From makeshift to masterpiece: Paint the Void’s Mural Festival reflects on 2020

Flashback to March 2020 and the once lively streets and charming storefronts of San Francisco were boarded up and hidden away due to the city’s shelter-in-place order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

However, the plain and almost apocalyptic look of the plywood masked storefronts eventually became an art gallery on display for all to see. Two years later, these unconventional murals from around the city are being displayed together at Pier 70 for the community to view, reflect on, and interact with. 

Paint the Void (PTV), a non-profit organization, urged local Bay Area artists to paint over the boarded up storefronts, covering the city with large, colorful murals beginning in April 2020. PTV has since supported over 150 artists and helped to put up around 130 murals throughout the Bay Area. 

Mural painted by Mark Harris as part of the Paint the Void Project, originally seen on Haight Street. PHOTO BY JULIA MONTANO / SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

The exhibit, The City Canvas: A Paint the Void Retrospective, hosts one of the nation’s largest collections of plywood art. Viewers at the gallery scan a QR code so they can interact with the piece and learn about the artist(s) who created it. The large gallery is scattered with multi-column plywood boards composed of color, retrospect, and meaning.

A walk through the gallery feels like a walk through the city, as murals from different neighborhoods sit side by side. Questions arise about the patience, planning, and skill needed to create a work of art of such magnitude. This challenge is one that many artists felt compelled to tackle to help inspire, speak for, and provide comfort to the people of San Francisco. 

Some of the pieces serve as a reminder of key moments that helped define 2020, like the Black Lives Matter protests. One of the pieces, titled “Route to Revolution,” from artist and animator Donvan Brutus, displays depictions of the Black Power Fist that became a powerful symbol of the BLM movement. 

This large mural designed by Jen Bloomer was painted by healthcare employees at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital as part of the Paint the Void Project. PHOTO BY ALI ALDREES / SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Reflecting on his inspiration for the piece and why he turned to art during 2020, Brutus said, “The main theme of my piece ‘Routes to Revolution’ is the pathways people take to realize change is needed. The goal of this piece is to say we all have different paths, but we must be clear, change is needed, and we must keep pushing.” 

Whether it is about BLM or the pandemic, this exhibit serves as an ode to the message that the moment is not over. “It’s kind of crazy to see all these things. It’s like in 2020, this happened, and that was just so recent and we are still in it,” said attendee Sarah Slain. Although we may be two years into the future from when these murals were created, their sentiments remain the same. 

With the help of artists, Paint the Void continues to help bring light to people in dark times, encapsulating the spirit of San Francisco through these murals. “That’s just part of what makes San Francisco so special, the artist community,” said Bay Area native Sherice in summarizing the event. While the City Canvas exhibit finished its last weekend on display, those interested are welcome to check out their website for photos of the murals, artists information and more. Paint the Void is fully devoted to continuing their work of painting the city and adding murals to the beautiful streets of San Francisco.


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