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.

Mission.7Studies.Sm

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!

Anarcho-Syndicalism, Camille Pissarro and the Occupy Movement

'Three Painters Witness Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco' on youtube I recommend that you watch this eight minute video  in its entirety before reading today's blog. Don't miss the images in the credits.      Enjoy...

We all know that the rebellious young artists who gathered around Camille Pissarro in the 1870's and 1880's gave birth to the first modern art movement, Impressionism. But the radical political origins of this movement are not generally understood. 'Pissarro's People' at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco Legion of Honor highlights the radical ambiance within which this movement was born and the central role of Camille Pissarro, a life-long anarcho-syndicalist, in nurturing and shepherding the movement. Artists as diverse as Gauguin and Cezanne acknowledged their artistic debt to the man Cezanne referred to as the 'humble and colossal Camille Pissarro'

The democratic egalitarianism of anarchism inspired these artists to work together in a rare spirit of collegiality which enabled Impressionism to advance into virgin territory. Because these artists were comfortable on the street, among the people, their work shares a universality that continues to engage the  public.

As international collectors swarmed the 'School of Paris', artists scrambled to create new 'isms' and modernism, nurtured on political radicalism, morphed into  radical experimentation which remained  vital up through Abstract Expressionism.

Pop Art marked the end of the original radical impulse and the beginning of an unhealthy union of the marketplace and art institutions.

The Triumphalism of the 'American Century'  which led to the absurd assertion, in the 1990's, that we had reached the 'end of history'  was anticipated in 1970's  by art writers who proclaimed the 'end of painting' .

There is no denying the achievements of artists as diverse as, say, Walter de Maria, Christo or Andy Goldsworthy who confirm this narrative.  But to characterize the activity of painting, which we have engaged in for thousands of years, as no longer relevant appeared to me, even in those days when I was studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, to be absurd. It strengthened my resolve to explore new possibilities within realistic painting.

Painting is a fundamental laboratory of the imagination. Painting from life, studying, absorbing, refining and communicating our experience in a direct, physical way opens our eyes to reality on a deep level. It refines our capacity for empathy which is the currency of art.

The unexpected emergence of the Occupy Movement is a sign that the country is finally awakening from the delusion of American triumphalism. The 'street' is re-entering the political dialogue. It is a good time to be out on the street channeling this populist energy.