It began as a going-away present. Jessica Niello and Howie Correa, two good friends of the artist Jeff Burwell, were leaving San Francisco.
So they left a bull behind. Painted on the garage of Burwell’s showroom at 724 Valencia, it gazes toward the horizon with a poem that begins with “A river knows no despair” and continues from there.
“I wanted Jessica and Howie to give the place some character,” Burwell said. “Now people are always curious about the bull and what it represents.”
It represents a few things, said Correa from his home in Boston. “It puts me [in mind] of old California, old Mexico, a combination of the two, and how it was a different place 200 years ago. A place before there were cities and many people.”
The painting stands for the people of the Mission, said Niello, now in New Mexico. “It’s community of people that enjoys good food and interesting art. It is a good place to bring people together.”
The bull is also, in a way, a tribute to Burwell and his profession, said Correa. “We were discussing possible ideas and were looking at creating something in a masculine way but not in a disparaging way. Still, we wanted something with force, and the bull is a great example of that.”
At first glance, 724 Valencia might look like an auto body repair shop. That’s because it once was. Burwell’s family bought the 2,500-square-foot facility five years ago from the previous owners, the Franks, and converted it into a space where Jeff could showcase his artistic talent. It also happens to be his residence.
Educated in London and at the California College of the Arts, the 32-year-old Burwell crafts everything from sculptures and wood frames to metal work and furniture inside the space.
His work is being shown right now at Sloan Miyasato in the San Francisco Design Center.
On a recent afternoon outside 724 Valencia, Alan Soren, a tourist from the Netherlands who was touring the murals of the Mission, posed for a snapshot in front of the bull. What did he think of it?
“It’s a lovely picture,” Soren said, smiling. “California sure looked beautiful back then.”