The area around Market and Seventh streets is Richard L. Perri's artistic stomping ground.
Two years ago, Perri put up a giant pill mural at the southeast corner of the Odd Fellows Building, on a temporary wall of a drug store that has since opened. The pill symbolized the store to come, the use of street drugs in the area, and the area's arts scene. As Perri painted the surreal orange and yellow pill — accompanied by a stencil of Perri in a white doctor's coat using a stethoscope to monitor the pill's condition — two passersby asked if he was the elusive artist Banksy.
“I'm mixing the paint,” Perri says, “and they said to me, 'Are you Banksy?' And I said, 'I can't tell you that.' And they said, 'Oh, I knew it was you! We saw you from the bus, and we had to get out; can we take your picture?'”
A 71-year-old transplanted New Yorker who is much older than the British-raised Banksy, Perry nonetheless shares his odd sense of humor. “I told them, 'No. Just take a picture of that mural over there.' So they turned around to take the picture, and with that, I slipped away.”
In April, Perri put up another drugstore-themed mural, this one on the outside of the former Merrill's at 1091 Market St., which closed down in 2004 after more than 50 years in that location. Based on a photograph of the store from around 1949, Striking Back is a black-and-white flashback to a time when every respectable man who walked down Market Street wore a fedora and every respectable woman wore a conservative hat. Before it closed, Merrill's reeked of another era. Perri, whose studio is on the second floor of the Odd Fellows building, shopped there for small supplies, got prescriptions, and used its post office. That's why Striking Back has special resonance for him.
Perry, who attended the San Francisco Art Institute in the mid-1970s and who specializes in scenes of history and old buildings, has seen the mid-Market area change over decades. His more notable canvases include one of the Old Fellows building, which is more than 100 years old.
“I wanted to preserve the memory of Merrill's, and I wanted to bring it back — to the time when it was fun and popular,” Perri says, standing in his studio on a recent afternoon. “It's been fun to be in this neighborhood and to see the changes.”
Those changes include all the murals and street art along the mid-Market area. Perri can see the street from his studio window, which advertises his name to pedestrians below. Unlike Banksy, Perri puts his name everywhere he can, including on his street work. Ordinarily, Perri likes the spotlight. The day he avoided the two Banksy fans was the exception to his rule.