Ronnie Goodman, Street Surrealist

He sometimes paints with all his worldly possessions with him — and sometimes the cops confiscate his art.

Photo by Jonathan Curiel

Like every bona fide painter, Ronnie Goodman keeps his artist’s tools nearby. His art, too. But on a recent weekday afternoon, Goodman had all his possessions with him as he positioned himself in a doorway near 16th and Mission streets. 

Goodman is an artist who lives on San Francisco’s streets — a street artist in every sense of the term.

“I have to paint on the streets,” Goodman told SF Weekly as he stood amid his art on 16th Street. “Whatever happens on the street, I still have to work with it. [My art] might get rained on. Some people rode their bike over it when I have it on the ground. If you see a design of a bike wheel on it, that’s what happened.

“I have an ‘Art for Food’ sign up here,” he adds, pointing to the wall. “Some people give me some food, and some people donate a few dollars so I can go buy my own food.”

On his website, Goodman describes himself as “a 55-year-old, self-taught homeless artist and distance runner.” SF Weekly has written about Goodman several times over the past five years, including in 2014, when Goodman’s art was featured at YBCA’s “Bay Area Now 7” exhibit, which spotlighted artists who’d participated in the San Quentin Prison Arts Project. Goodman left San Quentin in 2010 after being incarcerated for eight years on a burglary conviction. Raised in San Francisco, Goodman first began drawing at age 8. His work is artistically unique — and whether it’s displayed in a prestigious museum or on an outside wall by a BART station, it demands attention. 

When SF Weekly was interviewing Goodman the other day, several passers-by inquired about the work on display. The largest, a vertical artwork about five-feet tall, was a fantastical scene of almost-magic realism that featured the Golden Gate Bridge, an elephant, an octopus, tall buildings, and sunlike swirls — which Goodman says imagines a scene of protesters with animals for protection. Next to that work, a piece imagined Frida Kahlo in front of the Roxie Theater and at 24th and Mission streets. 

“I describe my art as kind of a romanticized street scene,” Goodman says. “It’s like ‘street surrealism.’ I just draw how I feel or what I’m thinking about. … I’m trying to get more into colors with action. I want to make things pop. Really bright, if I can — but unique colors.”

Last September, SF Weekly wrote that homeless sweeps by SFPD and the Department of Public Works had repeatedly confiscated much of Goodman’s art collection. Half a year later, Goodman had replenished that collection. He had replenished his spirit, too, he says, even while he maintains his art practice where he lives: on the streets.

“I’ll go up to Valencia Street, by Muddy Waters — a lot of customers around there like my work,” he says. “I usually go by the bars at night. Sometimes during the day I come here. But not all the time because I have to leave the spot because the owner sometimes comes in. I may only be here for a few hours or late at night.”

“I’m waiting for housing,” Goodman adds, “and then I’ll move along. Hopefully I can get a little spot and do my art inside. I’d still have to show my art, and I kind of like showing it on the streets. I feel like that’s me. I get a chance to talk to people. It’s like I’m running my own art gallery. I can say that it brightens up a lot of people’s day. When I see people look at it and really think about it, it makes me feel special.”

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