a schematic drawing, which he then scales up to the desired size before cutting a sheet of birch plywood down into the planned shape. After painting the surface, he crafts a basswood substructure for the piece that allows it to stand out from the wall. “Over the years, as I was working with grids and diagonal lines, the geometric compositions started to resemble structures,” he says. “This led me to incorporate wooden frameworks to the paintings, making them objects or sculpture.”

When asked if has any plans to eventually hang up the trowel, the artist’s answer is definitive: “My wife and I casually talk about retiring from our jobs, but it doesn’t seem practical to us. That’s the key to life: Stay engaged with what you love and keep going.”

Photos: Lauren Segal