Story by:

Royvi Hernandez and Kari Vides

“As children, we used to just play around the plants, and learn how to make bouquets and flower arrangements and things like that … really appreciating the beauty of nature,” Susan Kelk Cervantes, founder and director of Precita Eyes Muralists, says.  

Cervantes was influenced to become an artist from a young age and was later inspired to contribute to other art pieces all over San Francisco by one of the original Mujeres Muralistas.

“I was just amazed to see women artists getting up on scaffoldings and painting,” Cervantes said. “I would go and watch them and take pictures of them, and give them food … I was in awe and very excited about their work.” 

Las Mujeres Muralistas: (from left) Graciela Carrillo, Consuelo Mendez, Irene Perez and Patricia Rodriguez. Courtesy: El Tecolote archives

In the 70s, a group of young, female artists broke out of gender stereotypes and single-handedly pioneered the art mural movement in San Francisco — they were known as Las Mujeres Muralistas (The Women Muralists). They motivated and encouraged womxn to create art pieces that demonstrated their ability to be successful artists. 

Cervantes worked alongside  Graciela Carrillo — a core member of Las Mujeres Muralistas — to create a mural known as Para El Mercado (Paco’s Tacos) that was located on 24th and South Van Ness in the 70s but has since been blocked by a building.

Cervantes mentioned that her involvement in art began in high school. She took various art class electives and was awarded a scholarship to attend any art school in the country — she chose to attend San Francisco Art Institute. 

Cervantes met her husband, Luis, in college, and they both studied art and lived together in various areas of the city, one of them being Precita Park. 

Susan Cervantes, co-founder and executive director of Precita Eyes Muralists, poses for a portrait in front of the Precita Eyes Center. Courtesy: El Tecolote archives

Cervantes taught at the Precita Valley Community Center and helped to develop and direct the first multicultural mural that was the face of the center in 1974.

“The original Precita Eyes came from the painting class I was teaching … turned into a mural painting class,” Cervantes told El Tecolote. 

“We had about 70 people who came and participated … Some of them artists, some not artists,” Cervantes said. About eight of the artists contributed to the group’s first mural. 

“ … We did our first mural together called Masks of God/Soul of Man … each person, they derived a mask from a different culture, from their own culture,” Cervantes said. “It was our first mural together … So we said, no one person designed it, we all did it together. So how should we sign the mural?”

Cervantes told El Tecolote they decided to sign it “Precita Eyes Muralists.” ‘Precita’ represented where the mural originated, ‘eyes’ how they visualized the piece, and ‘muralists’ the name of what they did. 

Since then, Cervantes has created over 400 murals in San Francisco, one of them being the Maestrapeace Mural located on the Women’s Building on 3543 18th St.

Susan Cervantes, artist and founder of Precita Eyes Muralists Association. Photo: Ella Ramrayka Rogers

Pioneras inspire future generations

The Mission District is filled with these vibrant murals painted by many Latine/Latina/Latino individuals who have captured the history of their heritage and the heritage of those indigenous to this land. SF muralists have worked to preserve the culture and paint a message with their art pieces.  

Following in the footsteps of his mother, Mexican-American artist Alex Sodari seeks to be seen through his art and bring attention to the Chicano community.

“Making art has always been about telling stories for me and even more like fine art applications,” Sodari said. “I’m always trying to think of what’s the story?”

In 2022, he painted a mural outside of The Sycamore on Mission St., showing two Olmec heads on each side and an Aztec jaguar vessel and candles — to continue beautifying the area and eliminate previous graffiti. 

Alex Sodari’s 2022 mural outside of The Sycamore on Mission Street. Photo: Royvi Hernandez

“I felt really privileged to have the space be made available for me. I wanted to honor the Chicano community [and] pick something that people would respect,” Sodari said. 

Sodari’s art career began with comics and illustrations and has expanded to murals, not just in the Mission District, but throughout the Bay Area. 

“It kind of took me a while to get to the level where I could paint murals,” he said. “Murals are a pretty inaccessible form of art for most people in terms of materials and the techniques, in addition to finding the walls or surface.”

Sodari said the Mission District is the most active neighborhood for art and music and is a nexus for culture in the city. 

“Artists will get pushed out of the city but they still come back to the Mission to share their work and build community,” he said. “[the Mission] is where it’s happening and it has a lot of history to back it up.”

Artist Lucia Ippolito standing in front of the “Women of the Resistance” Mural in Balmy Alley during the Paseo Artistico on Oct.13, 2018. Photo: Brianna Kalajian

Lucia Ippolito is another monumental muralist who has contributed more than just her time to art. She has committed herself to creating masterpieces that have enhanced the Mission neighborhood. 

“I really wanted to do something about gentrification and the impacts of it on my neighborhood,” Lucia Ippolito told El Tecolote. 

Ippolito created a mural in Balmy Alley known as the Mission Makeover. It was a collaborative piece meant to incite reflection on the removal of communities of color and the impacts of neo-colonialism. 

“ … It’s not just political and speaks to people in the community, but it’s funny and there’s satire in it and so people connect with it on different levels,” said Ippolito.

Ippolito told El Tecolote that it is her duty to create artwork that speaks to the community and pushes for more introspection. As we resist, artwork like Ippolito’s will remind us to protect the culture that built the neighborhood and work to keep it alive. 

Ippolito is currently collaborating with other artists to bring a Valentine’s Day-themed block party event to Balmy Alley — Lover’s Lane. The event is on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 12-6 p.m. and will feature artists, vendors and games with food and music.

Inspired by his mother, Esther Garcia, and her passion for art, Salvadoran artist Josué Rojas, uses art to remind people of both the good and the bad that occurs all around the world.

“I’m trying to do a little bit of call out of some of the stuff in the world that I wish was different and then also provide a vision of what that is,” Rojas said. 

The past year was also a productive year for Rojas, painting 10 significant works of varying scales in 2022, including one that was nine stories high. “I’m currently in the process of doing a whole building and brought more than 27 artists to help me.”

About 55 percent of all artists are women and about 45 percent are men in the United States. On the other hand, White artists make up about 74 percent and Hispanic or Latinx artists make up about 11 percent, according to Zippia’s Artist Demographics and Statistics in the U.S. webpage

For Rojas, art is his voice and wants other artists and generations of creators to continue telling visual stories that keep the Mission District traditions alive. 

“As a brown man, Salvadoran, San Franciscan and as a craftsperson, I have something to say with paintings and I can’t wait to see women of color, Black people and Indigenous people to be able to say what they have to say,” Rojas said.