Sadly, when I first passed by in my pre-caffeinated haze, I mistook them as another group of vagrants up to mischief on the sidewalk outside of Bean Bag Cafe, where I was heading to putz around over coffee for a while. They were doing something with old wood and glass window panes, which were leaned against an old minivan full of unspecified urban detritus. I sat down in the back of the cafe, next to the back door which happened to open to the area where they were working. Then I noticed something odd: the glass of the windows appeared to have been painted.
I walk outside to investigate. The windows indeed serve as substrates for vibrant paintings, featuring familiar vistas from around San Francisco. Turns out one of the two is blues musician turned painter Chris Duke. He’s busy painting the wooden frames white and scraping the excess off the edges of the glass. The other introduces herself as Amy. Bean Bag was nice enough to let them work on their stretch of sidewalk. She explains that Chris paints on the reverse side of the glass, requiring him to think in reverse. On ordinary substrates like canvas you start by painting the background and work your way forward, but when painting on the back of glass you start with the foreground. They’re preparing some pieces that they hope will be selected for the new Transbay Terminal. There’s some kind of event where artists bring pieces before the people who get to decide this kind of thing. I hope they get some works in there. Window panes salvaged from old Victorian houses would be a great juxtaposition to the sleek modern transit terminal and a nice homage to a symbol of old San Francisco.
Here’s a video about Chris Duke by the San Francisco Chronicle: