I walk through the Mission district five days a week for work, and when I think about my route from the 16th Street BART station, much of what I remember is the dirt-caked sidewalks embellished with litter that’s kind-of dangerous: syringes, broken glass, hobo poop. I know that’s an unfair characterization, especially since I’m quite aware of the many color-soaked murals and examples of unique architecture that make the neighborhood an international destination.
Still, there are parts of the Mission that feel almost neglected — mostly around a few boarded-up buildings — so when I see that people are trying to spruce the place up, I perk up. In such a famously disputed neighborhood, it’s great to see people taking over public space for non-commercial — and somewhat non-sensical — ends.
Way Out West, the Art City project’s first public art installation, has chosen 19 artists to provide new work that will be posted on billboards, transit shelters and in other open spaces across the neighborhood for a month. The ragtag group of curators and art lovers, led by former tech executive Luke Groesbeck, is on a mission to turn ad and underused public spaces into mediums for notable working artists. Since the pieces are being revealed over time, here are notes on five from the first round of installations that can be viewed right now:
Untitled by Apex (AKA Ricardo Richey)
Mission and 19th
According to our own Kristin Farr, Apex is “SF Graffiti royalty” who has been “beautifying walls around the city for years,” and just looking at his output confirms that his street art is a contribution to the city’s landscape. His work consists of amazing abstract paintings with lots of layers and geometric shapes that he makes with spray paint.
From Troglodyte to Sophont by Desirée Holman
15th & South Van Ness
In my mind, Desirée Holman is a treasure; truly one of the Bay Area artists to watch. Her most recent solo exhibition at di Rosa, Sophont in Action, was a strange but entertaining mix of science, performance art and abstract imagery that was wonderfully off-kilter and thought-provoking.
In her description, Holman says that her Way Out West piece “speaks to popular concepts characterizing humanity.” The troglodyte on the left is “emotionally reactive and potentially dangerous” and the extra-terrestrial or “sophont” on the right, as envisioned by science fiction author Poul Anderson, is “capable of extraordinary reasoning and introspection.”
California Love by Casey Gray
14th & Valencia
Casey Gray is another San Francisco artist who pushes spray paint artistry past its limits, but Gray’s bread and butter is spray paint versions of traditional painting styles — still life and collage — that are heavily influenced by beach culture and look like they might appeal to the kind of character normally found in a Hawaiian shirt. Gray says he wanted California Love to “convey not just west coast culture and spirit, but my California. Many of the symbols and objects have personal significance to me and my upbringing, as well as relation to more general and cliched ideas of California.”
Bonus: We covered Gray back in 2010 for our video series Gallery Crawl.
Dryptch by Jen Stark
16th and South Van Ness
Hailing from Los Angeles, Jen Stark does amazing, super trippy, rainbow-themed sculptures and paintings, mostly using layers of paper that she cuts herself. Though her sculptures are best seen close up, her piece for Way Out West is a wonderful billboard-adaptation of her style. If you happen to walk by and see Dryptch’s melting rainbows, don’t panic; you’re not having an acid flashback. (That is, unless you see the colors literally dripping onto the street below.)
Eye by Andrew Schoultz
Mission and Sycamore
Last but not least, San Francisco’s Andrew Schoultz is another member of the city’s street art royalty whose murals can be seen in many places around the Mission and has also been featured in exhibitions at SFMOMA and the Boston Center for the Arts. With Eye, Schoultz says he “wanted the piece to reflect that of a pirated Billboard,” the image simple enough that it might seem like a guerrilla action so that the viewer questions “whether it was done legally or not… entering into a dialogue about public art, ‘street art,’ and more importantly illegal graffiti bombing.”