Jamil Hellu’s tiny details, big impact

Jamie Hellu’s “Kissing.”

Jamie Hellu’s “Kissing.”

Photo courtesy of Jamil Hellu

Jamil Hellu takes a lot of pictures of his partner—naked, in the shower; on the toilet; wearing a coonskin hat in front of Mount Rushmore. This photographic series, on display right now at Jon Stevenson Gallery in Midtown, is intimate, but it’s not erotic. And intentionally so.

Hellu, who was born in Brazil and has been a San Francisco resident for 20 years, said in 2005 he read an article about two 18-year-old men in Iran, charged with being homosexual, that were blindfolded and publicly hung.

“It affected me tremendously,” Hellu said, and spurred him to “portray homosexuality in a more intimate way; how two men live together without being overtly sexual.” Enter Darrin, with whom Hellu has been for nearly 10 years, and photographing for just as long.

Hellu calls himself a constant observer, and he spots tiny details, like a phone hung askew on a bright orange wall, and creates narratives around quiet, passing moments, even though the series was a reaction to a shocking one.

“For me, it’s about my personal story … from my gay perspective,” he said. Where there is a lack of nonsexual imagery of homosexuality in the arts, Hellu aims to represent the tender and mundane side of togetherness, which may have different players as heterosexual coupledom, but shows it’s the same game—love and companionship.

In the gallery, the bulk of Hellu’s photographs are in a four-by-four grid. He also shares wall space with another artist, David King, whose work is very different than Hellu’s, but they complement each other well. King, currently of Grass Valley and formerly of San Francisco, uses vintage magazines and catalogs to carve out thousands of tiny rings, circles and rectangles to carefully arrange into abstract, geometric or amorphous forms—it’s the original cut-and-paste method. His cutouts are little cells, building blocks of the bigger picture, and it’s no coincidence that his collages are reminiscent of the view through a microscope or telescope—his first glance through a microscope in elementary school “shocked and amazed” him and still informs his work all these years later. His largest pieces in the show are 3 feet by 3 feet, and are remarkable for the sheer number of circles and rectangles he cut and their overall effect. It’s pointillism with paper. The show includes a few dozen mixed-media drawings, too, with science-fiction-esque geometric images superimposed on landscape photos from an old magazines, and others looking like science-book illustrations of atom formations, if they were made with coffee stains. King’s next series is also inspired by nature: Moths he encountered while hiking in New Zealand.

The show is up through Saturday, July 30, at Jon Stevenson Gallery (2020 I Street), and Hellu’s work is also currently at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley (1060 Heinz Avenue, www.kala.org) and in September he’ll exhibit a solo show at Thacher Gallery in the University of San Francisco (2130 Fulton Street, www.usfca.edu/thacher-gallery).