“If the Sky Is This Blue…” on display at Glama-Rama.

Since its founding in 1995, Glama-Rama has made supporting local artists part of its business mission. As Johnny Kat, Glama-Rama’s office manager and curator, aptly pointed out, a salon is a fitting place for an art installation.

“For one,”  said Kat, “you have a captive audience.” 

At a salon best known for the “vintage up-do,”  the new art installation, Imagine Val Travel, likewise befits the milieu.

“I didn’t want to just put up a bunch of art,”  artist Tofu said, explaining the inspiration behind his new collection. “I wanted to do something more with it. When working in a non-traditional space, not just a gallery or museum, I love the idea of coming up with something that reflects and interacts with the space.” 

Glama-Rama moved into its current location at Valencia Street & 14th Street in the Mission in 2010, and Tofu began by imagining what might have been there previously.

A salon and a travel agency are both places where one would go to indulge in glamor, Tofu explained: “Travel agencies have all but disappeared. The way we plan our trips is changing now. [Through] travel-based art, you can imagine what used to be there, when travel used to be glamorous, and everything was special when you took a trip. It’s all about fantasy and dreams, and creating a different reality for yourself.”

So Tofu, who is best known for his artwork using maps, developed various mixed media pieces drawing inspiration, as well as materials, from what is quickly becoming a distant place in time as travel goes digital. Maps, postcards, luggage tags and stamps are all fair game in creating Tofu’s patchwork art, which preserves these pieces of history by reconstructing them.

To gather materials, Tofu looks high and low for a good deal. He’s a regular (often recognized as “that map guy”) at Hal Lutsky’s annual Vintage Paper Fair, thrift stores and garage sales throughout San Francisco.

“You’ll get more attitude here at a yard sale than you will at a fancy restaurant,”  he says with a laugh. “I’m always on the hunt, always looking for things.” 

Talking to Tofu is rather like looking at his artwork: effervescent and lively, fragments of thoughts, facts and details streaming past a mile a minute. But his approachability belies the painstaking work that goes into calculating and planning the thousands of pieces needed to fill a 10″ x 10″ canvas, and the pattern that emerges from a randomized process.

Indeed, one of the autobiographical facts that most elucidates the method to his madness is that, when he was young, Tofu used to draw imaginary maps. Tofu’s art seems to be an extension of that early imaginative fascination.

As an artist, Tofu makes extensive use of maps, cutting and re-purposing them to create something different – kaleidoscopic patterns, quilted canvases and even a paint-by-numbers portrait of Huell Howser, the host of TV series “California’s Gold.”

Even if only visible in glimpses, the fonts, colors and iconography of the travel ephemera that Tofu uses are almost tangibly evocative of the 1950s and ’60s, and the decor at Glama-Rama adds to the effect. One can almost picture Grace Kelly getting her hair done here before stepping out on the Riviera.

In addition to their transportative element, the artwork currently up on Glama-Rama’s walls elicits an almost irresistible desire to touch the contoured canvases. And while touching is not encouraged, viewing is: visitors to the Glama-Rama Salon & Gallery are welcome during opening hours. The opening reception for Imagining Val Travel was held on September 16th, and the show runs through November 3rd.

Get in touch with the author @jooy8.