PROJECT ARTUAD – A Nostalgic Photojournalist Impression

An incredible opportunity appeared almost as a pre-destined salvation. I was invited to participate in the creation of any artists dream. I banded with seventeen other artists to lease a huge warehouse in the upper Mission district of San Francisco. It was formerly The American Can Company. It took up an entire city square block. We called this PROJECT ARTAUD in tribute to the French Surrealist poet Antonin Artaud.

Empty Artaud

I was in 1971, one of the very first 17 members that started Project Artaud under the guidance of Joe Krysiak. In fact I was the only one sleeping there in my studio for the first three weeks of its existence as a co-op. Because of this and the fact that I was a photography major at The SF Art Institute, I built a darkroom inside of the vault on the first floor.

Friends Anderea Tensor and friend (above), and Adal Maldonado (below).

I convinced fellow photography students at the San Francisco Art Institute, Michael Newman and Adal Moldanado to move in with us. And a dear lady friend from Richmond Virginia, Andrea Tensor tagged along. We all carved out a niche within the building and began a collaboration that transcended art. We learned about life in a business world. Something we didn't get in art school. At 6 1/2 cents a square foot how could we go wrong?

Michael Newman picked an open space on the second floor and proceeded to build curved walls to outline the perimeters of his studio space. I opted for an already enclosed area with four walls and a real door. It was small but all I needed at present, and it was more secure. He and I have remained friends to this day.

Adal was from Puerto Rico via New York. His photography was more manipulated than mine. He actually cut and pasted various images together to create extremely dark and surreal images. I preferred to find my surrealism in a more organic manner, as it appeared with societal structures. Nevertheless Adal and I were inseparable for a few years and have reconnected recently via Facebook… what else eh! We even shared a darkroom together that we built in the abandoned walk-in safe adjacent to the office area at Project Artaud. It didn’t have plumbing so we had to carry our unwashed prints to one of the bathrooms where we set up a washing siphon system.

Steamcleaning windows

I managed to record photographically much of what was happening in the transformation from American Can Company into what it became. I documented the entire process starting with the empty warehouse, then the sand blasting, and the floor being installed. And even the public officials (the suits) inspecting the big hall. A few good shots of Joe Krysiak, our mentor came from my efforts. A wonderful woman, Dyverka Spino was instrumental in my work by offering to pay some expenses as I continued to photograph. There are numerous images of her working with a group of singers that really are very nostalgic.

Dyverka Spino with singers and Michael (above), daughter (below)

We collectively laid the floor in the big theater space. Set up concerts with local musicians and some big name talent as well. Held the first poetry readings with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Yevgeny Yevtushenko who came from Russia for the event. I shot the building of the two story house and installation parties.Some of the images are sort of a snap shot record while others have some artistic merit. Technology wasn’t up to today’s standards.

Work images

The bulk of the images are Black and white. I believe it’s a worthwhile endeavor on this 40-year anniversary to present the best of the best to the public.

Early building schools - Wooden houses and fero cement boats

In the fall of my third semester, after having already been awarded a full scholarship, the Art Institute graduation committee decided I was beyond the requirements of that college and awarded me an early graduation. It was an honor and opened another opportunity, a chance to continue my path of photojournalism abroad. I'd managed to arrange most of my voyage on the money I’d saved from my final years college loan.

Italy pictures

Therefore, I locked up my studio in Jan 1972 and flew to Italy for a six-month tour of Europe to begin my career where I began my life. It was to become a soul-searching journey, a reunion with my roots and to relearn my first language. It became apparent that my images contained a nostalgic quality and those environmental portraits were the center of my expression. The story of my journey is much too long to retell here. Suffice it to say that I learned many valuable lessons. I was torn about coming back to San Francisco, but I felt at the time that I would be able to continue my studio work at Artaud at a lower overhead.

