Street art and artists in the Mission
Friday, August 21, 2009
Clarion is an alley connecting Valencia to Mission, between a cop shop and a crack market, with murals of devils and angels and a moving stairway to heaven.
Close by is the Women's Building, a colorful paean to female heroes and goddesses, from Guatemalan peace activist Rigoberto Menchu to scientist Marie Curie.
A couple of blocks up is an intricate mural on the facade of a writer's school and colony, depicting the human race's attempts at communication.
In between and all around San Francisco's Mission District are posters and poetry and political calls to action. There are tribal graffiti and Gothic lettering, traditional murals and lattices of tags. Now, a new book, "Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo," has captured and honored the varied artists and activists of the street.
Published by Abrams and more than a decade in the making, the book's foreword was written by musician Carlos Santana, who spent a part of his youth living in the Mission.
"I think the whole Mission neighborhood is a massive public artwork, both sacred and profane, brimming with graff and goddesses," Santana wrote, heralding the place as one of the world's most creative public art scenes.
As the book's editor and visionary Annice Jacoby says, the Mission has seen a cross pollination of graffiti, cartoon and high art, of artists who started on the street and became well-known or famous, including R. Crumb, Barry McGee (Twist), Spain Rodriguez and Shepard Fairey.
"People have so many misconceptions about where art is and what its intentions are," said Jacoby, walking through Clarion Alley. "The book is a portrait of the Mission, with all of the protest, despair and affirmation. It's a neighborhood as artistically alive and significant as the Lower East Side of Manhattan or the Left Bank of Paris."
Looking at the murals lining both sides of Clarion, Jacoby added, "This is the opposite of gallery art, which is valued and protected. This is free and temporal. This is about construction, destruction and renewal."
The 300-page book has 600 images and essays or testimonials by more than 20 community activists and artists, including poet Guillermo Gomez-Pena. Beginning Nov. 6, the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park will host a yearlong series of events on Friday nights featuring the art and artists of the book.
Aaron Noble, one of the founders of the Clarion Alley Mural Project in the early 1990s, sees the book as a breakthrough in that "no other book on street art really gets the nature of the community and all that it has produced over multiple generations."
Noble, who had a studio space on Clarion, credits the mural project for helping him find his way as an artist. He and others working along Clarion had looked to another of the Mission District's mural-saturated alleys, Balmy, as their prototype.
"Every time we went to Balmy Alley, we thought it was a magical transformation of what had been an ordinary alley," Noble said. "I was not a painter when Clarion started. I was doing some writing and performance art and the odd collage. But with Clarion, I got all of this experience with some of the best artists of our generation in the Mission, people like Barry McGee. I really got an intimate knowledge of painting practices and different approaches."
Noble, whose work on paper and canvas is now represented by a fine arts dealer in New York, said his favorite backdrop remains a wall.
"I would still rather paint on a wall than anything," Noble said. "The wall gives you more back than the canvas. The wall is its own personality, and it kind of collaborates with you, with its window ledges, angles and decayed spots."
Susan Cervantes, a muralist and Mission District resident for 50 years, was a key force behind the book. She and her late husband, Luis Cervantes, founded the Precita Eyes Mural Center in the Mission in 1977.
"The first murals in the Mission really came out of the civil rights movement," said Cervantes, whose artwork is seen around the Mission, notably on the Women's Building. "We wanted to show that art is for everybody, and it reflects the hopes and dreams of people around us."
Fairey, now best known for his Obama "Hope" poster, has worked off and on in the Mission for years.
"The first time I went to San Francisco to do art in 1995, I was blown away by the quantity and diversity of street art and graffiti," Fairey said. "I always felt that street art is a means to awaken people to their surroundings."
One of Fairey's giant "Hope" posters is still up on the side of an old Victorian next to an abandoned lot at the corner of Dolores and 15th streets.
A Mission District artist and activist who goes by the name of Rigo - and who was a founder with Noble of the Clarion Alley mural project - now has an installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Rigo said he's always been amazed by the amount of time people spend with public murals.
"The impulse to paint the walls around us is so that we can live in the midst of our own stories," Rigo said. "I think you could safely say
that where some see clean walls, others, like myself, sometimes can't help but see silent walls."
More about street art
The Web site for the new book "Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo" is www.missionmuralismo.com.
The first book signing for "Street Art San Francisco" will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at the South of Market Cultural Center, at 934
Brannan St. There will be book signings and auctions of original art by featured artists. For information on the event, go to www.precitaeyes.org.
Walking tours of the art of the Mission are held every weekend by Precita Eyes Center staff. The tour, open to the public, includes about 60 murals in a six-block area.
Five places to check out
Annice Jacoby, the editor and a creative force behind "Street Art San Francisco," has selected five places to visit on a self-directed walking tour of the Mission.
Clarion Alley, between Valencia and Mission, Sycamore and 17th streets, has been a magnet for sensational art since the 1990s.
Maestrapeace, the Women's Building, 18th Street between Valencia and Guerrero streets. The monumental work was painted by seven master muralists and has become an international symbol of women's achievements.
24th Street corridor, walking east on 24th Street from Mission. A walk from Mission starts with the only muralized McDonald's around, situated in front of an impressive youth mural. Across the street are more inspired murals. Walk down Lilac Alley for the latest graffiti from masters, or down Horace Alley or Lucky Alley. Don't miss Guadalajara or Restaurante El Delfin for amazing examples of taqueria art.
Balmy Alley, between 24th and 25th streets and Treat and Harrison. This is the oldest and most famous mural alley in the Mission, started when artists organized protests against the wars in Central America.
Swoon's Angel, Hampshire off 24th Street. Swoon is a spectacular example of an urban angel in relief on a brick wall. This is ephemeral art. See it before the tyranny of time and weather prevail.
E-mail Julian Guthrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.