The Murals of Clarion Alley 2012

The Mission district in San Francisco is a mixed neighborhood; there's a 99 cent store, the Women's Building, an upscale vegan Mexican restaurant, a Salvation Army, a beautiful natural history and plant store, corner produce markets, 826 Valencia (literacy programs and Pirate Store), local residents just trying to go about their lives, and people out on the street mumbling, selling ragtag oil paintings, and waiting in line to buy pies at Bi-Rite Market. Tucked between the worlds of Mission and Valencia streets is Clarion Alley, home of the Clarion Alley Mural Project, a volunteer collective, which was established in 1992. I visited for the first time recently, hoping to find a mural still intact by Margaret Kilgallen or Barry McGee, and although they were not there, I found other murals, instead. I have read that Barry McGee is in residence right now at the Berkeley Art Museum.

The alley is luminous, but not glamorous. On rare sunny days, it is open to the blue sky and the light makes all the edges clear and the colors glow. But it is an alley. It smells of piss and trash. The mixture of styles, cultures, and aesthetics energizes the alley: it is a celebration of life lived.

The day a friend and I were there, a resident was standing outside talking on his phone, a young man was folded onto a curb, writing, a few tourists (like us) strode through, and one vanload of people forced us to one side so it could squeeze by. I was surprised more people were not there, but it was Gay Pride Day and based on the large and mostly costumed crowd we had seen on BART, I suspect that they were at the parade and party on Market Street, downtown.

Here are some of the murals that caught my eye. I was only able to identify one of the mural artists through Megan Wilson's website (co-director of CAMP from 2001-2004, and still a co-organizer). If you know of any others, please let us know! You can identify distinctive buildings where the painting has changed since she posted her photographs. For a deeper appreciation of the murals, you can sign up for a tour. Another friend highly recommends the Precita Eyes tour; you can take the 16th Street Mural Tour on certain Saturdays from April to October for $12, and it includes a history of murals that puts the local work in a broader context.

Daniel Doherty, 2006


(if you click the above picture to enlarge, you can see a view
down the alley, located inside the figure's silhouette)

(yes, that bougainvillea is real)

on the Valencia side


Mission Street
(at the lower right of center you can see the pink triangle flag on the hill, placed there for Pride Day)