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Scott Williams, 'greatest of all stencil artists'...

ph Carrie Galbraith

Scott Williams, ‘greatest of all stencil artists,’ dies at 67 (Original Post)
JUNE 12, 2024, 5:00 AM 
for Mission Local (Donate to support

It was the early ‘90s and the Mission was boiling, fermenting with artists from all over the world. At least that’s how Clarion Alley’s Project co-founder, Aaron Noble, recalls it: An artistic melting pot. And one of the premier artists at the time, a painter fueled by coffee, tobacco and burritos, was spray-painting institution Scott Williams

Williams, who lived at his apartment at 20th and Shotwell for 35 years, died Sunday, May 26, at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. He was 67 and succumbed to an infection, according to his family. 

Williams was one of the first artists to paint a mural in Clarion Alley after Noble and other artists started the project in 1991, Noble said. The two cultivated a friendship that lasted through the ‘90s before Noble moved to Los Angeles in 2000. 

“His work was everywhere, literally out on the street and indoors and outdoors, on cars driving by. You couldn’t avoid it,” said Noble. “He was a stencil artist. He was the stencil artist. He was the greatest of all stencil artists.” 

Some of Williams’ stencil pieces decorated local favorites, such as Burger Joint, Leather Tongue Video, Pedal Revolution, Chameleon Bar, Armadillo on Fillmore Street, DNA Lounge, Amoeba Records and The Lab. His painting at The Lab is the only one remaining, Mission Local has found. 

Detail of Scott's Pedal Revolution mural (1999).

Scott Williams Stencil Archive Update

Just one early-2000s snap from the Lower Haight Burger Joint.

Scott Williams' Stencil Archive continues to get updated, specifically with a new sub-Archive of his Public Works. These images are all from the late 1990s to early 2000s, taken from my box of developed photographs. They have been rescanned and even stitched together where possible.

According to file dates of backups, these images were last scanned in 2002! I know that a few were scanned for the "Stencil Nation" project, and the Lower Haight mural was stitched together for the first time around 2008, but here at last are many of Scott's public murals that were still running when I arrived in the late 1990s. 

There were a few newbie errors while using a film camera. While working on this last week, I asked myself why I didn't snap photos of Scott's Burger Joint walls, and the answer was that I didn't want to bother the folks eating in the booths in front of them. And I still remember taking a bus by Scott's Amoeba Records construction-wall stencils in the Upper Haight, and going back a few weeks later with my camera to capture them to only discover that the store was open and the amazing, large, stencils of musicians were gone! I recall Scott did not keep the cut outs of those images because they were too big.

I will continue to revise filenames, and there are only a few sub-Archives of photos left for that.

Scott Williams: Inside Out Exhibit (2012)

Inside Out: Steven Wolf Fine Arts Recreates Scott Williams' Apartment Studio 

Often considered a predecessor of "Mission School" street artists, Williams is most widely known for densely layered spray paint stencil murals. 

Photos for this 2012 exhibit are titled "Home Invasion" here on Stencil Archive, which may be the name Scott used for this show.

By Christian L. Frock for KQED
Sep 24, 2012 

Steven Wolf Fines Arts has transformed one of their gallery spaces into a recreation of the live/work studio of longtime San Francisco artist Scott Williams. Often considered a predecessor of “Mission School” street artists such as Barry McGee — presumably because he worked in the street, though this seems oversimplified — Williams is most widely known for densely layered spray paint stencil murals. The artist began to cut and paint with stencils in the early ’80s, after a period of experimenting with color Xeroxes. In the late ’90s he transitioned to creating small-scale works with water-based airbrush for health reasons. In addition to large public murals, Williams’ body of work includes domestically scaled paintings and handheld books, each page a singular artwork, among copious pages. The artist’s life and process are the subjects on display in this exhibition. Rather than take Williams’ work out of its element, as is often the case with recent “street art” exhibitions, the gallery offers an interior view of Williams’ life and practice. 

Picture rails ring the gallery, as do wainscoting and chair rails, in keeping with the traditional Victorian interior of Williams’ Mission District apartment a few blocks away. Mismatched candelabra and the kind of light fixtures typical at home hang overhead. The walls are hung salon style with numerous works, some framed and some not. A bookcase jammed with paperbacks presides over one corner of the room, while a make-believe window is staged to recreate a window in Williams’ apartment, complete with a swath of fabric pinned across the middle. In the center of the gallery, positioned over a worn rug, stands a table heaped with stencils. Whereas stencils are often considered the residue of stenciled paintings — mere tools in the process — Williams’ stencils hold their own against the paintings themselves. Intricately hand cut, many bare evidence of repetitious use with layered sprays of color. The heaving pile of stencils in the gallery testifies to so much unappreciated labor, the crispness of each line lost in the aerated marks of the paintings. 

Scott Williams - 1956-2024

Scott Wiliams sig
Detail of a Scott Williams mural in the Lower Haight, SF. Photos dated Feb. 1999, and the mural was painted over around 2012.

In the amazing book "Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo", Aaron Noble was tasked with writing a feature about "The Stencil Godfather of the Mission" Scott Williams. In Noble's words, two parts stand out: Scott's art employs "optically disorienting patterns and color combinations while maintaining an ambiguous authorial tone poised somewhere between pop and paranoia... and the world is not as it seems." (pp. 250-51). Ever since I saw Scott's work on Valencia St. in 1997, I have never seen the world the same way since. Many times, there is too much space and not enough negative space in the world. During Scott's long career, he made sure that the emptiness was as full as possible, and sometimes so much so that it was overwhelming.

Once I finally met Scott, I was all in for trying to take as many photographs as possible of his work, in hopes that putting them here on Stencil Archive would replace all the banalities that the world wide web had to offer. It also helped Scott get his art on the internet, because he never had much use or patience for computers. It was a long trip full of "pop and paranoia", with visits to Scott's apartment to go through his cut out piles, his art books, his sketch books, and even his apartment walls and surfaces.

Scott's health was never good, and as he got older, his health continued to fail. Though sad to hear from his friends that he had died this week, I am OK with the fact that his physical sufferings are at an end. What is hard to reconcile is that his mind, visions, and creations are now in the past tense of this world. There will be no more art from Scott in the future, which is difficult to accept. 

I have spent hours of my life looking at his work and enjoying it, and I knew better not to really ask him deep questions about it. As Aaron Noble wrote in "Mission Muralismo", Scott "deflects questions... with the most mundane comments imaginable." It always made me laugh, which may have been the point for much of his work. I won't put adjectives to his work either, because Scott would've also deflected them. 

Either way, he knew I was a fan. I showed up to the photo shoot visits with big eyes and eager cravings to see everything he had made. In a way it was a stencil master class of lectures with one of the greatest stencil artists alive.

And it is a different world now that Scott is gone. But his art is still here on the site and out in the world, which will always be a pleasure to experience over and over. May Scott's work run forever!

I haven't updated Scott's Stencil Archive yet, and have spent the weekend rescanning my 1990s film photographs of his work. This has become the next project for this 2024 website upgrade, so keep eyes out for a few new photos, some new old photos, and then a cleaned up archive. I also updated a few blog posts from years ago. Here is one that now reprints a 1994 article about Scott Williams. Here is another announcing Scott's 2005 Adaline Kent Award.