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‘You have to allow San Francisco to pull you in and surprise you.

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Feature by Amber Pietrzyk

Born in Vancouver and raised in a Punjabi household, mixed-media artist Jessie Sohpaul finds inspiration in the overlap of Eastern and Western cultures. To fuel this thinking, he travels extensively, spending time among the new wave creatives of San Francisco.

For nearly a decade, Jessie worked for creative agencies servicing some of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, including Google and Microsoft, where he creative-directed music videos and amassed a substantial following. Now, Jessie experiments with East meets West through his own clothing and art collective DO NOT TOUCH in Vancouver. We caught up with Jessie to chat about creative travel, his homecoming to Canada, the pull of San Francisco and his Travel Playbook for the bay city.

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On where you’re from

My family immigrated from India to Vancouver about 45 years ago. Vancouver is my anchor in many ways, it’s where I was born and where I went to art school, and most of my extended family still lives there.

On the pull of San Francisco

During the final semester of art school I was considering whether or not to pursue a job opportunity at a design agency in San Francisco. I was finally convinced after having a conversation with a friend. He likened San Francisco to Paris in the 1920s — when it became a culture hub from the mass immigration of emerging artists and writers. He said San Francisco was just that: a tech hub filled with the smartest designers, artists, technologists and trendsetters. It was where I needed to be to grow as an artist.

On the inspiration of a new city

Growing up in Vancouver you get used to months of rain and gray skies. When I moved to the Mission District of San Francisco, it felt like a year-long summer. The sun alone made me more energetic and invigorated to meet new people and seek out new things. The street art and murals of the Mission are so dynamic and make each street feel like its own mini gallery. I was constantly inspired on my walk home from work or to the grocery store.

Drawn to San Francisco’s burgeoning tech scene and storied connection to creativity, artist Jessie Sohpaul left his home of Vancouver to bolster his own creative practice. For nearly a decade, Jessie worked at some of the bay city’s most influential companies. Come evenings and weekends, Jessie took every opportunity to explore the cultural diversity of the bay city. Photos by Amber Pietrzyk, portrait by Manmit Singh.

On side projects becoming an art practice

Drawing and painting were always hobbies of mine. I would make work after school and when I moved to SF, I continued to create pieces after work. My brand, DO NOT TOUCH, started as a Tumblr blog named ‘Do Not Touch Please’. When I began sharing my art prints, I received requests from followers to have the pieces printed on apparel rather than paper. This pushed me to an apparel-focused brand for a while before moving into creative direction and gallery shows. 

On finding a home away from home

Growing up in a Punjabi household, community and family are very important. I found a similar warmth in the Mission District. I was friends with my local barber and close with my three roommates, who were also artists and designers. The Mission is extremely diverse and there are many people of color so I didn’t feel left out. 

‘The street art and murals of the Mission are so dynamic and make each street feel like its own mini gallery. I was constantly inspired on my walk home from work or to the grocery store.’

On serendipitous experiences in San Francisco

When you have a rigorous schedule during the work week, it's nice to be carefree on the weekends. One time, I went to a Kanye pop-up shop an hour after hearing about it. Another time my favorite artist, JR, was showing at the SFMOMA and I ran into him and his crew in SoMa afterwards. You have to allow the city to pull you in and surprise you. 


On exploring the city by foot

If San Francisco was a person, they would be charming. It’s an inviting place with cozy bars, tight-knit communities and new shops popping up every other weekend. Because I didn’t have a car, I walked everywhere in SF and really got to know the city in a more intimate way. There’s so much you miss when you drive or take the subway. Walking forces you take the city in at a slower pace — you see the details of a city, like the way paint dries on a mural or the sign outside a new coffee shop.

Deeply interested in how Eastern and Western cultures merge, Jessie founded his art practice DO NOT TOUCH. Through clothing and collaborations, Jessie explores the layering of cultures and his connection to nostalgia. His series ‘Coming Home’ is a comment on returning from San Francisco to Vancouver. Images courtesy Jessie Sohpaul.

On getting your culture fix

I really enjoy seeing art at its actual scale. What I mean by that is, we are so used to viewing art on our phones and Instagram feeds that we forget the scale of the piece entirely. I love walking around the Pop and Minimal art floor at the SFMOMA to experience the scale of the Warhol prints and minimalist paintings in person! I would also head to the Minnesota Street Project which is located in SF’s historic Dogpatch district. The Project inhabits three large warehouses in Dogpatch which serve as studios and gallery spaces for exhibiting shows, local resident artists and art-related non-profits.

