A fading gateway opens onto a bird's eye view of the mural location itself, looking North from an imagined viewpoint above Market and Jones Streets, one of the entry points to San Francisco's Tenderloin district. This is the first mural panel you face when entering the Tenderloin from that direction.
In the middle, you may see the mural itself painted into the picture, functioning like a "you are here" dot on a map. The street scene describes your environment as you look at the wall (or rather, it is a record of the area surrounding the mural as it was in 2009 - 2010, when the mural was being painted. the building on the left corner, St. Anthony's soup kitchen, has already been torn down since.)
All the "mural windows" that are at eye level describe the cityscape surrounding the mural. They also chronicle the social life there: almost every little figure within the painting is based on a real person who regularly frequents that street corner.
No solicitation was necessary to include community members in the painting: as soon as the cityscape I was sketching became recognizable, people started asking to be depicted within it.
People posed for reference photos, picked a spot where they wanted to be portrayed, sometimes specifying how or with whom, and so the painted cityscape slowly became populated with actual local residents. This way, the social geography of the area was described organically, through the indications of the portrayed people themselves.
I ended up painting just under 300 mini-portraits in this mural, about 90 of them in this first panel, and the little figures got progressively more detailed as I continued the mural around the corner, on Jones Street, where a twilight and a night-time scene show two additional contemporary views of the neighborhood (Hyde and Turk, and Jones and Golden Gate again but looking east.)
The short video clip below by Nick Kasimatis documents what it was like to include people in the mural, and shows people recognizing their community members on the wall.
[video: the present]
I nicknamed my little painting station "the public photo booth", as it became a gregarious scene there at times amongst people posing for their reference photo... Some people prepared for their shoot by bringing a prop, their pet, or favorite clothes; others just posed as they were. Below is a collection of some of my reference photographs.
This constant interaction with the surrounding community slowed the mural painting to a crawl. But as a result, the mural continued to fill with increasingly intimate portrayals of the people I was meeting.
People who had been painted into the mural would often return along with a posse of friends or family members, and sometimes more than one such group would show up at the same time and they'd end up talking to each other.
This interactive mural process turned the wall into a meeting place for people of all walks of life and backgrounds, functioning as a kind of community mixer. The mural gave people an opportunity to break the ice and converse with people outside their own communities, which is the ultimate goal of the artwork.
Some moments during the mural unveiling, with people pointing themselves out at the mural: