Artist Rico Solinas paints the Bayview District, one building at a time

Rico Salinas paints on a Bayview sidewalk. | Photo: Meaghan M. Mitchell/Hoodline
By Meaghan M. Mitchell - Published on July 06, 2020.

66-year-old Rico Solinas has painted for more than 40 years. In that time, he's shown his work in New York and Europe, and traveled the globe installing art loaned by SFMOMA to other museums. 

But since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Solinas has been working closer to home.

On his Instagram account, he's posted stunning paintings of businesses and homes around the Bayview District, earning him an instant following among neighbors. 

Frisco Fried. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

When the shelter-in-place mandate came down, Solinas — who lives in the Mission District — headed downtown to paint landmarks like the Salesforce Tower. But he quickly got bored. 

“I wanted something more real," he said. "I connected with some African-American artists, and they told me that I should travel to the Bayview District to paint."

The first place he visited was Sam Jordan's, the historic bar that closed last year after its owners became victims of predatory lending.

"I saw the 'for sale' sign and thought, 'Damn, what a shame,'" Solinas said. Inspired, he got out of his car, sat on the sidewalk and created what became the first in a series of paintings of Bayview businesses. 

Sam Jordan's Bar & Grill. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

Since then, Solinas has traveled to the neighborhood every day to paint a different building. His art book is full of buildings both historic, like the Bayview Opera House, and modern, like The African Outlet and Frisco Fried. 

"I’m not here to focus on landmarks," Solinas said. "I just want to capture everyday places that people go to."

Bayview Opera House. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

Along the way, he's met many neighbors: some welcoming, others skeptical. People have approached him and accused him of being an undercover police officer or FBI agent. 

“It’s kind of funny," he said. "Have you ever seen a police officer sitting on the curb painting for 12 hours?”

Other neighbors have assumed he's homeless, and have tried to give him spare change.

“I’m not the wealthiest or best-dressed guy, but I’m not homeless, so I don’t take the change," he said. "I'm usually the one trying to give it away."

"One thing I really like about the Bayview is that everyone takes care of each other.”

The African Outlet. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

Solinas says each painting has a story to it, reflecting something significant that happened that day.

He happened to paint Surfside Liquors on May 25, the same day that George Floyd was killed by police outside a similar corner store in Minneapolis.

Surfside Liquors. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

Most of the paintings feature Bayview residents that Solinas has met, some of whom have asked to be painted.

“Often, people will point out who they know in the images, and sometimes they are related to that person," he said. 

B&J Burgers. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

Over the years, Solinas has filled 273 books with his oil paintings. The Bayview book is now 54 paintings strong, and he's happy to show them to anyone who asks. 

“Bad things have happened before to some of these people, and there are all kinds of lives here," he said.

"But as soon as I open the book, the energy changes. They see it as something positive for the community.”

The Jazz Room. | Photo: Courtesy of Rico Solinas

As he continues to paint the neighborhood, Solinas hopes to gather enough material to create a Bayview-centric art book, which he'll sell on Instagram at an affordable price.

Once the pandemic subsides, he'd love to hold an art show of his work at the Bayview Opera House or Linda Brooks Burton Library. 

But for now, he just hopes to keep creating paintings, and making new connections with Bayview neighbors.

“A lot of artists just paint whenever they feel inspired, but I see painting as a full-time job," he said. "That’s my philosophy, and it keeps me sane.”

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