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On a cozy bar for the perfect nightcap

The Lone Palm Bar is my favorite last stop of an evening out. The bar was originally named after a single palm tree that stood outside its entrance. It's super low-key and has really nice lighting which makes it extra cozy on a chilly SF night.

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‘Walking forces you take San Francisco in at a slower pace, you see the details of a city like the way paint dries on a mural or the sign outside a new coffee shop.’

On the perfect spot to people-watch

Many of my Saturdays and Sundays were spent sitting at Dolores Park with my friends; enjoying a cold Pacifico and people-watching. San Francisco has many parks but Dolores is unique in that it’s on a slight incline which gives all park-goers an exceptional view of the city on a cloudless day. It's also steps away from Valencia Street which is lined with bars, restaurants and shops that are always bustling with new products and people.

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On the best spot for comfort food

My favorite spot for a meal that reminded me of home was always Dancing Yak, which served homemade comfort food from the Himalayas and juicy craft cocktails. I loved bringing friends together for dinner and sharing as many curries and momos as we could eat! 

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From afternoons spent people watching in Dolores Park (first image, by Amber Pietrzyk), to fully-loaded burritos at El Farolito (second image courtesy El Farolito), chocolate muffins from Arizmendi Bakery (third image by Amber Pietrzyk) and exploring the street art in Balmy Alley (bottom images by Amber Pietrzyk), Jessie found endless inspiration exploring the streets of the Mission District.

On where to find the best ‘Mission Burrito’

San Francisco is known for landmarks, art, culture and the Mission aka Super Burrito. For those who don’t know, the Super Burrito is popular because of its enormous size due to the inclusion of rice and other ingredients — like french fries! —  that aren’t traditionally included in tacos and burritos. If I had cash on me, I would always get a Super Chicken Burrito at El Farolito right off the 24th Street BART station.

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On the best way to start a Saturday

Most Saturdays started with a coffee and a Mexican chocolate muffin from the Arizmendi Bakery. What I love about Arizmendi is that it’s a worker-owned shop that supports the local community. Every week there’s a new pizza offering made from an assortment of veggies, on a thin sourdough crust.  

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‘You might see a random, naked guy rollerblading by, which is surprising… but even more surprising is that you’re not even surprised! You just get sucked into the city.’

On uncovering outdoor gems in the Mural District

One of my favorite things about the Mission District is the amount of murals that fill its walls and streets. It felt like walking through an outdoor art gallery with large-scale paintings that you could see up close. My all-time favorite mural in the Mission is ‘MaestraPeace’ on the Women’s Building. It’s so colorful and massive, I often used it as a point of reference when I was walking around or giving directions to friends.

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On returning home to Vancouver

Yes, I am one of many people who moved home during the pandemic. I wasn’t planning on moving from SF, but decided to return home to recalibrate, work on my practice and be close to family during the pandemic. Ultimately, I wanted to quit my corporate job to pursue my art practice full time and I was able to do that when I moved home.

To fuel his creativity, Jessie became a frequent visitor to San Francisco’s cultural institutions like the expansive San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in SoMa (first three images, shot by Amber Pietrzyk) and the exhibition space-cum-artist studios Minnesota Street Projects in Dogpatch (fourth image courtesy Minnesota Street Projects, bottom images by Amber Pietrzyk).

On creating ‘Coming Home’

I wanted to create a moment that encompassed my past year of work and also marked the next chapter of my art practice in Vancouver. The collection and film I created is called ‘Coming Home’, which follows three characters as they prepare to meet after a long separation.  I wanted to bring the warmth and welcoming feeling I experience when I visit my childhood home to the gallery setting, which is often cold and unwelcoming. The layering of the Eastern home and Western gallery resulted in familiar nostalgia for me. 

On a window or an aisle seat

I love the window seat, especially for longer flights. There’s more privacy and a better view.

On San Francisco in one word

Surprising. 


The amount of times I thought I would relax on a Sunday but instead ended up running into friends, walking into a street festival or finding an art pop-up were innumerable. If you don’t have a rigorous schedule like me, you can be open to random serendipitous events. One time my friends and I ran into one of my favorite artists and his crew in SoMa. Or you might see a random, naked guy rollerblading by, which is surprising… but even more surprising is that you’re not even surprised! You just get sucked into the city.

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SOHPAUL

‘You have to allow San Francisco to pull you in and surprise you.