Painting the Mission District

I was inspired to start a series of paintings of the Mission District during the memorial for Spain Rodriquez at the Brava Theater, when his wife, Susan Stern, showed her film of his work which included many cartoons set in the Mission.I don't know why it took this event to get me started. We live only 5 blocks from 24th St and, over the years, our family has participated in many cultural events in the Mission.  I exhibited  paintings created on two trips to Nicaragua at the Casa de Cultura Nicaraguense in 1986. The cultural center was on the corner of 24th and Balmy Alley. After my exhibition,  I painted several pictures of the alley, and one or two nearby, but I never explored the Mission extensively. This time,  I sketched around the Mission District for several days before I settled on 24th and Alabama as my starting point for a an major series.

Lft: La Victoria Bakery and St Peter's Church, Rt. Dominquez Bakery

Looking south down Alabama the tower of St Peter's rises against the slopes of Bernal Hill. Three of the four corners of the intersection are anchored by businesses with a long history in the Mission. I ate my first Mexican meal in San Francisco at La Victoria Bakery in 1965.  Across Alabama Street is the Dominquez Bakery.

As I write this, I've just finished a group portrait which includes a fifth generation member of the Dominquez Bakery family: four year old ' Little Consüelo' with his parents. They live above Taqueria El Farolito  which occupies the third corner.

All three businesses reflect a taste for bright colors. The Dominquez family commissioned a lovely series of murals that cover the walls of both their bakery and El Farolito across the street.  Spain Rodriguez is credited with creating the first mural in the Mission in 1971. He sure started something!

Taqueria El Farolito

I planned to paint a couple of pictures at this intersection but I kept discovering new vantage points. To date I've finished nine paintings. Despite gentrification which is displacing many of the Latino residents, this intersection retains a strong Latin American flavor. There is a welcoming and tolerant spirit on the street, it reminds me of painting in Mexico and Nicaragua. Some of the locals have posed for small street portraits. I'll use these portraits to paint them into a large, studio painting  (around 40" X 120") of this intersection. I am giving the little portraits to my models as a 'thank you' for posing.


I've had some  great conversations here. Perhaps the most extraordinary was a chance encounter with Richard Montoya ( "Culture Clash" , "American Night" and "The River").

Richard enjoyed my paintings so much that he included me in a scene of a movie he's making in the Mission titled "The Other Barrio". I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my 10 seconds of fame doesn't end up on the cutting-room floor!

El Chico Produce Market # 4

Gentrification: Should Money Trump Community? Neighborhoods change, in the fifties and early sixties the Mission was a largely Irish and Italian neighborhood. As these residents moved elsewhere, Mexicans replaced them. They were followed in the Seventies by refugees from America's interventionist policies in Latin America. Argentinians, Chileans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans came in especially large numbers until the Mission became a hub of Latin American culture and activism. Centers like Galeria de la Raza, and the Mission Cultural Center blossomed. Low riders cruised Mission Street while Carnaval and Day of the Dead became two of San Francisco's most vibrant celebrations.

Beginning in the mid Nineties a new wave entered the Mission. This was not immigrants fleeing poverty and war, but affluent dot-comers lured by the neighborhood's good weather and proximity to Highway 101. Their wealth began to drive up property values and rents. Today only 37% of the Mission is Latino. Much of this remaining population purchased their homes years ago or have rent control.

Many Latinos I met on the street said they were raised here and that they return regularly to visit friends and relatives and to hang out.  "I'd like to live here, but I can't afford the high rents." was a common refrain.

Musician, and band leader Camilo Landau who works at Acción Latina, next door to El Farolito observes," People talk about stopping gentrification, but we should have started ten years ago. It's already happened. I was raised around here but I live in Oakland, because I can't afford to live here anymore." He adds that the Merchants Association and the 24th Street Cultural Corridor Committee are organizing to protect the community that remains.

 I am posting all these paintings, as I finish them, to my Gallery under the title  'In the Mission'.

About the Ongoing Exhibition at Buon Gusto Gallery in San Francisco

"Celebrating 2013 the Year of Italian Culture - Paintings Created on Location in Italy"June 7 - June 29, Buon Gusto Gallery, 535 Green Street, San Francisco , 415.531.2911

Hours:  5 - 8 pm Thurs - Sat (closed June 15)   I will be present in the gallery during these hours, and I look forward to talking with you about these paintings and my experiences in Italy.

