What started as a proposal from a real estate agent turned into a two-month experiment for Sirron Norris, a San Francisco-based artist whose work can be seen almost exclusively out of doors. For the past month, Norris has transformed an empty retail space at 3135 24th St., between Shotwell and Folsom Streets, into his temporary art studio and classroom where he has been teaching art to the community.
It will also be the setting for his newest exhibit, opening on Nov. 16, where Norris is set to unveil new, original paintings in his first opening in almost seven years. Nobody has been able to buy one of his paintings during that time, he said, so he took time off and decided to paint and use the space to teach free classes.
“They gave me this space for free and I felt like it was something where I had to make sure I used it for the community as well,” Norris said.
Norris came to San Francisco from Pittsburgh in 1997 and has taught classes across the city, inspiring a whole generation of artists along the way. His style of art grabs inspiration from old cartoons and the Mission itself — you can see many Victorian-era homes in his work. And they even become characters themselves: Norris also did the initial art for the pilot that became Bob’s Burgers, and drew inspiration from the Mission for the show.
But his newest exhibit, and the classes he taught at the space, almost didn’t happen.
Norris is a prolific muralist and commissioned artist. He is currently engaged in projects with the San Francisco Arts Commission, painting alcoves and walls in parts of the city and the Mission that are often vandalized by taggers. That hasn’t left much time for painting on canvases.
Norris was initially emailed by Rob Levy, a real estate agent with Compass Properties, with a proposal to display artwork at the empty retail space. The bottom floor of the building was on sale for $1.5 million, and no one had made a serious offer yet, he was told, so they wanted to put his art on display to have something other than bare walls and concrete there.
“I don’t have any paintings laying around. I’m always going from one job to the next to the next job, so initially I said ‘no,’” Norris said.
Instead of just showing art, Norris was able to convince the owners to let him use the space for free as a pop-up studio and gallery space. He asked for a month; they gave him two months rent-free instead.
So now, since October, Norris has been using a vast 2,500 square foot retail space as his own artist studio and classroom but also is using the opportunity to host community workshops. He’s spent some time teaching kids how to draw comic-style art and how to paint, and then held a community cartooning workshop on Oct. 30.
There are at least 28 pieces of new art from Norris that will be on display at his gallery on Saturday. Six of those new paintings are of his signature blue bear, which appears in Clarion Alley. Norris has had to repaint the Clarion Alley bear several times because of vandalism — and, every time he repaints the bear, it takes a more serious political tone.
He notes that the bear looked happier when Barack Obama was president, but grew more stoic under President Trump. Norris’ most recent touch-up, features the words “HELLA RESIST” on the bear’s shirt.
“It’s the only time I can get political on Clarion Alley,” Norris said.
Norris tends to dislike galleries and art exhibitions, but plans to make this new one inclusive and interactive. He wants kids to join, so he’ll be offering drawing lessons on one end of the room with the adults adding to a long mural sheet on another wall. There will be music, food and beer from Lucky Lager for sale.
The gallery opening reception runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16. But the space will be open every Saturday until Dec. 10.
“This I feel like it fits right in my groove because it’s where I can give back but it’s also kind of showing off,” he said. “But I’m also showing off history.”