When creating an art installation in a highly trafficked public space, duration matters. While some artworks are intended to celebrate the ephemeral and the fleeting, BART often looks for the permanent and the durable 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 primarily 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 long-lasting.
In 2007, the duo joined forces to create a large-scale mural at Richmond Station. Fifteen years later, the mural’s colors are nearly as vibrant as the day it was installed.
BART recently joined Galvez and Sances at the foot of the mural, which is owned by the City of Richmond, to reflect on its creation and its impact. The two artists, whose works blanket the region (you can spy their joint mural, “Future Roads,” at BART’s 16th St. Station), spoke as candidly as you would expect of two old pals. The pair met in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and they’ve been collaborating on giant works of public art ever since.
“It’s been up 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 muralists’ creations.
Galvez thinks he knows why no graffiti artists have dared touch the mural. An artwork that “engages the community, is reflective of its history, honors their culture and their work” has a profound impact on community members.
“People respond to that intimately,” Galvez said, “because it’s about them.”
The mural features three eight-by-twelve-foot panels of durable tile. Each panel spotlights a different aspect of Richmond history, from its original native inhabitants – the Ohlones – to current residents.
Galvez described the mural like “a movie.”
“You can move into one scene from the next,” 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 figures. With ideas swirling in their minds, the artists then hosted a series of community meetings, in which they met with locals bearing photographs of themselves and family. Some of the photographic imagery was incorporated into the mural (you may even catch the smiling face of Sances’ grandson as a baby. He’s now 16).
To create the strikingly colorful tiles, Sances had to get creative. He decided to tap into new techniques that enabled 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 put that on a raw tile that’s receptive to ink. Then it gets sublimated onto the tile. You peel off the paper, and there’s the image.”
Sublimation is now ubiquitous, but Galvez and Sances continue to find new ways to utilize it. A recent co-mural used the sublimation process to print a painting onto stainless steel.
If you can look past the colorful tiles and lower your gaze a few feet, you’ll notice a series of beige, hand-carved ceramic pieces that depict a railroad, carrying everything from a mariachi band to a bear cub and his mom. The handcrafted tiles spotlight Richmond culture and history, while adding a certain playfulness and tactility for children passing through.
“I like the fact that it was Jos’s idea to introduce the lower ceramic pieces because it’s more children’s height,” Galvez said. “If they’re really curious, they could stand on the bench and look at the mural and feel it.”
The goal of the mural, ultimately, is to engage people. Galvez’s painting philosophy derives from “Los Tres Grandes” – Mexican muralists who painted on a grand scale throughout the twentieth century.
“The point of [Los Tres Grandes’] work was for people to see art daily and enrich their lives and see their history,” Galvez said. “It’s art that’s integrated into people’s lives.”
Painting actual Richmond residents was a major component 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 elevating,” Sances said. “I think the whole community gets a lift from that.”