The corner of Olive and Polk streets is a community onto itself. Artist Max Ehrman found that out in December and early January when he spent weeks there doing a new mural that attracted the area’s denizens and regulars, including garbage collectors, police officers, drug users, homeless people, and others.
They got to know Ehrman, and he them. And they got to know Ehrman’s new work — an epic piece that’s the size of an Imax movie screen. Ehrman dreamed up a galaxy of swirls, shapes, and colors that boomerang from left to right and top to bottom. It’s a kind of cosmic spectacle Ehrman says was influenced by his love of nature, architecture, and jazz. He thought of titling the mural Visual Jazz, but stopped short.
“I like to equate my style to jazz and music, where one piece [of the mural] leads to another,” he tells SF Weekly. “It’s like a puzzle that tells me what it wants. And I experiment with shapes and forms. It’s just like jazz: It’s freestyle, where one person looks at another person and they build off each other. This past year, I traveled to Thailand and painted, and I always sought out jazz clubs. To me, it’s like auditory magic, and I’m trying to create visual magic through the same thought processes. I started this wall on the upper left with this large box, and from there one form played off the other. Even when I went to bed at night I was painting in my head and I could see it, and I wanted to get back to the wall to make it happen.”
The wall on the back of the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre is a coveted spot for street art. Ehrman’s work replaces one by the Italian artist named Ozmo, which replaced one by John Vochatzer, who’s a good friend of Ehrman’s and who works at the theater. (Ehrman funded half the new work through a GoFundMe campaign. The most expensive cost? The boom lift to transport him to the wall’s upper reaches.)
His studio is near Polk and Post streets — just five blocks away — so he already knew the neighborhood. But it’s one thing to walk through an area regularly, and another to spend eight to 10 hours in the same spot, day after day after day. Near the end of his project, Ehrman was handing out cookies to new acquaintances. He’s planning to do an “unveiling party” at the site with giveaways like T-shirts and stickers.
“Every social demographic came by and said hi and had thoughts,” says Ehrman, who also goes by the name Eon75. “One day I turned around [on the lift] and there’s this young man in his mid-20s, dressed nicely, with a nice camera on. And after an hour he was still there. And I had to come down, and he walked up to me and reached out his hand and said, ‘I just want to thank you. This past year, I was in a severe car accident, and I had severe mental brain damage. I have the mental capacity of a child.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Nothing in this world makes sense to me right now. From our economics to this world. But what inspires me, and what my brain resonates with, is art and murals.’ And he started tearing up. And he said, ‘This mural made my whole month.’ And then he walked away.”