(Photos and image courtesy of Twin Walls Mural Company.)
It’s been around a year since the wall at the Burnside Avenue cul-de-sac beckoned to Glen Park resident Renee Berger. After a career in international consulting mainly in the philanthropic arena, and a side gig as a San Francisco City Guide leading group tours of the Mission Murals, Berger brought her combination of skills to the vision of a mural and tiled stairway at the Burnside location adjacent to the Glen Park Greenway. The project is called Burnside Mural+.
Since then Berger has been busily gathering and submitting the information and documentation required to get city approval for the mural, getting fiscal sponsorship from the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and assembling a team of volunteer experts–Mary Szczepanik, Anne Wintroub, and Allison Arieff, all long-time Glen Park residents who bring enthusiasm and critical skills to the project including fundraising, communications, and design–to handle the myriad aspects and details of the undertaking. Details here.
“I think we’ve really touched something in the community. Maybe it’s been elevated by the pandemic,” notes Berger. “Including pledges we’ve raised close to $24 thousand of the total $41 thousand needed, before the design was even chosen! That’s an astounding statement of trust and enthusiasm.” In the midst of managing the creation process of the mural, she is also thinking ahead to the next phase–the tiled stairway–which will present a new set of design and funding challenges.
On December 15 the Visual Arts Committee of the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) gave the green light to the mural project, and what remains is a vote by the full SFAC in January. Berger hopes the mural will be completed by next summer, with a big neighborhood celebration to follow.
Berger did extensive research on potential muralists. Twin Walls Mural Company (TWMC) was chosen for the project based on their demonstrated execution of wall projects all over the city and their resulting excellent reputation. They were then engaged to execute their design.
Berger did her due diligence focused on hearing about the team’s listening skills and responsiveness to the various communities where they have worked.
The muralists studiously researched Glen Park’s local history back to its Ramaytush Ohlone peoples origin. They met with the remaining survivor of the Gum Tree Girls, Joan Seiwald, and relatives of Zoanne Nordstrom and Geri Arkush and were led on a history walk by neighborhood historian Evelyn Rose.
Partners in TWMC Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong, both 39, have deep artistic roots. Both are San Francisco natives (Perez-Wong is third generation native) and women of color born to single-parent women from immigrant families. Chu grew up in the Richmond District and Perez-Wong in the Mission. They met at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) in 1997 where they formed their close friendship. Chu went on to get her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute and College of Art (MICA) and Perez-Wong attained hers from the California College of the Arts (CCA). They were mentored in the city by Susan Cervantes of Precita Eyes Muralists Association, where they developed their personal approach to subject matter and design for their murals.
The mural form suits them. “That’s our chosen medium to express ourselves,” says Chu. “We’re inspired by wanting to heal our own personal trauma and using our art form to help others heal in this visual language that is large and public.” Perez-Wong survived a rare childhood cancer and has been battling stage four metastatic cancer for over two years. She is currently recovering from surgery and will still have to undergo radiation and further surgery.
Their murals tell visual stories of hope, balance and community.
The artists work like twins: When one of them prefers to paint one part, the other paints the other part. Initially they use an app, Procreate, to map out the mural electronically. They used to draw everything out by hand, which made editing and correcting the images difficult and messy. Also during Covid they find it a great way to collaborate without having to be in the same room. Chu and Perez-Wong describe their style as semi-realism: “We use slightly more extreme colors. They look like they ‘would-ish’ in reality but we intensify the colors to make it a little bit exaggerated because we like that aesthetically, but also because the community–and especially kids–respond to the intensity of the pigments and it resonates with people’s spirits.” They don’t want the images to look exactly like a photo.
The artists see relationships among their murals. They usually include a mother figure or symbol, such as Mother Nature or goddesses worshipped in different cultures.
In the Burnside Mural, the Gum Tree Girls and Mother Nature are represented. Water is another element they’ve been exploring and that theme fits with Islais Creek in Glen Canyon Park. They don’t want to include a lot of text in the mural, feeling that it distracts the viewer from experiencing the imagery directly. For the most part the placement of the images is a kind of timeline starting from the bottom and snaking its way up through Glen Park history. Larger details in the mural and the artists’ vision for it are in their artists’ statement.
The odd shape of the wall will be a challenge but the muralists have worked on many different kinds of walls and they tackle them as they come. At Burnside, they enjoyed integrating the design of the ground level wall with the the wall along the 69-step zigzag stairway. The curvature of the wall suggests the shape of an amphitheater, another interesting aspect of the space.
Since they formed Twin Walls Mural Company in 2013, their body of work includes over thirty murals and is on display at major venues in the city and greater Bay Area, such as SFMOMA, where “Our Ancestors Wildest Dreams” will be up at least to the end of 2022. Coming up next year will be a work for the Bruce Lee exhibit at the Chinese Historical Society.
See the Twin Walls Mural Company website for their mural collection. They’ve painted a number of murals close to Glen Park. Here’s a partial list.
“La Flor de la Vida-Frida’s Closet,” 3473 25th St.
“The Rebirth of Coyolxauhqui,” 18th and Valencia Sts.
“Justice for Luis Gongora,” Clarion Alley
“Koi, La Mission,” 2700 24th St.
“150 Years of Dedicated and Compassionate Service to the Community,” adjacent to Laguna Honda Hospital/across from Forest Hill station.
They’ve also done nearby smaller private commissions, such as–
“Chewie, We’re Home,” Park and Holly Park Sts.
“Copas de Oro,” Folsom and Cortland Sts.
The artists are excited about the Burnside Mural+ project in Glen Park. Says Chu, “Marina grew up in the Mission and is living in the Portola District now with her parents in the same house that her grandparents used to own. I grew up in this the Richmond District but lived in Bernal for a long time and I love Glen Park. We love our city and we love representing the history through our painting.”