Last week, traveling artist Alison Oksner arrived at Clarion Alley and began to paint a mural depicting realistic portraits of Mission men and women. She called her mural Walks of Life, and it encapsulated the stories of different Mission residents, some who are dead and some who live on the streets. As it turned out, the mural was not sanctioned by the group that curates all of the murals on Clarion Alley, which intimated that it would be taken down.
Well, too late. An unknown individual or individuals beat them to it, covering up the garage-door-sized mural with black spray paint.
According to one of the shopkeepers who works near the alley, the “Walks of Life” mural was intact when the store closed down for the evening Tuesday. When the shopkeeper returned Wednesday morning, it was immediately apparent that the mural had been painted over.
The association overseeing the art in this world-famous corridor, the Clarion Allley Mural Project, told Mission Local that it had just learned about the demise of Walks of Life, and did not have anything to do with it or even know who did it.
“However, given all the press attention, this is not surprising. We have seen similar situations before,” CAMP representatives said via e-mail.
CAMP operates as the alley’s gatekeepers: They curate the walls and notify artists whenever murals are vandalized. If a mural spot opens up, CAMP selects the artists who will fill it.
But in an email to Mission Local last week, CAMP staffers said Oksner had not been permitted to paint along the alley, and accused her of painting over another mural. They would be painting over Walks of Life soon, the email said.
Oksner, who was only in San Francisco for two weeks, defended her work and said the walls she painted on were blank. “I would never knowingly paint over another artist’s work,” Oksner said in an Instagram message last week.
She later reiterated that she obtained permission from the building’s owner before undertaking her work. She claimed that it was not her, but the building owner, who had ordered the site’s prior mural covered after it had been tagged by vandals. Had the graffiti not been removed, the building owner stood to be fined by the city.
The Walks of Life mural was inspired by unhoused Mission resident Tyrone Butler. After many ups and downs in his life, Butler found himself back on the street after his wife passed away. But the idea for the mural came from his need to tell his story.
“Maybe now I won’t hold stuff in,” Butler said.