Kennedy High teacher’s artworks set for de Young exhibition

Kennedy teacher’s art works set for de Young exhibition
Kennedy High Visual Arts Teacher Steve Mainini, photo courtesy of the school.

By Kathy Chouteau

A Richmond teacher is “on the edge” of fulfilling his lifelong dream. Steve Mainini, who has worked as a visual arts teacher at Kennedy High for 16 years, was notified last week that two of his art works will be featured in a de Young museum exhibition.

Mainini’s works were selected from a pool of 11,500 overall submissions; he will join more than 700 fellow Bay Area artists as part of the “de Young Open” show, per the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Mainini had answered the museum’s call for submissions from artists from the nine Bay Area counties for the juried art exhibition with the theme, “On the Edge.”

The exhibition is part of the de Young museum’s 125th anniversary celebration and will be on view in its Herbst Exhibition Galleries, according to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Given that the de Young is currently closed due to the pandemic, Mainini said exhibition dates have not yet been announced; he expects the show to also be featured online when the time comes. The art will be displayed “salon style” in groups on the gallery walls, per Mainini.

Mainini’s two pieces in the show are part of his “Virtual Reality” series. “The series is really investigating how a computer sees and digests information through pixels…I focused on how a computer sees vs. how we see and then combined the two,” he said.

“Wonderland for Ava” on left. “Homage to Michelangelo” on right. Artworks by Steve Mainini.

Both of his works are pastel drawings on Lenox 100 paper. The first work, “Wonderland for Ava,” is 4 ft. x 4 ft. and is based off Alice in Wonderland using his daughter as a substitute. Mainini’s second de Young piece, “Homage to Michelangelo,” is 18” x 18,” was “highly technical and laborious” to create and “speaks for itself,” he said.

Ever the teacher, Mainini created his works in his classroom at Kennedy and used them to teach his visual arts students—beginning, advanced and AP—over the past three school years.

“It was a great opportunity for me to do the work, but also to use it as a teaching tool with the students. As they’re working on their work, they can see what I’m doing and learn from what I’m doing,” he said of the process.

“If they see you working on it at times, it might inspire somebody to maybe try something that they weren’t comfortable with…So it opens a lot of doors.”

Although school is on summer break, Mainini—a Benicia resident and Chico State alumnus—has been able to share his art and recent good news with students and others via his Instagram account @stevelmainini.

Steve Mainini and students at Kennedy High. (Photo by Kathy Chouteau)

So how does it make Mainini feel to have his works set for exhibition at the de Young? “It’s quite the honor,” he said. “Being able to know that my work is going to be on the walls of the de Young museum is, it’s unbelievable. That’s one of the things that I’ve always dreamt about.”

“I’ve wanted to be an artist, since I was four,” he added. “And I’ve been to museums I can’t even tell you how many museums I’ve been to or how many times, but every time I leave I think ‘you know, one day, I’m gonna have my work on a museum’s wall.’ And to know that it’s happening, it’s a great feeling to be able to check that off my bucket list.”

According to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, artists exhibiting work as part of the de Young Open will be able to offer their pieces for sale and to retain 100 percent of the proceeds. 

“This innovative exhibition will provide a unique opportunity for our visitors to view the extraordinary breadth and depth of art created in the Bay Area,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, distinguished senior curator and curator-in-charge of American Art with the Fine Arts organization.

Learn more about the de Young Open exhibition here.