Sisko and his kids

Back together as a family, they have high hopes for their Drive-by Gallery

FAMILY MATTERS <br>The kids are back in town, so Chico artists David “Sisko” Sisk, left, daughter Onnah and son Jeb want to mount as many as 10 shows in their 24 Hr. Drive-by Gallery next season.

The kids are back in town, so Chico artists David “Sisko” Sisk, left, daughter Onnah and son Jeb want to mount as many as 10 shows in their 24 Hr. Drive-by Gallery next season.

Photo By Tom Angel

The members of Chico’s artistic Sisk family are travelers, but they always come back to Chico. They’re deeply rooted here.

On many occasions, David Sisk says, he’s stood outside the 1078 Gallery on Fifth Street, while an art reception was taking place inside, and pointed to the two-story frat house across the street, telling his listener, “That’s where my grandmother was born, in 1877.”

“I’m a fourth-generation Chicoan,” says his daughter Onnah proudly, confident that not many people can say that.

David and his wife Beth have two grown kids, Onnah and her older brother Jeb. Both grew up in Chico, and both left for several years but have recently returned. These days all four Sisks are living on the family’s nine-acre parcel in Butte Creek Canyon. Jeb is building his own house there, but Onnah plans to move to town eventually.

Meanwhile, David, Jeb and Onnah all have studios in the East Seventh Street building, next to Cruces Classic Cars, that houses the 24 Hr. Drive-by Gallery, and all three are working, along with fellow resident artists Titus Woods and David Scott, on building the gallery into a rich showcase of local art.

“We’re redefining family,” David says. They’re defying a presumption of American culture, that offspring will leave the nest at a certain age, fly to the four corners and never return, in favor of new paradigm, he explains. Not only are they living together, they’re also working together, and all seem happy with the arrangement.

David “Sisko” Sisk’s work is familiar to many Chicoans, largely because of the numerous whimsical, ironic billboards he’s painted over the years. He’s worked as a billboard painter since 1978, a job that’s enabled him to fill unused boards with his own creations, which often resemble large, humorous, message-laden greeting cards.

He’s an eclectic artist who works in a variety of media—wall pieces, sculpture, furniture, whatever strikes his fancy—and styles, including a highly recognizable, almost iconic cartoon style that derives from R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton as much as anything else. In some of his works, he says, he’s also made use of styles and images he got from his father’s sketchbook dating from the 1930s and ‘40s. His most recent show, Window Dressing, was held in March at the Humanities Center Gallery at Chico State University.

Jeb and Onnah are also artists. Onnah paints colorful, sometimes erotically charged figure studies, often of women, and Jeb works in several media, especially sculpture and whimsical but functional furniture. (You can see examples of their work and that of other artists associated with the Drive-by Gallery, as well as selections from recent exhibits, on the excellent Web site, designed by Woods.)

At its beginning a dozen years ago, the Drive-by Gallery’s name was chosen because none of the resident artists wanted the responsibility of minding it, so they figured they’d just encourage people to look in the big windows in the front. That laissez-faire approach carried over into the exhibits, which happened only when someone was inspired to mount one.

Jeb and Onnah want to change all that. Since returning to Chico, they’ve mounted two solid themed shows, one featuring erotic art and the current Sleeves, which features 24 works by 24 artists done using the medium, or material, of shirts. It’s a fun show, unpretentious and filled with charming pieces, including works by all four Sisks, and the opening-night reception last Friday, with its dunk tank outside in the parking lot, was a typical Drive-by Gallery party event.

The Sisks says they want to do about 10 shows next season, beginning in the fall. They’ve got a few lined up but are accepting submissions (call 343-0202). "It’s been fun working together," Onnah says of her family. "I think we work well together."