Tag Archives: mural

I need you like juice

I took my first ever mural tour when I was in Philadelphia in March.  A top-notch guide from the Mural Arts Program took our group on a ride on SEPTA’s Market/Frankford evaluated train line to show us the rooftop murals along the Market Street corridor that make up A Love Letter for You.

Our guide shared the fictitious back-story for the murals:  man leaves his woman and baby, he returns after several years and wants her back, she’s not interested, he tries to win her back with a rooftop love letter along her daily commute.

The piece was created by Steve Powers who spent the 90s writing graffiti in Philadelphia and New York under the name ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach).  It was really fun (and hard!) to spot the murals as the train sped along — and tricky to snap photos.  Mural Arts Philadelphia has great pictures and more info.



My friend T tipped me off that the City of Philadelphia has undertaken a major mural-making initiative over the past 25 years — so I included time for mural hunting on a recent trip.

One of my favorite murals that I saw was Holding Grandmother’s Quilt which was painted by Donald Gensler and others in 2004.  It spans two sides of a vacant lot near 39th and Aspen in West Philadelphia.

The woman pictured making the quilt on the west wall is Miss Jones, a well-known resident of the community.  Her quilt seems to run under the vacant lot to the east wall where 3 children receive it — along with the wisdom of her generation.

This piece is one of more than 4,000 murals that have been created since 1984 through the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP).  MAP was started as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, a City initiative to eradicate the extensive graffiti that was appearing in Philadelphia (and many other cities) at the time.  Network staff reached out to graffiti writers to engage them in collaborating with their communities and redirecting their energies toward mural painting.

In addition to coordinating mural painting, MAP now offers art education and youth development programs, criminal and restorative justice work, and guided tours of the city’s murals.  I downloaded maps, a podcast and even a cell phone app (!) for my mural hunting adventure.  If you can’t make it to Philly, you can visit the interactive, multimedia Mural Explorer on the MAP website.  Very impressive!

Five hundred years

1992 was the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola — the beginning of the Spanish conquest.  Salvadoran artist Isaias Mata marked the anniversary with a mural on two exterior walls of St. Peter’s Church  at 24th and Florida streets in San Francisco’s Mission District.

500 Años de Resistencia examines resistance to Spanish colonialism from 1492 to the present era.  The story begins on the 24th Street side of the mural, with a pre-conquest landscape.

Closer examination reveals ancestors buried beneath the soil.

To the left, advancing Spanish armies collide with indigenous Americans.

Beyond, Mayan images evoke pre-Columbian cultures and close-up portraits reveal the suffering caused by the conquest.

On the Florida Street side, portraits of religious leaders commemorate prominent individuals who stood in resistance…

while images of contemporary resistance honor the daily struggle of those who are less prominent.


The Women’s Center was opened in 1979 in San Francisco as the first woman-owned and -operated community center in the US.  It is located between the Mission and Castro neighborhoods on 18th near Guerrero St.  In 1994, seven women artists collaborated to paint MaestraPeace, an enormous mural that covers two sides of the building.

Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton and Irene Pérez spent more than 18 months planning the mural in collaboration with community groups.  The resulting piece celebrates women’s history and wisdom around the world.

Rigoberta Menchú presides over the northern side of the mural.

On the corners, profiles represent women in different parts of the world.

Smaller images depict women dancing, working, celebrating, and just living.

Some images are famous historical figures or activists.    Like Audre Lorde on the lower left…

or Jocelyn Elders in her scrubs.

On the western side of the mural, a pregnant goddess represents the generations of women yet to come.

Chicano Park

My friend S, San Diego born and raised, tipped me off about the Chicano Park murals before my trip in early 2011.  The park is located under the Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan, and it is nothing less than an outdoor mural museum.

Above:  La Tierra Mia (date unknown), Mario Toreo

Below:  Aztec Warrior (1978), Felipe Adame

Chicano Park began with a land takeover in 1970.  The surrounding neighborhood, Logan Heights, had been a vibrant Mexican-American community since the early 1900s.  Rezoning in the 50s led to an influx of Anglo-owned junkyards, and construction of Interstate 5 in 1963 cut the neighborhood in half.   Barrio Logan was further chopped up in 1969 when the Coronado Bridge was built.  The neighborhood fell into decline as thousands of residents and businesses were displaced, and homes and yards were replaced with a forest of concrete freeway pillars.

In response, the residents demanded a park underneath the new bridge.  Officials promised the park, but plans actually moved forward to build a California Highway Patrol station on the land.  In April 1970, residents spotted bulldozers moving in to start work on the station and, on April 22, they occupied the park to block the work.  They stayed 12 days, clearing and planting the land and organizing the Chicano Park Steering Committee.  At a meeting with City and Highway Patrol representatives, Salvador Robert “Queso” Torres articulated a vision for the park:  “Chicano artists and sculptors will turn the great columns of the bridge approach into things of beauty reflecting the Mexican-American culture.”

