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Sunday, August 1, 2021

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Arts + CultureArtWelcome home: Striking neighborhood murals come to SFO airport

Welcome home: Striking neighborhood murals come to SFO airport

Artist Emily Fromm contributes four new pieces to the Harvey Milk Terminal, showcasing local flavor

Emily Fromm moved to San Francisco from Santa Clarita, a city a little north of Los Angeles, when she was 17, to study painting and ceramics in San Francisco State University’s studio art program. Now well-settled in the city, Fromm, who lives on Taraval in the Outer Sunset, often draws inspiration for her paintings from walking around different neighborhoods in the city. 

“There are a lot of places I have a connection to,” she said. “I like the architecture and signage here. It’s on a smaller scale than LA signage, which is aimed at cars and freeways. Here it’s more built for pedestrians.”

Fromm has had shows of her work at galleries including the Luggage Store Gallery, 111 Minna Gallery, Guerrero Gallery, and the Incline Gallery, as well as in New York and London. She’s done murals down in Mountain View and for a SFMTA ramp in West Portal. And recently, her largest project yet, a 10×40 foot permanent mosaic art installation, Four Corners, was unveiled at the newly opened wing of Harvey Milk Terminal 1 at the San Francisco International Airport.

Strolling along the Embarcadero, in the airport.

The glass mosaics show scenes in four neighborhoods—the Castro, the Mission, the Embarcadero, and Chinatown. The signs represented let us know what neighborhood we’re in with ones for Twin Peaks, Hot Cookie, and the Castro Theater in the Castro; Red’s Java Hut and Hi Dive along the Embarcadero; Jackson Street and signs for souvenirs and dim sum in Chinatown; and Taqueria Cancun and City Discount Meat Market in the Mission. 

Certain elements make her want to paint a scene, Fromm says.

“I tend to look for a depth of field where a lot is visible in a frame and it gives you a feel for that neighborhood,” she said. “It’s bringing as much visual info as possible. I really look for good signs to show what’s happening.”

Fromm worked in partnership with SF Public Arts Commission and Mosaika Art & Design in Montreal to make the work. She says she appreciates the team at Mosaika—who produce their own tiles and glazes —and their care and precision in turning her painting into something durable for the SFO installation.

A familiar scene in the Mission.

Susan Pontious, the head of the public art program at the SFAC, has been working with SFO for about 30 years. Having art displayed at the airport can calm people’s anxieties and help them navigate the space by giving them landmarks, she says, but it also lets visitors know about the city’s culture. 

“The airport is the city’s front door,” she said. “It’s where we make our first impression on people coming to this region and it’s their last parting view.”

Fromm’s art is perfect for the Harvey Milk Terminal, Pontious says, and not just because it shows vignettes of San Francisco neighborhoods. 

Installation view

“I was just struck by how beautifully strong her work is and her graphic style,” she said. “Seeing it at that scale was really thrilling. It’s one thing to see it in a painting but to see it larger,  the strength of the graphics shone and the mosaics enhanced it rather than just recreating it.”

Having her work at a busy airport is right where Fromm would like it to be. 

“I’m extremely passionate about public art,” she said. “I love the artwork at any airport – it’s an important way to get a sense of the city. I’m thrilled it’s in the public rather than for people who choose to go to galleries or museums.”

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