Return to Artaud

A week after my return to my little studio in Artaud I was invited to a party. When I returned late that night, I discovered someone had broken in through my door and stolen everything of value. My stereo and leather coats and worst of all my Halliburton case containing my Nikon camera collection (2 bodies, a motor drive and 4 lenses) and my box of all the best negatives to date, including everything I’d shot in Europe as well as all the Artaud images. I was devastated. I called the police and they came to make out a report. I placed $50 reward ads (for the return of the box of negatives, no questions asked), in local Laundromats, public bulletin boards and news flyers.

Three painful weeks went by and finally one afternoon I received a phone call from a young man saying he had my box of negatives. He wanted to meet. So I suggested a street corner a block from Artaud. A half hour later I was standing on that corner when an orange jacked-up Dodge Charger approached with two young black men in the front seat. As the car pulled closer to the curb the rear window came down and there was a white boy in the back seat with my green Dupont box on his lap. He slipped it open revealing the negative sheets inside. I said that on this short notice the best I could do was to write him a check. He was pissed and shouted, “What am I going to do with that!” I said my bank was up on Market Street and he could walk in and cash it anytime. “You have ID don’t you.” He was stoned and foolish. He pulled his wallet up and showed me his CA Drivers License. I copied his name down on the check I was writing and handed it to him. I was stalling best I could, hoping my personal sting operation would work out. Before I’d left the studio I called the police detective’s bureau and left word of our meeting place and time, instructing them to come in and arrest us all.

Unfortunately the Detectives didn’t get there. I was back in my studio examining my negatives when they arrived for my statement. I told them they were wasting time as the thief was probably on his way to my bank. They rushed off.

The next afternoon I received word from the police Department that the detectives again were just a touch too late at the bank, but because the teller who cashed the check knew me and about the reward, she was very careful with taking down all the license information. The police then traced the criminal through the DMV record of 7 address changes and broke in his door a 7AM where he was living with a girlfriend in the projects.

Eventually the 19 year-old junkie admitted to the robbery but only accounted for the suitcase of cameras. He didn’t rat on his accomplices about the rest of the goods.

By this time, because I felt unsafe and violated, I decided to move out of Artaud. I would miss my friends and associates. I still often wonder what it might have been like to have stayed. I have always felt very proud of being one of the founding fathers, so to speak.

Out of the Hood 

I left Mill Valley in 1979 after ten years of pursuing photography in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was in LA for 30 years. As you can see by my website I had a Hollyweird film career. Somewhat successful, but the cost of living takes that away fast. However, with the economic downturn, two years ago, my life partner and I moved to Blacksburg VA to administer to my inherited family home. We’ve been remodeling and plan to sell it one day. Perhaps move to Charlottesville VA, or to Europe, where we have a big summer home in a Greek beach village, that my partner’s family built.

First Artaud mural

I am so pleased that the project has endured for four decades. It is such a marvelous tribute to the spirit of artists who persevered and that it remains today an example others emulate and aspire to. I have always felt very proud of being one of the founding fathers.  

Please take a look at my work that spans four decades.

Ciaó,  Marino



Artists at Artaud Homepage Art Artists HIstory

Marino Colmano


"If one is to succeed in anything, the success must come gently, with a great deal of effort but with no stress or obsession."
...don Juan in Castaneda's book TALES OF POWER

While much of the hippie era philosophy was already retreating into eventual obscurity for me, this mantra for a budding artist struck a cord.

Opportunities were like drops of snow. Most of them melted as they hit the ground. But occasionally one would stick and another one would build upon it and so on. I wanted my unhappiness with the condition of the world to leave. I wanted peace and ease of living. I needed new inspiration and motivation. It arrived in a most unusual manner.

Marino behind the lens

I am so pleased that the project has endured for four decades. It is such a marvelous tribute to the spirit of artists who persevered and that it remains today an example others emulate and aspire to. I have always felt very proud of being one of the founding fathers.  

Please take a look at my work that spans four decades to see what I have been up to.

Ciaó,  Marino