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Touring the Mission's Murals

Since the 1970s, groups of artists have worked to transform the city's walls into canvases, art accessible to everyone. Muralists here fall into two loose categories: those in the Latin American tradition of addressing political and social justice issues through art, and everyone else (those who simply paint on a large scale and like lots of people to see it).

Rediscovering the work of Mexican liberal artist and muralist Diego Rivera in the 1960s, Latino muralists began to address public issues on the community's walls. Heavily Latino since the 1970s, the Mission District became the collective canvas for these artists. The Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center emerged to support those artists and galvanize collaborative projects in the neighborhood. Early on, the San Francisco Arts Commission hired the center to create murals all over town. Of the 800-plus murals that adorn city surfaces, a good quarter of them were painted by muralists associated with Precita Eyes.

Bright Sunbelt colors reflect the medium's historical geography; in contemporary work, look for anime and woodblock cuts along with traditional Latino symbols. Here are the best and brightest of the Mission District:

826 Valencia. Fans of graphic novelist Chris Ware will want to take a good look at the facade here. Ware designed the intricate mural for the storefront, a meditation on the evolution of human communication.

Balmy Alley. The most famous of the Mission's murals—a vivid sweep from end to end. This group series began in 1971 and still gets new additions.

Caltrain Depot. Facing the train yard near 7th and Townsend streets is Brian Barneclo's behemoth Systems Mural Project (2011), exploring everything from the nervous system to the ecosystem. At 24,000 square feet, the city's largest mural is also among its most high-profile artworks, visible from passenger trains and the freeway.

Clarion Alley. A new generation of muralists is creating a fresh alley-cum-gallery here, between Valencia and Mission streets and 17th and 18th streets. The loosely connected artists of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) represent a broad range of styles and imagery. Carpet-draped Indonesian elephants plod calmly down the block; kung fu movie-style headlines shout slogans. The works here offer a dense glimpse at the Mission's contemporary art scene.

Shotwell Street grocery. Brian Barneclo's gigantic Food Chain adorns a grocery store on Shotwell Street between 14th and 15th streets. It's a retro, 1950s-style celebration of the city's many neighborhoods (and the food chain), complete with an ant birthday party and worms finishing off a human skull. But in a cute way. Barneclo fans can see more of his work at Rye bar or Nopa restaurant.

24th Street. Several murals in the Mexican political tradition adorn the buildings along 24th Street, including St. Peter's (at Alabama Street) and even McDonald's (at Mission Street).

Women's Building. Maestrapeace —the impressive, towering mural that seems to enclose this building—celebrates women around the world who work for peace.

Clarion Alley murals. A new generation of muralists is creating a fresh alley-cum-gallery here. The works by the loosely connected artists of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) represent a broad range of styles and imagery. Carpet-draped Indonesian elephants plod calmly down the block; kung fu movie–style headlines shout slogans. The alley's murals offer a quick but dense glimpse at the Mission's contemporary art scene. Between Valencia and Mission Sts. and 17th and 18th Sts., Mission, San Francisco, CA, 94110.

826 Valencia mural. Fans of graphic novelist Chris Ware will want to take a good look at the facade of 826 Valencia, the nonprofit organization established by writer Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari to help students in elementary, middle, and high school develop their writing skills. Ware designed the intricate mural for the group's storefront as a meditation on the evolution of human communication. 826 Valencia St., between 19th and 20th Sts., Mission, San Francisco, CA, 94110. 826valencia.org.

Food Chain mural. Brian Barneclo's gigantic Food Chain is a retro, 1950s-style celebration of the city's many neighborhoods—and the food chain—complete with an ant birthday party and worms finishing off a human skull. But in a cute way. Barneclo fans can see more of his work at Rye bar and the restaurants Nopa and farmerbrown (as well as the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park). Foods Co, 1800 Folsom St., Shotwell St. side of store between 14th and 15th Sts., Mission, San Francisco, CA, 94103.

Sound Systems mural. On a sound wall along the Caltrain tracks is Brian Barneclo's behemoth Sound Systems (2011), exploring everything from the nervous system to the ecosystem. At 24,000 square feet, the city's largest mural is also among its most high-profile artworks, visible from passenger trains and the freeway. 7th and Townsend Sts., SoMa, San Francisco, CA, 94103.

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