Standing in front of an Antonio Barilla painting in his gallery on Jan. 12, 2022, Servio Gómez, owner and founder of Back to the Picture, holds a certificate of honor awarded last December by Mayor London Breed. Photo by Anlan Cheney.

Servio Gómez is completely comfortable with the naked woman on the wall.

The larger-than-life oil painting, by Antonio Bonilla, of a young woman touching herself intimately, adorns a wall at Back to the Picture, his framing shop and gallery on Valencia Street between 20th and Liberty streets. 

The professional framer of over three decades is, in fact, in his element.

“You have to dress the painting,” he explains, referring to framing. In this case, the painting of the woman was left undressed.

“Because it is too big,” says Gómez. At about five feet across, he and his staff instead stretched the oil painting across bars to mount it on the wall.

Bonilla’s show ended last month, and staff will soon unmount and cover this painting with wax paper to protect the oil paint from smudging and temperature fluctuations. It will be rolled to a diameter of ten to 12 inches across for storage.

“You have to do it in a big roll because if you do so, so small, you break the paint,” he says.

It can take 90 years for an oil painting to dry completely, says Gómez. This painting is only about 10 years old, so there’s 80 more to go, he adds.

This is one of several pieces in the gallery by Bonilla, an El Salvadoran artist whose work Gómez describes as sarcastic and “feismo” (uglyism).

Case in point: a smaller Bonilla painting nearby depicts a pale, pot-bellied man in an American flag speedo with a beer in hand. He approaches a svelte, sunkissed woman lying on a beach unclothed. 

As the man encroaches, the woman faces in the opposite direction, perhaps transfixed by the watermelon-like apparition in the water. The piece is called “El Sueño Americano,” or “The American Dream.” To dress it, Gomez chose a dark frame with an inner gold rim and distressed accents.

“The color pops out better, because this is a darker [frame] surrounding it,” he says of the red and blue among predominant golden yellows, browns, and beiges.

Another smaller painting, called “La Traición,” or “The Betrayal,” witnesses a woman astride a seated man in an, ahem, familiar way while the sun sets over a body of water. This man is also grasping a beer, and a dark human figure crouches under the couple’s chaise — a posture of humiliation or desperation, viewers may wonder.

Compared to the last piece, the colors and sky are brighter in this work. For that reason, Gómez explains, he chose a lighter, all-gold frame. 

“Gold is a classic. It combines with the piece; a lot of yellows in the inside,” he says of the repeated use of the gold when framing Bonilla’s pieces. “And it makes the reds pop.”

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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  1. Damn, you’re readable …

    Clarity is what you got.

    Really, I love your style but is the guy really over 300 years old?

    Seriously, I’m gonna start out in a few moments and include his place on my morning walk.

    Then walk by Mission Local’s digs to see if anyone is there and drop off a couple of, “Let’s chuckle.” things for Joe in honor of his great work on covering SF political corruption.

    He’s following in the very large footsteps of the greatest muck-raker to ever be born in the Mission.

    That would be Lincoln Steffens and make you a surrogate for Walter Lippmann who was Steffens’ cub reporter.

    Think you’ll last 60 years like Walter?

    I could see it.

    Together Steffens and Lippmann created an algorithm kinda thing tracing a brackets thingee showing how corruption is spawned in municipalities around the world.

    Still works today.

    You don’t allow links I think but the diagram is on page 596 of my copy of, ‘The Auto-Biography of Lincoln Steffens’.

    He spells it, ‘Muckraking’.

    Born in SF’s Mission and his dad built what is now the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.

    He was so close to Teddy Roosevelt from their New York days that President Roosevelt cleaned up San Francisco for him.

    Don’t believe it?

    He did it.

    Roosevelt sent Federal Marshals and Judges and dumped the Mayor and entire Board of Supervisors.

    Replaced them all with Reformers.

    Within a decade they’d been corrupted too.

    Ahhh, San Francisco.

    Town of Sam Spade and Don Johnson and Michael Douglas and Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and James Stewart and Kim Novak and, for me, our forever Mayoral Prototype …

    Willie Brown

    The Football Playoffs?

    They begin today …

    Go Niners!

    And, Antonio Bonilla.


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