Francisco Santana, a Mission resident for more than 20 years, is a painter to his core.
“Painting is my life. If I don’t paint, I don’t live,” he said in Spanish as he worked in preparation for Saint Patrick’s Day on three-leafed clovers at Temo’s Cafe, on the corner of 24th and Harrison streets.
Since he was six years old, Santana has loved painting. Even when he didn’t have painting supplies, he said he’d “play with charcoal for the grill and paint with that.”
Born in Mexico, Santana said he was drawn to San Francisco as a child after seeing cartoons depicting a city with tall hills and magical cable cars. He vowed he would one day see that city, he said.
“When I first came, I didn’t want to leave, because of the people and because of how beautiful the whole city is.,” Santana said. “I feel like I’m in Paris, in Italy. I feel like I could be in any part of the world in this city.”
Santana has lived in the city since 1999 and said the only difference in his love of art is, “I’ve gotten better, like wine. That’s why I don’t stop painting, because every day I see my work getting better and more refined.”
Most of Santana’s current work, he said, comes from a stable group of businesses repeatedly asking him to paint their windows for different events or holidays.
Since the pandemic hit, however, things have been less stable.
Many of his clients that kept their doors open were struggling financially and could not afford his normal fee, forcing him to choose between working for less or not working at all.
“Instead of buying food, sometimes I have to buy paint instead,” Santana said.
In January, Santana said he fell behind on the rent at the storage unit that he also used as a studio. In response, the owner locked him out, so he can’t access some of his art supplies until he catches up on that rent. He hopes to do so this month.
“Things have been very bad, but at the same time, I’ve seen my own capacity to continue to paint no matter what,” Santana said.