Through cracks in the city’s concrete, wild plants grow. Local muralist Mona Caron has been memorializing these weeds lately – most recently on the front wall of the headquarters for local nonprofit New Door Ventures. These “international plants that cross borders” represent not giving up, Caron says; resilience and the possibility of social transformation.
“That’s why I paint these weeds enormous,” Caron says. “I paint them giant, kind of towering over you. This puny little thing that has no monetary value, it’s just this thing that is growing in the sidewalk. Doing this heroic portrait of that is a way of saying, ‘We actually all can do a lot.’”
It’s the perfect metaphor for New Door, where disadvantaged young adults struggling to find work receive job-skills training, education and the support they need to thrive. The new mural, a collaboration between Brazilian artist Mauro Neri and Caron, captures the joyful spirit of the nonprofit’s mission – and the artists’ shared vision.
Surrounded by wild seedlings, two figures with Mona Lisa smiles reach for each other and the sky. They carry their homes on their backs.
Caron says New Door is a hopeful place, which is what she and Neri hoped to capture in their mural.
“It’s the moment before you are planted. You are a potential. You are something to come,” she says.
Neri’s contribution to the collaboration is the two central figures, and the bright yellow houses they carry on their backs – which is a recurring image in his work.
“[Neri]’s work is about being on your way,” Caron explains. “Having a sense of wholeness, even in a state of uprootedness.”
“Black, from the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, 1981, he draws since then. From 1995 he paints and works in the street like taster, itinerant and lyricist,” Neri writes of himself on his website.
Caron befriended Neri when she was in São Paulo painting a mural, and was impressed by his work as an artist, activist and educator. When she heard that Neri was visiting San Francisco, she saw a perfect opportunity for collaboration.
“I felt it was a poetic connection,” she says.
Caron’s past murals include noted works in the Tenderloin, Market Street the Duboce Bikeway and all over the world. Her earlier works are known for being “community-specific murals of places past, present and future – sort of trans-temporal,” she says. She describes murals-within-murals that depict a place’s history, and also imagine a utopian version of the future.
In a way, Caron says, her newer “Weeds” series circles around the same themes.
“My older murals were about a way of thinking, ‘Okay here’s where we are, look how much things have changed, things can change again. Things don’t have to be this way. Let’s imagine how it could be better.’ In a way the weeds are about the exact same thing. I know it’s asphalt and concrete, and that’s that. But no, it’s not that. We can actually break through.“