Sprawling across a 200-foot by 25-foot surface on Shotwell between 14th and 15th streets, high-speed muralist Brian Barneclo’s “Food Chain” serves as a guardian of its community and a reminder of street art’s vulnerability.
Christi Acevedo, a nearby resident first began organizing for the mural in 2005. It was her way of cleaning up the streets.
“The people in the neighborhood were upset, they thought a mural might fend off some of the needles, fornicating, etcetera,” Barneclo said.
Barneclo, then a 33-year-old commercial artist voyaging into large-scale murals, readily accepted the commission. The neighborhood raised money, got a fiscal sponsor and a year later Barneclo was up on scaffolding painting a panoramic display of the “Food Chain.”
“It was really a stunt for me,” Barneclo said. “I didn’t know if I could paint something that large, but I summoned my ambition and went for it.”
At the time there was a lot of provocative coverage on where food was coming from and how it percolated through the food chain. Being painted on the wall of a chain grocery store, Barneclo cleverly dedicated the surface of the wall at Foods Co to an extraordinary, retro-style celebration of the city’s neighborhoods and the food chain that the different cultures consume.
The mural was rooted in folk, modern and pop traditions and exhibited a colorful display of intertwined cultures including references to Mission Dolores, grazing cows, dairy and Vietnamese Pho.
For the next five years, Barneclo and others watched as taggers gradually covered the completed mural with painted shouts of ragged frustrations. “It’s part of the game when doing public art,” he said. The community, however, was unhappy and pleaded for renovation.
Foods Co corporate office was faced with either painting over the mural, or restoring it entirely. “Having the mural is a great addition for the store [Foods Co.] and for the locals, and until recently it’s helped keep graffiti away; deterring it to the blank surfaces,” said a representative from Foods Co’s property management group.
In January 2014, everyone agreed it should be restored.
Barneclo, now much better known, was primed to refresh the wall completely with an entirely new mural that could be easily maintained and enjoyed by the public.
He teamed up with fellow artist, David Benzler, to knock out the restoration project in one week, from January 20 to 27.
The newly restored mural serves as an announcement that its residents are still there and haven’t given up on fighting for their neighborhood. It’s a showcase of Mission camaraderie, the artist and others said.
“[The neighborhood locals] are adamant about taking care of the wall,” Barneclo said. He added, “They actually have the paint we used for the mural so that they can act as guardians of the wall.”
As a muralist there’s a continual issue of seeing your work tagged and covered by graffiti. “There’s an element where it’s possible to take it personally,” Barneclo said. “I was 14 once, kids are mad….they have spray paint. I get it. If it is personal, I would like to speak with them about why they don’t like my artwork.”
“People want to express themselves,” Barneclo said, “but they don’t have a platform to do so.”
He sees his work as self-expression as well. “I’m not at war with any graffiti people, I like the rawness of it, but on some level you violated my work, my message, my expression.”
Barneclo described the clash between graffiti and muralists as a “…frustrated generation of cowardly, shadowy, fearful in-the-dark stuff….that don’t understand how to be heard.”
However, he too sees graffiti as unlikely to go away. “We don’t place worth on listening, our culture is more about talking over each other,” Barneclo said. Ergo graffiti, “It encompasses this immaturity level that doesn’t know how to listen.”
“I had an illusion once that art can change the world, but in reality, the world is the way it is,” Barneclo said. “Art won’t change that. If we can understand the way the world works, if anyone is interested in understanding, we wouldn’t have to talk over each other.”
Brian Barneclo’s other local work can be seen at 7th and Townsend, 135 Mississipi Street, and Divisidero at Hayes in the NOPA restaurant.