Painting the Town

Amillionair paints a mural in collaboration with street artist Seibot outside the Powell Street BART Station.

Public art proliferates during San Francisco’s lockdown.

by Adam Pardee

Editor’s note:

Amidst a challenging year of shutdowns and isolation, San Francisco has experienced a renaissance of public art splashed across closed businesses, parklets, and street corners throughout the city. Boarded-up storefronts became canvases for aspiring street artists, creating small pockets of beauty, hope, and resistance. With galleries and museums closed, some studio artists took to public spaces for the first time in their careers. Many of the murals were temporary—painted over with new work or taken down as businesses reopened.

For this series, photojournalist Adam Pardee spoke with and photographed local artists Matley Hurd, Amillionair, Luinova, Yonmeister, and Kate Tova. Each artist reflected on making street art during the pandemic: experimenting with new styles, creating accessible pieces, forging relationships with the public, and building community through art. While we’ve selected these five artists to showcase, there are many more worth celebrating. We hope this series inspires you to venture out and see the paintings for yourself.

. . .

Matley Hurd

Matley Hurd is a thirty-year-old artist born in Hayward and based in SF’s Ingleside neighborhood. His murals are painted using spray paint with final detailing applied in acrylic. Hurd has a background in comic, anime, and graffiti art. Learn more about his work on Instagram @matleyhurd.


Matley Hurd sits in front of his work
“The artist tango is that you kind of grind away until things start happening. And it took some time,” Hurd says. “I got a couple opportunities early on [in the pandemic] and tried to build from there and keep on going.” Photo by Adam Pardee.


“Becoming full-time and going straight freelance is always up and down. It’s a struggle most of the time, but I love getting up every day. I’m either painting or working on something. I’m doing something that’s mine.”


Close ups of Matley Hurd at work
Hurd finishes the detailing on a contemporary reimagining of Virgen de Guadalupe inside Castro restaurant Santería. Photos by Adam Pardee.



“I thought it would be cool to depict a god or goddess in a really different way. We have so many different cultures and religions and beliefs. . . . What could be a new or original take on what a god or goddess could be? I think the message is, God can be whatever you want it to be.”

. . .


Amillionair (Amélie de Cirfontaine) is a French-born artist with a background in abstract studio art. The pandemic saw the twenty-five-year-old’s debut as a mural painter in San Francisco. Her painting, pictured below, was made in collaboration with street artist Seibot in Hallidie Plaza at the entrance of the Powell Street BART Station. Learn more about her work on Instagram @amillionair.


Amillionair paints a mural in collaboration with street artist Seibot outside the Powell Street BART Station
“I really believe that the art that is made in the streets should be a representation of the people that walk on the streets,” says Amillionair. Photo by Adam Pardee.



“There’s something really special about street art where it’s made by the people for the people. . . . Once I make it, it stays there and it belongs to the streets and it evokes emotion from people. I really value that.”

Close-up photo of artist Amillionair
Photo by Adam Pardee.



“Growing up, it was like, you’re a woman, and you have to be really small and you have to be quiet and you can’t do anything that’s crazy. I felt like being a street artist, I felt almost that craziness, you know, shaking a spray paint feels like an aggressive thing, wearing paint all over your clothes when you’re supposed to be clean and proper. The whole act of making [street art] feels to me like I am breaking all of that.”

. . .


Thirty-one-year-old Luinova is an anonymous artist formally trained as an oil painter. His art incorporates painting, stencil, digital art, photography, and silk screen. At the beginning of the pandemic, he began painting a series of toilet paper rolls on different-colored backgrounds, which he printed and pasted throughout the city. Learn more about his work on Instagram @luinova.



“If you had told me in January 2020 that I was going to be painting commissioned murals by year end, I would not have believed you. In fact, one of my dreams as a child was to paint a mural. I wanted to be like Diego Rivera.”


Artist Luinova at work
Luinova pastes new work, inspired by Keith Haring’s pop art figures, over his own mural on Market near Castro. Photos by Adam Pardee.



“My intention for street art was to create an opportunity for myself to produce art full time and make room for art everywhere. Art should be for everyone.”

. . .


Yonmeister is a thirty-four-year-old anonymous street artist based in San Francisco. He uses stencil and spray paint to create his signature characters across town. Here Yonmeister is pictured finishing a mural at Polk and Vallejo. Learn more about his work on Instagram @yonmeister.

Yonmeister sitting in front of his artwork
Yonmeister repaints his mural outside of Royal Oak, a Polk Street bar. Artists return periodically to repaint or touch up murals that have been tagged. Photo by Adam Pardee.



“I would like to think of these homies as—they’re just these wildly curious little dudes. I would hope people would see them and, even just for a minute as they’re walking down the street, see one on a wall or a sidewalk, just kind of step back and break up their daily routine or daily perspective on their walk.”


Yonmeister at work
“You can impact the neighborhood, or at least that, like, small intersection. Everyone coming by is going to see that piece of art,” says Yonmeister. Photos by Adam Pardee.



“This time last year, it was truly a hobby. When COVID came around, within two, two and a half months, a lot of momentum built from painting these murals, which to me were an absolute blast. They’re so much fun. You’re outside . . . painting outdoors with your friends. People are coming by and they’re grateful.”

. . .

Kate Tova

Kate Tova is a twenty-five-year-old Russian-born artist based in the Richmond District. Specializing in mixed media, she makes highly textured abstract “glitches” along with vibrantly colorful portraits. Her “street hearts” are visible on shuttered businesses around the city. Learn more about her work on Instagram @kate_tova.


Kate Tova poses in front of her artwok with her rescue dog, Toochi
Tova poses with her rescue dog, Toochi, in front of her mural at 1650 California Street. Depicting California native plants, the mural was dedicated to firefighters and the victims of California’s wildfires. Photo by Adam Pardee.



“I can’t even count how many artists made their first outdoor mural ever—including me. I think it’s so amazing that people started seeing the important role that artists serve in uplifting communities, giving hope, and promoting thoughtful reflection.”


Kate Tova at work
Tova touches up one of her hearts outside of ENO wine bar in Union Square. “My art is reaching more people than it ever did in galleries,” she says. Photos by Adam Pardee.



“For all its hardships, 2020 was a year of tremendous growth for my artistic style and engagement in the San Francisco community. I never would have imagined one year ago that my art would be so visible all over the city. Even in the setting of social distancing, I was able to connect with local people through my projects.” ♦


Adam Pardee is a staff photographer for the Half Moon Bay Review and Pacifica Tribune. He knows almost everything about The Office, and you can find him with his wife and dog playing on the beach or driving up and down the coast looking for a great photo opportunity. He lives in North Beach.