A man standing in front of a painted glass window and holding a cup of coffee.
Chris Duke poses in front of his artwork at Four Barrel Coffee. Photo by Chuqin Jiang

Customers of the Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia Street have, for the last several weeks, been welcomed by huge paintings on the wall or, more precisely, large paintings on window glass. They are bold, bright, and colorful, capturing either a scene in a bar, a portrait of a musician, or a street view of San Francisco.

The hanging artwork is from Chris Duke, who moved to the Bay Area in 1998 and, struck by the uniqueness of San Francisco, decided to paint it. “Whenever you’re downtown, it just feels electric for me,” said Duke, “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s just something that punches me on the inside.”

Some suburban parts of the city remind him of his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, but others are nothing like anywhere he’s ever been. “I like it because it’s always something new to learn, always something new to see,” said Duke, adding that he would spend days outside drawing the street and city that is teaching him about “life, nature, perspective and composition.”

Jazz clubs are another subject he loves to draw. Born in 1961, he was raised in a musical family with 13 siblings. Both parents played piano, and his father was a preacher and a singer. He said he inherited his art from his parents, and their passion inspired him.

Multiple glass windows artwork in a coffee shop.
Some of Chris Duke’s artwork at Four Barrel Coffee. The current show ran until May 3. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

“I drew all my life,” he said. His first drawing was a portrait of his mother in kindergarten. And drawing is something he’s continued through his time in the marines and in various bands. 

Painting on window glass was a new tactic he tried after looking for a medium “with no life and no purpose” to draw on — like a door, a glass, or a window waiting to be recycled. He collected discarded materials, but kept putting the windows to the back of his stack because he didn’t know what to do with them. They were “too clean,” he said.

When he first painted on a recycled window, he treated the medium as a normal canvas at first. The next morning, when he flipped the window, he was shocked by the reversed image. 

“It just blew my mind, because when you paint on the window, you can’t see what it’s going to be until you finish.” said Duke, “That was the moment I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

He enjoys painting without thinking about the outcome, knowing the color and image will change on the other side of the glass. Gradually, Duke has learned to let go of a definite vision for his pieces. “That was the best thing in the world.”

“You see a red stone in water when you walk across the creek, and it’s so beautiful. But when you take it out of the water, you know it’s dead,” said Duke, “Glass is like that constant water to me. As soon as you paint something on, it’s never going to lose its color because it has a thick layer of glazing.”

You can buy Duke’s work at Four Barrel Coffee at 375 Valencia St. or online here, and you see more of his artwork here.

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INTERN DATA REPORTER. Chuqin has two degrees in data journalism and she is passionate about making data more accessible to readers. Before arriving in the Mission, she covered small business and migratory birds in New York City while learning to code and design at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. She loves coastal cities, including SF and her hometown Ningbo.

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1 Comment

  1. A pane in the arts! Haha! That is what should be at SFMOMA. Brilliant!

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