Spring means new murals in San Francisco, blooming everywhere. The middle of the 1100 block of Market Street has two construction sites protected by temporary plywood walls, which translated into mural-ese means close to 100 feet of blank canvas begging for a paint job. Here are three new complete ones, covering the plywood protecting a future office-school-theater of the American Conservatory Theater.
On Sunday, three artists worked on new murals for the adjoining construction site. One was willing to take a break and answer a few questions about the short life span of San Francisco murals. He’s the gentleman in the picture below.
Murals get replaced frequently; ’tis a rare mural that lasts more than one year, and many only last six months. This muralist works quite often with the two gentlemen who worked on either side of him, and here are their pieces, which replaced their own older work.
I learned that there exist two primary reasons why murals get replaced so often. The first did not surprise me–graffiti. After a while, murals receive so much disrespectful mistreatment that it becomes simplest simply to paint over everything and create a new art work.
The second reason might surprise you–contracts.
Yes, contracts. Many murals last for only six or twelve months because the contract the muralist signs with the construction company (or whoever else hires them) stipulates that life span. Then the next artist comes in and paints over the old art with a mural lasting another six or twelve months, or perhaps the same artist creates a new one.
Since the artists not only photograph the finished murals, they also videotape the act of creation, they don’t mind the fact that their work doesn’t last. Their photographs and videos become more permanent versions of the original painting. This attitude of the artists toward their own art will a require a bit of adjustment in my own thinking. I have grown used to reading and viewing plays written 25 centuries ago, not to mention looking at sculptures of the same age. The notion that something like a painting designed/contracted for transience feels a bit odd right now.
Vonn Scott Bair