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.
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!
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!
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'.