When creating an art installation in a busy public space, time matters. While some artwork is meant to celebrate the ephemeral and fleeting, BART often seeks the permanent and the enduring when adding another mural to its portfolio.
Given this constraint, Bay Area artists Daniel Galvez and Jos Sances set out to create a mural that would stand the test of time and speak to its community for years to come. Galvez mainly works with paint. Sances is the “high-tech guy,” said Galvez, his longtime friend and collaborator. It was up to Sances to take Galvez’s original oil painting and create something monumental and lasting.
In 2007, the duo teamed up to create a large-scale mural at Richmond Station. Fifteen years later, the colors of the mural are almost as vibrant as the day it was installed.
BART recently joined Galvez and Sances at the foot of the mural, owned by the City of Richmond, to reflect on its creation and impact. The two artists, whose works span the region (you can see their joint mural, “Future Roads,” at the BART’s 16th St. Station), spoke as candidly as one would expect from two old friends. The couple met in San Francisco in the early 1980s and have been collaborating on giant public art ever since.
“It’s been in place for 15 years and the mural hasn’t been graffitied,” Sances said of the Richmond Station mural, titled “On the Right Track.” Graffiti, after all, is the bane of muralist creations.
Galvez thinks he knows why no graffiti artist dared touch the mural. A work of art that “engages the community, reflects its history, honors its culture and work” has a profound impact on community members.
“People react intimately to that,” Galvez said, “because it’s about them.”
The mural features three eight-foot by twelve-foot durable tile panels. Each panel highlights a different aspect of Richmond’s history, from its original inhabitants – the Ohlones – to current residents.
Galvez described the mural as “a movie”.
“You can jump from scene to scene,” he said. “People are sucked into it; they follow the story. They want to know more.
The mural began in the Richmond Library, where Galvez and Sances researched local history and major events and people. With ideas swirling in their minds, the artists then held a series of community meetings, during which they met locals carrying pictures of themselves and their families. Some of the photographic images have been incorporated into the mural (you can even see the smiling face of Sances’ grandson when he was a baby. He is now 16).
To create the strikingly colored tiles, Sances had to get creative. He decided to exploit new techniques that allowed him to print Galvez’s painting directly onto the tile in a process known as sublimation.
“It’s a heat transfer process,” Sances said. “You make a print on transfer paper, then place it on an ink-receptive raw tile. Then it is sublimated on the tile. You peel off the paper and here is the image.
Sublimation is now ubiquitous, but Galvez and Sances continue to find new ways to use it. A recent co-mural used the sublimation process to print paint onto stainless steel.
If you can look past the colorful tiles and lower your gaze a few feet, you’ll notice a series of hand-carved beige ceramic pieces that depict a railway, carrying everything from a mariachi band to a bear cub and his mom. The handcrafted tiles highlight Richmond’s culture and history, while adding a playful, tactile feel for passing children.
“I like that it was Jos’ idea to introduce the lower ceramic pieces because it’s more kid-height,” Galvez said. “If they’re really curious, they might stand on the bench and look at the mural and smell it.”
The purpose of the mural, ultimately, is to engage people. Galvez’s pictorial philosophy derives from “Los Tres Grandes” – Mexican muralists who painted on a large scale throughout the 20th century.
“Point of [Los Tres Grandes’] the work was for people to see art on a daily basis and to enrich their lives and to see their story,” Galvez said. “It’s art that fits into people’s lives.”
Painting the actual people of Richmond was a major part of integrating the artwork into the fabric of Richmond culture.
“When people see images of themselves done in such a particular way, it’s really uplifting,” Sances said. “I think the whole community benefits from it.”