On a recent Sunday morning, a disabled veteran set up used wares for sale — electronics, clothing, and a stuffed animal — on the sidewalk of a popular Tenderloin intersection: Hyde and Turk streets. For many items, the vet was requesting just a dollar. But the merchandise — including the sweater-wearing rabbit, who had a cute smile but a dirty exterior — had seen much better days. “Buy today or it might go away,” the vet said to pedestrians in a rhyming parlance. Except no one was buying. And one passerby said loudly for anyone to hear, “Nobody's going to buy that.” Overlooking it all was a giant mural called Self Destruction that dissects the kind of complicated hell to which people subject themselves.
It's a brutal world of death, destruction, and disappointment, but it's also an adventure of incredible highs, suggest artists How and Nosm, the celebrated New York twins (real names: Raoul and Davide Perre). How and Nosm's massive wall paintings are as detailed as architectural renderings, and they adorn structures around the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, including the Palestinian side of the giant wall Israel built around its territory. On their Tenderloin building, How and Nosm have depicted everything from birds with holes in their heads to a broken chain covered in bloodish red.
Painted in February 2013, Self Destruction is a three-story narrative of lives like that of Calvin Gary, a longtime street-seller at Hyde and Turk streets who, breaking from his salesmanship, looked at Self Destruction and told me he thought How and Nosm were “damn good artists.” Gary's glowing critique is a tribute to the way that How and Nosm portray tumult. To those who spend hours at Turk and Hyde streets, Self Destruction is a road map to the lives they have to deal with every day of the week.