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Re-Introducing You To Sirron Norris

Updated: Mar 30, 2022 07:34
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Few artists within San Francisco have become a permanent fixture here and Sirron Norris is one of them. His blue cartoon bears are hard to miss in The Mission but you’ll also find his work scattered around the city. The relatable and sweet disposition of Sirron Norris’ dynamic bears will pull you in. While gazing upon the work, you will often see a larger social justice message staring back at you.

Who Sirron Norris is: a muralist, artist “of service” to his community, and “Cartoon Literalist”. He uses his art to enrich his community and educate people on important social justice issues through his work. He uses playful characters which make people more receptive to the message he’s sending through the painting. Norris has been here longer than you think. He says,“There is a new generation here that clearly views me and the blue bears alongside artists who started 5-10 years ago.”

What Sirron Norris isn’t: Norris is NOT defined by the recent vandalism on his art, some ridiculous squabble involving a Rat, or ongoing issues with his neighbor.

Sirron Norris sits with arms folded and his iconic blue bears surrounding him

Norris sits with his iconic blue bears – photo courtesy of Sirron Norris

 

His art has depth to it. His story, how long he’s been here and what he brings to his community within San Francisco is what every headline about Norris should be about.

Norris isn’t a new kid on the block

By the time I’d personally stumbled upon Norris’ work (nearly 20 years ago), Norris had already been in San Francisco for several years prior to that; having come to SF to live with a sick friend who needed a helping hand. ”I’ve Been here through both dot com booms and busts.”, says Norris.

Norris has been able to ride the waves of change within San Francisco and kept true to his voice this whole time.

Like many of us artists, the start of Norris’ career wasn’t that glamorous. He had to balance a desk job with his art career to start. Norris’ first job in The Bay Area was making video games in San Rafael and then he would come home and make paintings.
“Technically the first commission I ever got was on the corner of Bryant and 20th for an $800 painting,” retells Norris.
Eventually, he had his work in The Luggage Store and “I haven’t had a job since,” says Norris. I know Norris is kidding with me when he says he hasn’t had a job since then during our phone interview. Truth be told, Norris is probably one of the hardest-working artists I know.  It wasn’t until 10 years after he first moved to San Francisco that he can say he really started to pick up work in commercial spaces such as Calument and Spur.

grouping of Sirron Norris work including his blue bears a piggy bank and some of his own artwork hung in the background

Collection of artwork by Sirron Norris – photo from the artist himself

When he started, he was part of an art movement called “The New Mission School”. “There was a complete delineation and separation of graffiti, folk art, and cartoons and fine art, and people all of a sudden felt like we could merge all of these things together and create something new and different,” says Norris.

When did Norris feel he finally “made it”? According to this interview, it was when he saw his name at the end of Bob’s Burgers as one of the original creators. If you watch the pilot of Bob’s Burgers you’ll be able to see Norris’ illustrations throughout the cartoon.

BOB'S BURGERS — SIRRON NORRIS

Bob’s Burgers artwork by Sirron Norris

Norris will never pander to social media

During my interview with Norris, I really wanted to ask him about how he sees his work now compared to some of the newer muralists out there. “There are now more murals. There are more murals with less voice. There are more murals that are pandering to Instagram,” says Norris. I think it’s a shame that these days people don’t use their art to share a message as often. It’s more about what sells than speaking with your own voice in your art.

When you talk to Norris, you can tell he’s not one to mince words. Authentically and genuinely himself at all times. “I had a gallery on Valencia before Instagram was even invented,” says Norris. In a world where folks are looking to capitalize on the virality of the social media landscape, I find it refreshing to speak to an artist who isn’t scrambling to get to the top of Top Stories on Instagram. Rather, he’s looking to use his platform he has to create more murals; using art to tell a story. When you speak to him, it’s clear he really doesn’t care about popularity as much as he just wants to make art and connect with people through it. Whatever happens as a result of that is a bonus.

Gardiner Park Basketball Court with Sirron Norris mural

Gardiner Park Basketball Court featuring Sirron Norris’ newest mural

Finding Norris’ work is like finding hidden treasure

If you’re looking for some of Norris’ work, we have some treasures for you to hunt down. Norris’ oldest piece is on the corner of Bryant and 20th. His newest piece is in S. San Francisco at the Gardiner Park Basketball Court. The mural is called “Our South City”. Norris created a historical rendering of South San Francisco but also helped to design the playground itself.

