There’s usually more than meets the eye when it comes to street artist Sirron Norris’ murals.
Under the guise of a cute and unassuming cartoon character, they often present a provocative commentary on political and social issues.
In Norris’ latest mural, his signature blue bear character is pictured wearing an orange t-shirt that reads “bad hombre” – the grinning bear is pointing at himself.
The mural is a play on remarks made by President Donald Trump in reference to immigrants.
“That’s what a huge population in the Mission is now considered, ‘bad hombres’. To me, this is a symbol of racism,” said Norris, referring to his mural. “That character could not hurt you at all or have any bad intentions. But just the way it looks, hence what the message is on his shirt, you can now make an assumption of this character.”
Norris spent all of Sunday revamping an old mural on a sliver of wall space he’s had at the entrance of Clarion Alley, near 17th and Valencia Street, for some 15 years.
The new mural is replacing another blue bear rendering that he painted in 2015 – that mural showed a blue bear with its head where its rear should be, blowing rainbows from its mouth.
“In 2015 we were shitting rainbows,” joked Norris while coating his new mural on Monday morning. “But we are not doing that now.”
As heightened racial tensions following Trump’s election have become increasingly tangible in communities across the nation and locally, Norris said he hopes that his art will be used to educate visitors to the alley.
“All these tourists come here, so now you actually are speaking to these people from across the United States and who have no clue about political consciousness or being woke or any of that stuff,” said Norris.
With the murals in the alley, Norris said, the community is “actually able to send a message,” adding: “That’s true purpose of public art, at its highest potential.”
While Norris said his murals are whimsical and lighthearted, the “shitting rainbows” theme no longer seemed appropriate in the current political climate and given the recent radical inclination of the famous art-filled alleyway.
Norris’s new mural is located next to a “Rise in Power, Brothers and Sisters” mural showing an inverted American flag and listing the names of some two dozen Latino and black individuals killed by police throughout the country – that mural is in plain view of Mission Police Station, across Valencia Street.
Next to that piece, another anti-Trump mural entitled “cultivating resistance” appeared earlier this year.
While painting his ‘bad hombre’ bear, Norris said he observed several tourist point out names in the “Rise in Power” mural and pose in front of it for selfies. Norris said he used the opportunity to speak with the alley’s visitors about San Francisco’s history of police shootings.
Norris said he initially decided to switch out his blue bear mural because it had been vandalized with a graffiti tag some time in December. But a closer look at the Clarion Alley’s recent evolution inspired Norris to change his mural’s message as well.
“I was looking around the alley and it’s just so conscious now. There’s always been that theme and passion here, and although this alley is ephemeral, it’s always about the moment and very current,” he said, adding that his prior mural suddenly seemed out of place and “disrespectful” to the alley.