Jan Padover grew-up in the Potero Hill of the 1960’s, a close-knit, creative community. The neighborhood was a magnet for bohemians and artists drawn by its affordability. Padover was raised in what he described as an “open house,” where friends of his father, Carl Padover – all of whom were artists or interested in the arts – were constantly coming and going. Many were artists by passion, making their livings off of other pursuits. To young Padover they were friends, role models and a consistent source of inspiration.
“There were always four to five people here, dropping in on a minute’s notice. It was crazy; it was like having a big family,” Padover said. “There were always intellectual ideas and theories being thrown around. That was normal for me.”
Carl was a stationary engineer who worked at the Mark Hopkins Hotel and the San Francisco Opera. The family’s De Haro Street home, which he built himself, was his primary artistic endeavor. He also wrote poetry as a form of personal expression. He filled the house with art; a diverse collection ranging from oil paintings to pencil drawings and metal sculptures. “He was never a conscious collector, this just happened,” Padover said. Some he picked up at garage and thrift sales; the majority was gifted to him by local artists grateful for his generosity and hospitality.
More than fifty years later, this artwork continues to inspire Padover from the walls of his childhood home, where he lives. Over the years Carl collected pieces from notable Hill artists, including Charles Farr, Helen Burke, Ken Byler and Jake Arnautoff. All of them were close to the Padover family and were major influences on Jan, especially Farr, who lived a half-block away. Farr was a realist who rendered his paintings with precisionist perfection. “He was a close friend, and seeing him work was a big reason I got into art,” Padover said.
A typical Farr oil painting is a still life, with fruit, vegetables, flowers and landscapes as his principal subjects. He was methodical, working six to eight months on a single painting. “He didn’t follow the fads of the time; he stayed true to his original vision, which was a classical, representational way,” Padover said. “This was back in the 50’s and 60’s, when abstract expressionism and Jackson Pollack were the dominant aesthetic. He never wavered.”
Padover took lessons from Farr when he was in high school. He credits the experience with cementing his desire to become an artist. “That’s when I decided I was going to work hard at it. I was originally just doing it because that’s what was around me,” he said.
He started with pencil drawings, and went on to oil painting, his specialty now. His aspirations didn’t align with other artists of the time; he wanted to be a classical, romantic type of artist. He preferred 19th century technique and style; oil paintings that he layered over and over again to look like a historical French painting from the early 1800’s.
Padover made several trips to Northern Africa and the Middle East, which he said helped provoke the most artistically productive period of his life. The locale supplied him with the subject matter that people were painting in the 19th century. “It leads to ironies; I was doing a sketch in Cairo, and maybe a quarter of the people were wearing traditional dress. But I only drew the people with traditional dress, and omit the rest. If there was a Coca Cola stand or a guy wearing a suit, I wouldn’t draw it,” he said. “I only use the subjects that fit the genre I’m going for, but it’s totally inaccurate.”
After his travels, Padover returned to the Hill. He taught drawing and painting at the San Francisco School of the Arts, and created his own publishing company, Prospero Art, selling playing cards, stationary and advent calendars. When his father passed away in 2011, Padover and his brother Jaime inherited the majority of his extensive art collection. He also left Padover his most prized piece of art: the family home. It’s become Padover’s creative command center, where he paints in his spare time.