From Balmy Alley in San Francisco. Because of the angle, it was hard to get a good photo of the whole image: these are the best I could do.
Balmy Alley is sort of famous. It’s in lots of guidebooks; they give tours of it; I rarely visit it without seeing other visitors there. I could do an entire series of Balmy Alley murals, and maybe someday I will. But this is probably my favorite.
I love that it’s sort of tucked away: not tucked away exactly, but it’s up high, away from the rest of the murals, easily missed. I missed it myself the first several times I visited the alley, and didn’t see it until it was spotted by a visitor we were showing around. I love that you’re walking along the alley, drinking in the magnificent artworks… and you look up, and you see this. Like a reminder. The top item on your art appreciation To-Do list.
I love that the lettering and the background are in a style commonly associated with religious art, and that the word is one that we typically hear in a religious context… but there’s no actual religious content in it. It could be a religious message… but it could easily be an entirely secular one. It makes me think of the thing so many of us keep saying in the atheist and secularist communities: that we need to look for the things people are getting from religion, things like community and continuity, ritual and rites of passage, and find secular ways to provide these basic human needs.
And I love the message. Rejoice.
When I wrote my piece on Gaultier a couple of weeks ago, I had this to say about joy:
Gaultier’s work is full of joy.
That’s the place where discipline and frivolity connect. The willingness to devote hundreds of hours to a single gown whose design is based on sailor suits? That’s joy. It’s the willingness to see life as absurd — and to throw yourself into it headfirst, and participate in it as thoroughly as you can. Not just in defiance of its absurdity… but in a passionate, delighted embrace of it.
This piece gives me the same feeling. It doesn’t have the same playful frivolity that Gaultier’s work does… but it has that same blend of discipline and exuberance. If I’m in a foul mood when I see it, it lifts me, or consoles me; if I’m in a wonderful mood, it nails it in. Every time I see it, it brings me into this place, this time, and reminds me that I’m alive… and that as challenging as that can be sometimes, it is a wondrous thing, a thing to be witnessed and celebrated.