Naples from Castello San Elmo, 16" x 23", oil/canvas, 2012

About the Show: I produced these works on a two and one half month journey through Italy last summer. In 1967 and '68 I worked as Head of Outdoor Restoration for the Uffizi Gallery helping to clean up after the disastrous flood of '66. So this extensive trip, 45 years later, was a chance to reflect on the changes that have shaken the Italian peninsula during this period.

The Book: I kept a diary, in Italian, which I corrected with the help of my professor at City College of San Francisco, Carol Cadoppi. I have published the diary in English and Italian along with all my oils and watercolors. It is available for sale at the gallery, but may also be purchased through 'Lulu'.

Questa era bella

Other Works:

Also included in this show are a few larger works based on paintings created on earlier trips to Italy. Such as this painting of Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre:

Cinque Terre through my Window.

The Video: Enjoy a twenty minute video of our journey. It is best viewed at your leisure, full screen with a glass of wine!

East Bay Open Studios 2012: View my Golden Gate Series and Other Recent Works.

Saturday and Sunday June 2 - 3 11 am to 6 pm

351 Lewis St, West Oakland 94607

Six Golden Gate Series paintings will be featured along with other recent works.

This is an opportunity to have a lively conversation with me and other guests. I will be serving bread, cheese, wine and cappuccinos. Go to 'Visit Studio' on this website for directions to my studio.

Postcards and Archival Prints:

Postcards of Oakland and Occupy derived from some of my favorite paintings will be available, as well as archival prints of many of my works.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Kirby Cove, oil/canvas, 20" X 36". 2012

"The Golden Gate Bridge from Kirby Cove' (above) will be among those on view at my Open Studio.

Other Exhibitions:

George Krevsky Gallery The painting below, titled 'The Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands' is on exhibition at the George Krevsky Gallery. 77 Kearny St., San Francisco until June 9th. It is also included in the gallery's gorgeous catalogue for the exhibition 'Artistic Visions of the Golden Gate Bridge' available through ePressBooks,Inc.

SFMOMA Artists' Gallery,  Fort Mason

Four other paintings from my 'Golden Gate Series' will be on exhibition at the SFMOMA Artists' Gallery from May 26 - June 28th. Including this panorama :

Golden Gate Bridge from Below the Palace of the Legion of Honor

About the Golden Gate Series:

When I started these works, I thought “Painting this bridge is akin to painting the Eiffel Tower. It's been 'done' so many times!”  However, I soon discovered that this particular marriage of high technology and landscape is archetypal. What began as a few paintings became a series.

From an outlook below the Palace of the Legion of Honor (See above) the bridge appears improbably delicate. A fine web of steel spanning two headlands. It is an expression of pure physics. As beautiful as a spider's web and almost as minimal.


Up close - from the waterfront approaching Fort Point - the bridge overwhelms with it's scale and with the muscular grace of it's art deco details. The swells rounding Fort Point roll past the orange towers that rise from the ocean to conduct a steady flow of pedestrians and vehicles effortlessly across the watery chasm.

Where I stand painting this engineering marvel the waves crash up against the waterfront, splashing me and my painting and, on one occasion, drenching my truck.

The bridge embodies in its design the conviction of the nineteenth and early twentieth century that technology could overcome nature, extract great benefits from it, but exist in harmony with it. It took the horrors of modern warfare, the nuclear age, environmental degradation and climate change to tarnish this conviction. From a visual point of view the bridge expresses this antiquated aspiration perfectly.

But from the point of view of function the bridge is a conduit for an enormous amount of internal combustion traffic-hooked on fossil fuels.  The Golden Gate Bridge Commission could help break this addiction by offering owners of electric cars three, toll free years. This would be a great incentive to go electric.

The bridge also embodies the optimism of the Roosevelt period. Amadeo Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America, in the midst of the Great Depression purchased all the bonds for the construction of the bridge so as to provide employment for workers in San Francisco. It is impossible today to imagine a banker with such a sense of social obligation!

View this video of me painting at Fort Point courtesy of Diane Harrigan "Postcards from SF"