Above:  Colossus (1974, restored 1989), Mario Terero, Mano Lima and Laurie Manzano  

Below: Varrio Sí, Yonkes No  (1977, restored 1989), Raul Jose Jacquez, Alvaro Millan, Victor Ochoa, and Armando Rodriguez — reflects the protest call: Neighborhood Yes, Junkyards No


On July 1, 1970 the land was officially allocated for the park.  Torres visited the Polyforum Siquieros in Mexico City in 1971 and found similarities and inspiration in the 12-sided concrete structure.  Mural painting in Chicano Park began in 1973 with most of the major mural activity completed by 1980. 

It’s hard to describe the number and variety of murals except by sharing images. 

Above: Nacimiento del Parque Chicano(1978), Dolores Serrano

Below: Mujer Cósmica (1975), Eleben Villa and Ricardo Favela

Above: Mi Raza Primero (1993), Mario Torero

Below:  Coatlicue (1978), Susan Yamagata and Michael Schnorr — the first non-Chicano artists to create murals in the park

Above:  Hasta La Bahia (1978), Victor Ochoa — reflects the protest call to extend the park All the Way to the Bay

Below:  Los Grandes (1978), Rupert Garcia and Victor Ochoa — features Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros above Frida Kahlo

Below: Revolución Mexicana (1985), Victor Ochoa — airbrush recreation of sepia photos of revolutionary figures including Emiliano Zapata

The most recent chapter of activism in Chicano Park history occurred in the mid-1990s when plans to retrofit the bridge to make it earthquake safe threatened to destroy the murals.  The community mobilized once again, resulting in a plan that protected the murals while the bridge work was conducted.

Above: No Retrofitting (1995), Mario Torero and Karmen Kalo 

 Below: We Saved the Murals (1997), Mario Torero, Victor Ochoa, and Armando Nuñez — celebrates what the community has accomplished

Remembering Mireles

Sometimes I go out hunting for a particular mural and come across a different one that I didn’t even know existed.  That happened recently in the neighborhood of South Chicago at 91st and Commercial.

This mural was painted by South Chicago Art Center participants under the direction of Brother Mark Elder, a muralist and professor at DePaul University.  The team spent 2 years creating it, startingin 2007 and completing it in 2009.  


I love how the mural flow across the wall, creating a blend of patterns and figures.  Images include families, street cats and dogs, and a map of the city. 

I believe the figure below is Arnold Mireles, a neighborhood activist who photographed rundown buildings and drug activity and shared the images with police.  In 1997, a local slumlord hired 2 men who shot and killed Mireles for reporting the landlord to city officials.  Mireles was 35.  The men were convicted three years later in a complicated murder-for-hire trial.



The work includes several quotations across the top.  The Ghandi quote seems particularly powerful to me in the context of Mireles’ murder.

  Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life   —Pablo Picasso

  Education is the weapon which can change the world  —Nelson Mandela

  Forgiveness is the attitude of the strong  –Ghandi



After a 5 month Blogging Break, it’s time to get back to the murals.  And what better way to kick start my blog for 2012 than to share the largest mural in the world?

The Polyforum Siqueiros is located in Colonia Nápoles in Mexico City and houses a 500-seat Greek style round theater and two art galleries.  Designed by Manuel Suárez y Suárez, it is an integrated structure that combines architecture, mural and sculpture.  Suárez invited David Alfaro Siqueiros to design and construct the mural component which covers the 12-sided exterior of the building as well as the interior of the vaulted upper level, the Foro Universal.

Siqueiros began his design while he was imprisoned for political activism from 1960 to 1964.  Upon his release, he assembled a team of artists to create the panels, and the mural was finally completed seven years later in 1971.  It covers more than 8700 sqare meters — almost 94,000 square feet.


The Polyforum is shielded from Insurgentes Sur, a busy thoroughfare, by a wall featuring portraits of five Mexican artists who had a great influence on Siqueiros. 

Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco appear on the left.  On the right are José Guadalupe Posada (the political cartoonist), Leopoldo Méndez ( printmaker and founder of the Taller de Gráfica Popular) and Dr. Atl (the painter born Gerardo Murillo).  Other figures recall earlier Siqueiros work such as El pueblo a la universidad, la universidad al pueblo.

The 12 panels that cover the building’s exterior blend elements of mural and sculpture to present a variety of human forms and abstract images.

The interior, the Foro Universal,  is even more intense…and more difficult to understand.  The mural , titled La Marcha de la Humanidad /The March of Humanity, depicts human progress over the ages through images of creation, nature, science, and politics.  Painted on the walls and ceiling of  the domed room, visitors are entirely surrounded by the mural.  The lightining is dim (too dark for photos) which intensifies the feeling of actually being inside the mural.

I wish I could explain the meaning of this incredible work — or adequately caputre it through pictures.  I’ll have to settle for sharing the Polyforum Virtual, an interactive, 360 degree journey through the march of humanity.