San Francisco’s Beautiful Alleys Remind Us Why We Love FREE ART. [Photo Slideshow: Murals, Grafitti, Stencil Paintings in Clarion Alley]

Via Rachel Znerold
on Feb 26, 2009
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Elephant Caravan Clarion Alley Street Art Graffiti Mural SF

There’s no need to brave icy galleries or pay steep museum fees to see awe-inspiring artwork in San Francisco. Some of the city’s most vibrant creations can unexpectedly steal your breath away on a random stroll around the block or on an outing to the corner store. In the Mission District especially, it is impossible to even step outside without seeing murals bounding from walls and artwork creeping up from the cracks in the sidewalk. Clarion Alley, nestled in the heart of the Mission, is home to one of the largest clusters of street art in the city. Virtually every surface of the alleyway is covered with murals ranging from spray-painted graffiti art to urban masterpieces and collages.

Clarion Alley was first adorned back in 1992 by a local collective of artists (CAMP: Clarion Alley Mural Project) and was originally inspired by the clustered murals in the Mission’s Balmy Alley. Balmy Alley, around since the mid-80’s, is equally as artistically impressive, featuring artists’ visual outrage to Central American human rights violations and political corruption. Walking tours of both alleys and other great Mission mural sites are available every weekend by Precita Eyes and are well worth a few extra bucks to learn the history of these hidden San Francisco landmarks.

I visit Clarion Alley often, not only for the art, but also to witness the ooh-and-aahers, the snapshot-takers, the shortcutting passersby, the vagabonds, the Mexicans on lunch break and the cute local skaterboys, all of whom are part of the sweeping one-block adventure. Authentic and unadulterated, the raw magnetism of the spot lures in spectators as colorful as the art itself.

[galleria thumb_w=120 thumb_h=90 thumbnail=”bottom” navigation=’none’ ]

There is a magical energy that seems to bounce between the walls, a hum of ecstatic history and culture, and the whole visual experience is grand enough to help you forget (or at least forgive) the unsavory aroma wafting up from Mission Street. And even that scent serves as a reminder of the true spirit of public art; it is a joyful and free expression made available to everyone from the wide-eyed tourists to the teary-eyed homeless. It is a beautiful place.

And as you pop out onto Valencia Street at the end of Clarion Alley, don’t forget to stop into The Community Thrift Store for the raddest vintage thingamajiggers around. Use that change still jingling in your pocket to support over 150 charitable organizations around the Bay Area, and you may even have some left over for a taco at El Toro on the corner of Valencia and 17th. Mmmmmm….


About Rachel Znerold

Growing up in the Colorado countryside, Rachel Znerold knew early on that she was different…she saw dazzling beauty in decomposing logs and expressed her individuality with wild drawings on her sneakers. Now, as a prolific painter, eco-fashion designer, performance artist and writer, Rachel makes a life out of making art. With a degree in Fine Art and Advertising from The University of Colorado in Boulder, Rachel began to pursue her art career full time. Aiming to share her awe of the world and the art of the everyday, she has taught painting, fashion design, and performance at a variety of schools, museums, and non-profits. Rachel has been commissioned to paint murals in Colorado, New Zealand and Mexico, and eventually landed in San Francisco, becoming a part of the Mission District’s vibrant art scene. Rachel believes art is instrumental in building strong community and a culture of social activism.


6 Responses to “San Francisco’s Beautiful Alleys Remind Us Why We Love FREE ART. [Photo Slideshow: Murals, Grafitti, Stencil Paintings in Clarion Alley]”

  1. Sheila Casey says:

    Rachel Znerold gives us an exciting glimpse of the diversity and colorful life in the Mission district of San Francisco! The inspirational artwork she chose and the description of sidewalk public art is amazing…makes me want to jump on a plane to come and see it in person! I’m looking forward to hearing more from Ms. Znerold!!

  2. Karin Eberhardt says:

    We’re planning a trip to SF next month and will be sure to check out some of Rachel’s suggested “alley galleries”. This piece by Ms. Znerold is a reminder that beauty is often found in the strangest of places.

  3. cRc says:

    Rachel, perhaps you started something!
    subSF, a website devoted to SF graffiti, is doing a week of Clarion Alley streetart:
    This is courtesy my favorite SF blog, Mission Mission:

  4. Hey thanks cRc. Great Blog. And a side note about the safety of the alley…this neighborhood has really cleaned up over the past few years, and I promise, I have never seen anyone doing anything sketchy in the alley in the dozens of times I have been there! (And it is right across the street from the Mission Police Station) But nevertheless, I agree not to hang out in Clarion Alley after dark!

  5. Tony Sce says:

    Clarion is an excellent place to visit. When I have traveling artist friends visit i always take them there. It is particularly meaningful to me because of Kirsten's memorial painting, one of my best friends who recently passed on (that you have a picture of above). Personally I think that we are surrounded with beauty and art no matter where we are – stores, signs, ads, houses, plants, etc – but it is really great to see the art on clarion. I almost wrote "it is really great to see art that isn't trying to sell you something" – but even the art in the alley is trying to sell us things. Some of the work has political or social undercurrents, and even pictures of flowers and trees is trying to push some kind of an agenda on us~ heh. Anyways, thanks for posting this article, excellent work Rachel.


  6. lula says:

    Yes, it's true. Clarion Alley is a hot spot. One time I saw the performance artist, Violeta Luna, interact with the murals. Y'all should look her up. C.A. is a source of pride for the people that live in the mission.