Anthony “Tony” Machado, the artist who helped create some of the Mission’s most defining murals, passed away in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 7, at the home of his daughter and grandchildren. He was 63.
Throughout the 1970s, Machado worked with artists Michael Rios and Richard Montez on prominent murals in the neighborhood, transforming the Mission — and, to some, expressing the community’s identity when fears of gentrification first arose.
In 1975, only two years after the the 24th Street BART Station opened, Rios and Machado painted a large mural at the station depicting a line of people holding up the BART rails with bare hands. Mission residents at the time feared that the new BART stations in the Mission — funded by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency — would usher in displacement, according to Cary Cordova, author of The Heart of the Mission.
Though Rios is often the primary artist credited for the mural, he says he and Machado were equal creators of the piece. Machado, who’s seven years younger than Rios, graduated from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco in 1973 and joined his mentor on several of the projects Rios won grants and support for.
“We had this harmony about us,” Rios remembers. “We were the first guys doing murals in the Mission, before it became a ridiculous phenomenon.”
With Rios and Montez, Machado also painted Homage to Siqueiros in 1974 above the tellers’ area inside the Bank of America building at 23rd and Mission. Though commissioned by a bank, Cordova describes Homage as a “flagrantly anti-capitalism” work that “undermined their corporate sponsor.” Today, the anti-capitalist mural is insured for more than $1 million.
While the trio mostly stopped producing murals at the end of the 1970s, Machado remained a prolific artist, deepening his skill, primarily as an oil painter. He started a sign painting business, produced statues for the 1984 Summer Olympics, and joined Rios at a studio called Heaven Smiles, producing album covers and other artwork for Carlos Santana. In the mid-1990s, Machado created three more murals on the sides of buildings in other parts of San Francisco with the help of his daughter, Malia.
All the while, Machado continued his own painting.
“He grew leaps and bounds as a painter,” says Rios, who marveled at his younger friend’s accomplishments. “He became an immaculate painter and a real visionary.”
“I use the word immaculate because it was on that level of spiritual beauty.”
Machado, who was born Aug. 8, 1954, left San Francisco in 1980 and returned to his native Oakland, where his daughters Malia and Nina lived. In 1998 he moved to Idaho, and in 2004 he moved to Eureka, where he produced a massive amount of work while also mentoring a younger generation of artists.
“Within a matter of years there were seven to eight oil painters learning from him,” says Antonio Deleon, Machado’s friend and protégé.
“He touched a lot of people. He was a big magnet. He inspired a lot of young artists there, and he saved a lot of years for me,” says Deleon.
“He never boasted, he never showed off. He just wanted his art to speak for himself,” Deleon remembers. “He just put his head down and painted.”
Deleon described Machado as someone who maintained a deep commitment to producing art: painting all day, every day. While in Eureka, Machado would paint portraits of people he met in cafes or on the streets. He had several wealthy patrons who supported his work, but he also gave his work away to admirers who couldn’t afford to purchase pieces.
“He was very generous with his art and knowledge and will be greatly missed.”
Deleon and Machado bonded over a mutual interest in Mesoamerican culture and art. When Machado was still a teenager in Oakland, his mom, a librarian, would check out stacks of Mexican art books for him.
At that point, Machado, still in high school, was taking regular trips into San Francisco to spend time with Rios. Together, the artists would pore over the books, which guided their work in the Mission.
Machado frequently traveled to Mexico, where he would trade artwork with the Huichols, an indigenous people of Mexico.
In 2012, Machado met Nanette Simpson, a poet and musician, and the two moved to Grass Valley, California, where they lived until 2017 before purchasing a home in San Pedro in Belize.
“They wanted to retire in paradise,” Malia says. Though he rarely drank alcohol, Machado suffered from liver cirrhosis at the end of his life. When his health worsened in May, he and Simpson travelled to Atlanta so he could be with his family. He died this month of a heart attack, according to Malia.
Today, people can see Machado’s murals in Mission: When emerging from the 24th Street BART Station, walking into the Bank of America building, or at the mini-park at 24th and York Street.
Many of his other murals have been painted over. Rios laments this loss. But he adds, “the important part was going out there, thinking of what to do, and doing it.”