Woman holding dog in art studio
D'Amato with her pup, Rico, in the studio. Photo by Griffin Jones, Feb. 28, 2023

Ever see a ‘65 Impala cruising by, covered in airbrushed roses, the words “La Niña Mala” snaking across its back window? How about the copper leaf on Old Mission Barbershop on Mission Street? The bold lettering on 24th Street’s La Reyna Bakery? And in Bayview, the fresh coat on Shear’s Beauty & Barbershop?

All of this is the work of Lauren D’Amato, a second-generation sign painter and car pinstriper based in Bayview. Originally from Los Angeles, D’Amato graduated from the now-closed San Francisco Art Institute in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, and dove into the local sign and car world. 

Coming this weekend is D’Amato’s first solo show, “Complete Machine,” opening Saturday, March 4, at 7 p.m. at the House of Seiko gallery, 3109 22nd St. between Capp Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

The show will feature D’Amato’s rarely seen finer art, including paintings on canvas and a huge sculpture with a rotating hubcap and lightbox.

D’Amato pinstripes a car window. Photo by Natalie Aleman

With “Complete Machine,” D’Amato says she’s merging techniques of pinstriping — the art of fine, hand-painted lines and details on cars — with the postwar abstraction she studied in school into a style that’s her own. 

For D’Amato, it all started with signs. “My dad and my uncles painted signs. I grew up around that; they would paint fire trucks and lettering on vehicles. My uncle painted pinup girls on old warplanes.”

Along with noted pinstripers Larry Watson (Los Angeles) and Tommy the Greek (Bay Area), the streets are D’Amato’s main influence. She spends most of her time out and about checking out the details on cars, signs and trucks.

What are D’Amato’s favorite signs in the city? She rattles off a list; among them, the Fuller Paints sign over Mazzei’s Hardware on Third Street, and the All Nite Market sign that stands over an empty lot, also on Third. 

Lowrider culture has always played a part for D’Amato, too. “My dad had a mini-truck club, and my uncle went around with the Dukes,” a South Central L.A. club considered “​​the world’s oldest lowrider club in continuous existence.”

“The day I moved into my house on 24th and York, the Bay Bombs drove down the street,” she said, referring to a long-standing local lowrider club.  For D’Amato, that felt like a portent of what was to come.

As an apprentice at New Bohemia Signs, a sign shop in SOMA,  it dawned on her: “I thought, man, I really want to carry on the tradition of the thing I learned from my family — but what could I do to make this more unique and more fun? Pinstriping is more stylish, you can have your own look.”

When D’Amato was living in Bernal, she hosted “Kustom Sundays” in her garage, a block party style event with DJs and people bringing their cars by for live painting. As she got deeper into the community, she got more work, and can now make part of her living pinstriping.

D’Amato’s signature is intricate airbrushed roses on car windows or the panel of a motorcycle, lending a lovely balance to what’s usually a mark of grit.

She sees the roses “as traditional Mexican folk art; it’s the kind of thing you’d see inside the home, painted on furniture. It’s a very feminine way of painting.” 

The ‘65 Impala mentioned earlier belongs to D’Amato’s good friend, Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, aka La Doña, a solo reggaeton artist born and raised in the city. D’Amato covered the car in La Doña’s lyrics and roses and stripes, all in her custom style. The Impala was featured last summer as part of the Diego Rivera’s America exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

La Reyna Bakery on 24th. Photo by Georgina F.

Saturday’s show will be a family affair, with some of D’Amato’s closest friends parking their classic cars out front of the gallery, and DJ Velez and DJ Tuff spinning oldies. 

“I’ve never had this in my life,” says D’Amato, of her San Francisco family. She reckons she’s in the Bay for good. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. I feel like I have that now. I have this creative family.”

House of Seiko gallerist Cole Solinger is part of the family. He attended the Art Institute with D’Amato and is excited that the space’s second show features her work. 

“When I think about the Mission scene, I think about Lauren,” says Solinger, a Bay Area native. 

“She’s really become known for doing the custom car work, but I know her from a very different context. She’s a fantastic painter, and this is a side of her not a lot of people know or have seen.”

House of Seiko opened on 22nd Street in 2022. Photo by Griffin Jones.

Solinger and his business partner, Nicholas Torres, opened House of Seiko as an art gallery in 2022 after the storefront stood empty following the original shopkeeper’s death earlier in the year. House of Seiko operated as a watch repair store for over 30 years, and Solinger still fields visits from people with time-sensitive emergencies.

“Most people know the store as that, so it’s interesting to transform into this — which puts up a lot of barriers. That is something I am not interested in doing. Art people are kind of mean. I want everyone to feel like they are welcome.” 

Solinger sees a lot of promise in his old friend and classmate, and hopes that with this show and future shows, Bay Area artists can get on a bigger map. 

“There’s a lot of talented people who make art here, but there’s not a lot of good resources for them.

“We know Lauren, but people in New York don’t know Lauren. We want people to know her, we want her to pop off.” 

“Complete Machine” opens at House of Seiko, Saturday, March 4, 7 to 10 p.m. 3109 22nd St. at South Van Ness. Follow Lauren D’Amato on Instagram @spooky_orbison.

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

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