It’s of epic proportions, in black and white and done with dedication. The neighborhood’s newest mural is ready to view on 19th and San Carlos streets.
More than 16 feet wide and with gothic lettering reading “Para la Misión” (To the Mission), the mural mirrors the central figure of Carlos Santana, the Mission District icon from Jalisco, Mexico, who pioneered “Latin rock” in the United States in the late ‘60s.
The mural is the work of Mel Waters, a San Francisco muralist and tattoo artist who grew up near Guerrero and 17th streets. Waters was inspired to paint the mural after seeing a photograph by Len Irish, a famous portrait photographer from New York City.
“My initial idea was to paint several Latino musicians during the preparation, but I came across that image,” Waters said. “The photo contains a lot of energy.”
The image does not show Santana’s guitar nor does it make any reference to music. Only the grand scale, central figure of Santana is shown, clutching at his mouth with a thoughtful expression that is part admiration and part amazement.
Waters, who is of mixed black and Filipino descent opted to paint a Latino. “No matter what race you are, whenever you can identify with someone, it gives me great pride,” Waters said.
The musician’s portrait is flanked by Aztec motifs and a halo-like circular shape that takes the form of a sun. The composition is symmetrical, forward and shocking. There is no way to escape its spell while walking down the sidewalk.
Both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the building’s owner approved the mural. The mural took Waters a month’s time to complete, though he didn’t work on it daily because of his job at Dean’s Tattoo in the Ingleside District, where he’s been the last four years.
The style Waters employs is monochromatic, which highlights the softness and the details of the graphite drawing.
Among the many other murals he’s done, Waters currently has two in the Mission: one at 24th and Harrison streets dedicated to the late Sandy Cuadra, who was a community leader and member of the girl group “Tiny Locas,” and another alongside the 24th Street BART station dedicated to Fred who owned the now closed Venice Café.
Waters said he’s not sure if Santana is aware of the new mural.
“It’s all over the Internet, so maybe he’s seen it,” he said.
Perhaps Santana can take a stroll and see it in person, it’s only four blocks from where he went to school.
Saturday Oct. 25 at 3 p.m., there will be a community celebration next to mural on 19th Street, between Mission and San Carlos streets.
Story by: Iñaki Fdz. de Retana