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San Francisco’s Paint the Void Murals are Erasing an Apocalyptic Cityscape

The streets in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood are so quiet, you might expect a tumbleweed to roll past. The boarded up businesses have given SF an apocalyptic vibe more reminiscent of Denver (from Stephen King’s The Stand) or Chicago (from Veronica Roth’s Divergent). But the new Paint the Void project and SF muralists are on a mission to do something about it.

Sanfrancisco Streetart Optimism mural
Optimism mural in Hayes Valley by Optimistim.

Paint the Void is connecting local artists with boarded up businesses and the result is a series of lively murals that are bringing light to the Hayes Valley, the Castro, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill neighborhoods.

Shannon Riley and her colleagues at Building 180, normally orchestrate large-scale art productions. Since most of that work is on hold right now, they are keeping themselves busy by pouring pro bono hours into coordinating the mural project. They have partnered with Art for Civil Discourse and Inga Loyev. The joint goal is to curate 50 murals in San Francisco.

The Mission District already has a healthy street art scene. But when the boards started going up in the neighborhood, Riley felt that it was “some sort of terrible dream or apocalyptic nightmare”. She had already been wanting to do more public art projects in San Francisco, although a Byzantine city planning process makes it difficult. But, this project is getting San Francisco to “come back to the art” and it’s allowing local artists to give back to the city.

There is a similar movement afoot in Seattle, but San Francisco’s effort is a little different because, in addition to coordinating with businesses and providing painting supplies, Paint the Void is raising funds to actually pay the artists a stipend for the work.

During this crisis, desk jockies like me have been freaking out, giving up wearing pants and calcifying into an existential creature like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. But, a difficult economic environment is pretty typical for most artists. According to Riley, they are “used to riding a wave of having income or not having income…they are used to working alone”.

Intrigued, I put on my pants and headed out to see how a few of the artists were doing.

I met up with Felicia Gabaldon at Bauerware Hardware in the Castro. After kicking aside a few of those tumbleweeds, I spend some time watching her work on a Southwest inspired abstract. She appreciates the paid stipend, but also that the project is “something to keep me creative” and that it’s getting her out into the community.

Sanfrancisco Street art felicia gabaldon art
Felicia working on her mural for Bauerware Hardware.
Sanfrancisco Streetart felicia Bauerware Hardware. southweast inspired mural. Felicia Gabaldon
The nearly completed mural.

After Felicia and I spent some time bonding over how much we both loved the recent POW!WOW Hawaii street art festival, I moved on to see what Paz de la Calzada was doing in Potrero Hill.

I found Paz working on an organic green mural for the Salumeria. She likes to do site-specific designs in her art. She wants to “create a sense of wonder” on the corner with a wavy pattern flowing down one side of the building and around the corner.

Business owner Ryan Pollnow was happy to offer up the Salumeria wall for Paz. Because it’s “nice to cover the graffiti” and he and his partners wanted to support the local artists.

Paz said that right now, “people are being kind to one another. I’ve been very lucky”.

Sanfrancisco Street art paz de la calzada. mural draft la salumeria
Paz and Ryan strategizing the mural at Salumeria.
Sanfrancisco Street art paz de la Calzada
Paz starting work on the mural.
Sanfrancisco Street art salumeria
The finished mural.

Hers is a sentiment that I hope will carry on even after the businesses are able to reopen. Perhaps this project will crack open a new way to cultivate public art in San Francisco and to create new connections between businesses, artists and the average Joe on the street.

Take a look for yourself with this gallery of San Francisco’s new murals.

Sanfrancisco Street art strider patton
Strider Patton mural at Flour+Water (down the street from the Salumeria).
Sanfrancisco Street art FDR mural in dogpatch
FDR Mural by Samagram at the Dogpatch Saloon. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Sanfrancisco Street art hayes valley corner
Chez Maman in Hayes Valley. Pink flower by Konorebi and multi-colored flowers by Max Ehrman.
Sanfrancisco Street art pink flower
Another by Konorebi at Absinthe in Hayes Valley.
San Francisco Street art lionfish by Max Ehrman
Also by Max Ehrman (in Hayes Valley).
San Francisco Street art hayes valley Yon. Gnome figures
Adorbs gnome figures by Yon Meister. (in Hayes Valley)
San Francisco Street art yon meister. Hayes Valley
More figure by Yon Meister that have popped up all over the place.

The following murals weren’t specifically sourced from Paint the Void. But they are worth noting because once a movement gets started, it will take on a life of its own. Many business owners are coordinating their own works with the artists.

Sanfrancisco Street art Hayes valley tiger
By Nicole Hayden.
San francisco Street art bears
By Nicole Hayden (in Hayes Valley).
San Francisco Street art bears sewing
This industrious little bear made my existential heart very happy.

Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
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