“It’s definitely the biggest thing any of us has ever painted.”
Caleb Hughes leaned back and stared up at the 8 story wall overlooking Civic Center BART station on Market and 7th street. He’d taken a short break back on the ground between sets of painting on a team of four, high above the ground. The mural, a nearly hundred foot by hundred foot color weave, was planned and conceived by the renowned mission school artist and SFAI alum, Alicia McCarthy.
The project was made possible by The Luggage Store Gallery co-founder/director/curator Darryl Smith, who found the wall and helped the artists secure funding from the Sara & Evan Williams Foundation and the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. The Luggage Store has been instrumental in many of the major murals around the central Market Street area, facilitating projects by securing funding, finding walls and getting permission from the city since 1991. “It’s really about building a sense of community around art,” says Smith, a San Francisco native and long-time champion of Bay Area artists.
Like Alicia, Darryl Smith also spent time at SFAI in his early career. He enrolled in 1983 and left in 1985 to found The Luggage Store. “It’s a family affair,” McCarthy laughed, on the phone with Smith, “in the most platonic way possible."
In fact, three of the four artists working on the mural when I dropped by on Tuesday were in some way affiliated with SFAI. When I arrived, Oliver Hawk Holden answered my phone call from almost 100 feet off the ground, where he was finishing a section of the color weave with fellow artist Kieran Swan. A multi-disciplinary artist who has shown work in galleries across San Francisco and Oakland and developed murals in cities across America, Oliver Hawk Holden graduated from SFAI in 2016.
"Actually, I met Caleb through a friend at the Institute,” Alicia McCarthy explained. “He lived on her floor or something. He was maybe twelve or thirteen.”
Now that the team is all together, they have a huge task. The mural on 7th street is a tremendous undertaking, requiring two giant lifts, gallons of paint, and lots of logistical considerations. Fortunately, Alicia and her team were able to find the center of the giant wall almost exactly just by looking at it, and they’ve worked out a system to sync up their lines and painting times to get the project done quickly. From the street, the mural looks like a perfectly clean, woven tapestry of color, but up close you can still see the grit and effort that went into creating the image at such a scale.
In the end, the weave will be visible from around the city, representing a visual testament to the community and teamwork of San Francisco artists.
If you’re an artist interested in getting involved with The Luggage Store Gallery projects, reach out to Darryl Smith at email@example.com.