Where can you view Norris’ favorite piece? “The Disruption” on 20th and Bryant is his favorite. “It was one of the only murals ever in San Francisco that I could do whatever I wanted because I got it funded solely by human beings that were interested in letting me have my own voice,” says Norris. It doesn’t take too much to see that the piece does have political statements within it which speak loudly about gentrification and police brutality. The cartoon style of the piece softens the intense reality of the symbolism.

Sirron Norris's favorite piece - The Disruption. Featuring symbolism of police butality

Norris’s favorite piece – “The Disruption” – featuring social justice symbolism

Sirron Norris: An artist “of service”

“I am an artist of service. I service other people’s vision,” says Norris. Most of his work is commissioned-based. #ipaintyourstory is one of his projects where he paints commissions for others showcasing his story-telling style of animated characters dynamically living rich and full lives. While he’ll always have the drive to have his own voice in his work, he doesn’t often have the time.

I initially didn’t connect “artist of service” with Norris’ commission work as much as I connected it to his passion and love for The Mission and its community. For 13 years Norris has been teaching kids cartooning classes and organizing regular summer camps for children through The Sirron Norris Academy. He also has several nights a week that he opens his doors to allow folks to learn and draw together for free. His adult classes teach folks a Eyvin Earle style of painting which Norris says is a style that can be picked up by all skill levels.

Vandalism and his views on Fnnch/Ricky Rat

I don’t mean to be a “spicy” reporter here but in my opinion Fnnch and Ricky Rat don’t hold a candle to what Norris is doing. Norris briefly got rolled up into their beef but I think we can all agree that their form of art isn’t the same as what Norris is doing. Norris doesn’t create temporary wheat-pasted art with short and snappy quips about other artists. He’s creating large permanent murals which improve the spaces they live in and tell a richer story. When asked, Norris just doesn’t want any part of it. 

When one of his pieces is vandalised over and over again by taggers, it’s disheartening. It costs Norris money and time to fix the thoughtless vandalism. What taggers are doing is taking Norris away from helping others and being “of service” to the rest of the community. It also makes others think twice about making beautiful murals in San Francisco; knowing that these pieces will likely be defaced and that the upkeep may not be worth the time it takes to recreate the piece time and time again.

Suddenly in the past year, vandals have tagged many of Sirron Norris's public art pieces.

Vandalized Sirron Norris mural – photo by Sirron Norris for SFGate

What does the future look like for Norris?

While he currently does a lot of commission work, his goal is to shift towards more of his personal art while continuing to connect with community through classes for all ages. Norris will continue to connect with his community in-person with his regularly scheduled classes and events.

He always has some fun stuff on the calendar; such as bike tours of murals in the area. There is a kids summer camp coming up, too! (with scholarships available) Classes for that start in June. During that time Norris’ backyard will also have kids playing in it all summer. Now permitted, he plans on having even more kids playing and enjoying the space.

In the short term, Norris would love to see the situation with his neighbor become less volatile. “When I create art, I am emotional and vulnerable. To have that much anger around me is tough,” says Norris. He loves The Mission and wants to stay there but also recognizes that it may no longer be where he can create art effectively. The future, in regards to where he will paint and create is fuzzy for him but he knows that he will always create his art and eventually it will all work itself out. When you’re an artist, you always are one. You find that cozy place to create and you pour yourself into it – no matter where it is.

Cool fact & upcoming event: Norris’ work will be featured in the background of Season 2 of Woke – starting the 8th. The red carpet event for the show is on the 4th at the cartoon art museum. Norris will be there if you want to try and meet the artist himself.

Photo of Sirron Norris storefront on Valencia

Photo of Sirron Norris’ storefront on Valencia

CONNECT WITH SIRRON NORRIS HERE:

site: sirronnorris.com
education/classes: sirronnorrisacademy.com
insta: @sirronnorris
twitter: @sirronn
all classes: https://www.sirronnorrisacademy.com/classes-camps
Summer camp: https://www.sirronnorrisacademy.com/classes
Adult painting class:

PSA regarding mis-information surrounding Norris: Sirron is pronounced “Sir-Ron” and not “Sear-ren”. They are bears and not dogs (tho he does love his dog.)

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

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