Amos Goldbaum has a backache. The line artist has painted his spindly San Francisco streetscapes on all manner of vertical surfaces, from downtown office building lobbies to an autobody shop on Ocean Avenue. But these days, he’s painting on the ground — asphalt, to be precise — and the transition hasn’t been easy.
“The first few days I was just on my knees all day, and I was like, this is not sustainable. I’m gonna die,” Goldbaum says during a pause in his work on Tuesday morning.
Things have gotten slightly better for Goldbaum as he continues to make progress on his street mural, extending the entire block of Sanchez between 24th and Elizabeth in the heart of Noe Valley. It’s a massive work, measuring 180 feet by 30 feet, marking off a section of one of the city’s most popular “slow streets,” where through-traffic for cars is limited and pedestrians can walk in the middle of the road. In January, SFMTA announced that Sanchez would be one of the first slow streets to potentially become permanent, in addition to Page and Shotwell.
The mural “marks” Sanchez as “not just a normal street,“ Goldbaum says. “It reimagines what a street can be. A street can be for pedestrians as well as cars. It can be for art.”
In a city where doing anything new usually takes months of process, this mural went from concept to reality remarkably fast. The community organization Friends of Slow Sanchez coordinated with the city and neighbors for the proper permits, and quickly fundraised $10,000 to bring the mural to life.
“We believe a custom piece by a local artist in a novel format has the power to not just serve as a community asset and source of fun but also help us reimagine how our shared spaces can be enjoyed,” the group writes on its website. “The outline nature of the work also enables community engagement and chalking over time by kids or adults of all ages.”
The piece is meant to “pay homage to Noe Valley” and “reflect the neighborhood back on itself,” says Goldbaum, who grew up in and still lives in Noe Valley. When finished, the mural will depict an “archetypal Noe Valley scene,” including gardens, Victorian houses, and a backdrop of Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower. Appropriately, Goldbaum is painting the mural in “Giants orange,” produced by mixing widely available red and yellow asphalt paint.
There is little precedent for such a large street mural in the city. However, the idea gained traction with the “Black Housing” street mural that was painted on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin this summer, and Black Lives Matter murals painted on streets around the country. While those murals were usually collaborative efforts, with volunteers painting within lines sketched out by professional artists, Goldbaum is doing all the work himself — hence the backache.
Goldbaum is adapting, though. With the work about 50 percent complete, the artist now sports kneepads to help with detail work, and a paint brush tied to the end of a stick so he can paint from a standing position. While he had initially hoped the work would take about a week, rain and the unexpected challenges associated with a horizontal surface slowed things down. He’s hoping to have the mural complete by the end of this week or next. After that, the paint is expected to last three to five years, although Goldbaum intends to increase the longevity of his work.
“I do live in the neighborhood, so I’m gonna come touch it up if it really gets damaged.”