As I turn onto Balmy Alley from 24th Street the dulcet tones of Violeta Para singing "Gracias a la vida" drift from a backyard. Her voice transports me back more than thirty years to a time of great solidarity between the artists of the San Francisco Bay Area and Latin America. In those years, the Nicaraguan Cultural Center was located in a low building at this entrance to the alley (Deep blue wall on left). I stop on my way down the alley to talk with Andrés. Sculptor, painter, bicycle and car repair man extraordinaire, he is always so busy in front of his garage that I chose to paint him twice into this first picture.
Further along, I stop in front of the first of twenty-three murals that were painted in 1984 to protest US intervention in Latin America, and to welcome the refugees from these conflicts who were pouring into the Mission. This mural by Miranda Bergman and O'Brien Thiele illustrates the conflict in El Salvador and the the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. It is the only one of those twenty-three murals that has survived into the present.
Miranda and Brian are restoring it. I've spent several enjoyable afternoons painting across from them as they begin by stabilizing the old wooden surface. We lament the fact that, even though the national solidarity movement in the eighties did succeed in blunting US aggression in Central America, our foreign policy today is even worse. Indeed, some of the same people who instituted the death squads in El Salvador were enlisted to establish "the Salvador option" in Iraq.
Miranda and O'Brien are seeking funding for this major restoration. I recommend that you go to indiegogo and make a contribution, no matter how small, to this extremely worthwhile project.
Perhaps one of the reasons this mural survived all the others from that period is that it is painted on two massive sliding doors of a hundred year old stable. In the days when horses were the principal form of transportation, Balmy Alley was lined with stables. It is said that the alley was named after a race horse called Balmy. The alley opens out onto Garfield Park where they used to hold the races.
Further along, on the right hand side, is a recent mural that deals directly with the current issue of gentrification. Its gritty, darkly humorous style is reminiscent of underground comics.
I find it ironic that this mural is almost directly across from a nine unit apartment building that is evicting its approximately sixty tenants under the Ellis Act. A foreign investor has the bought the building and plans to convert it to condominiums. The tenants, many three generation families who have lived under rent control in this building for thirty years, were given three months notice.
Three bright youngsters lament the fact that they will have to forgo scholarships to private schools in the city if their family has to move to the East Bay to find affordable housing. Another gentleman tells me that his wife and daughter cry each night at the thought of leaving their apartment and their jobs in the Mission.