Mission Street Art: Clarion Alley
Having just returned from months of traveling on the West Coast, I am finally ready to get back to bloggage. I'm back in New England and will be modeling again, so I should have some good material for new posts. In the meantime, I want to talk about some art I saw while I was wandering around California. I wont be going to LACMA anymore, so I'll have to find other art to write about.
I chose to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in Oakland, and before my return to New Hampshire I created my own walking tour of the Mission and the Castro districts of San Francisco. I set out on my expedition and, by the time I finished stalking up and down one mural-coated alleyway, I realized there was a bit too much to confine to one post. I decided to focus on a single famous section of street art in the Mission, and save other spots for future visits.
The alleyway I couldn't get away from is supported by an artists' collective called the Clarion Alley Mural Project created in the early 90's. The collective works to aid muralists in the creation of art in the Mission district of San Francisco, most notably Clarion Alley, right near the BART stop I take to get to work. The alley created is both beautiful and overtly political, and I was amazed I'd never known it was there before. Statements made by the art generally focused on the AIDS epidemic and protests from the prominent homosexual population of the city. I was in the company of all sorts: tourists doing exactly what I was, skateboarding youths and even a "rasta" couple making a reggae video in front of one of the murals. It was wonderful to see the atmosphere of the alleyway inspiring the population.
The merging of meaningful political statement and artistic endeavor is an example of what I learned to love about San Francisco. There is something decidedly genuine about the culture of the city, something perfectly expressed in street art. On my way to the alley I passed a mural covering an entire block that commemorated Latino history in the Mission. Not only was it a celebration of the culture, the mural served as an form of recording. It was far from a note in a history book, or even a museum exhibit, yet I had to wonder if it wasn't a more effective was of spreading awareness of Latino history: accessible to anyone and certainly eye-catching. I had always though of street art as a middle finger to the gallery culture of the art world, and not much else. These murals had a focused purpose not in the least caught up in the novelty of the medium. My personal favorite was a colorful painting on a garage door that held some fairly heavy handed references toward Guernica. My suspicions were confirmed by the mural across the way, which was a black and white tribute to Picasso's famous political piece.
The shoutout to one of the origins of contemporary popular mural work spoke to a knowledge and respect the muralists held for the history of art. As someone who looks for connections toward works that came before, (and loves Picasso more than I need to) I appreciated the reference. To me, murals as a visual connection to the essence of a city is a new perspective on the ways in which street art can be utilized. I know I have preconceptions about the meaning of different kinds of art, and it's exciting to have that challenged. It's gratifying to see how the new places I'm exploring shed light on what I think of my own tastes.
If New York is going to make me like Clement Greenberg I wont go.