Balmy Alley, San Francisco’s Walk of Art
Stroll Down A Piece Of History
Written By: Nicole Fera
Photographed By: Norman Tate
It is often said that life reflects art and art is reminiscent of our lives. Art can be a creative outlet for expressing things in a way that is sometimes stronger than the spoken or written word. Throughout the years, artists have used their works to tell their story, make people more aware, question things that are going on around them and open up their mind to new possibilities. Art, in whatever form it may be, is a blank canvas that is filled up by the artist and becomes something much more than the paint, sounds, concrete, plaster, strokes, ink, blood, sweat, tears and whatever elese it is made of. We live in a culture where art is a part of most of our everyday lives, even if we don’t realize it. There is an alley in the amazing city of San Francisco that is the epitome of art and expression in the area. The walls of this alley are filled with beautiful art and murals and more importantly, it is made with an intent and more importantly, a hope.
Known as Balmy Alley, it is home to the largest collection of murals in the entire city. It is located in the Mission District section in SF, right between 24th Street and Garfield Square and is full of life, color and living art. Since the beginning, the murals and artists who have contributed to Balmy Alley have painted with a specific purpose. They have used their art to highlight important social and political events that have happened throughout the years. They use this alley to have their voice heard and shed light on current topics that they feel people should know more about. The paintings are not only beautiful but incredibly expressive and moving. This is one of the aspects that make this alley and art stand out among the rest. Not to mention the fact that you can see so many amazing murals all in one place.
The earliest collection of murals dates all the way back to 1972 with the work of two women who were known as the Las Mujeres Muralistas. Their murals are often described as the workings to raise awareness of the displacement and marginalization that Mexican- Americans endured in this country. These two women, Patricia Rodriquez and Graciela Carillo, felt that they could reclaim a piece of their history through their art and sharing it with the world. Their work and contribution in making these murals started something much bigger than they could have probably imagined at the time.
In the mid-80s, Ray Patlan led the charge and headed shape what would come to be known as Balmy Alley. He got together a group of artists, who were also activists at the time, and together they covered all of the garage doors and fences that ran along the block with their work. This included a lot of pieces that expressed their outrage over human rights and political abuses in Central America at this time. People who lived with the back of their homes on the alley were moved by this work and allowed Patlan and other artists to paint on their back fences and gates freely and so new art sprung up along that road very quickly.
This theme has continued up until the present time and included subjects like human rights, gentrification and Hurricane Katrina, which is a huge mural that is currently being restored by the artist. The amazing thing about Balmy Alley is not only the intense history and culture that it possesses but the fact that it is constantly evolving into something new. Different artists are always painting something to share or restoring some of the older murals that have deteriorated throughout the years. The alley commands so much more than one single piece of art could ever do because of the collaborations and community spirit that goes into all of it.
Whether you are living in the area or visiting the beautiful city of San Francisco from afar, these murals around Balmy Alley are worth checking out. A group called Precita Eyes Muralists runs a walking tour of the murals every weekend and during the week by appointment. The tour is always given by a muralist who can shed light on the art and just how much it all means. Next time you’re in San Francisco or have free time in the city take a walk down a little piece of history and see what it’s all about. We promise it will be one of the best strolls that you take down an old alley.