Evolution of Place: San Francisco’s Outer Sunset District

I LIVE AND PAINT IN SAN FRANCISCO’S OUTER SUNSET DISTRICT, where the city dead-ends at the Pacific Ocean. The architecture of the low houses is so similar as to suggest assembly-line production, and it is--or was-- foggy and cold almost year-round. I respond to my immediate surroundings in my work but, when I moved to the Outer Sunset in the 1980s, at first I saw nothing of aesthetic interest. Finally, after years of looking and painting and watching the evolution of the neighborhood, my relationship to its grid of streets and avenues has deepened such that I find it beautiful.

 I look back on my work and see an evolving story of changes in the Outer Sunset. I see the ubiquitous utility poles and network of cables as compositional elements, as well as a tangible web of connection between neighbors. The city planners are steadily upgrading infrastructure and burying power lines so the poles and wires are being cleared from the sky. Their absence is observable change--but what is the felt change?

When the streetlights went from mercury vapor lights to sodium vapor, my palette felt the change--from green light to orange—before I noticed it myself. Here are the new white LED lamps that will once again send me reaching for previously unused paint colors.  

By painting what I see, I make discoveries. By paying attention to the details that record shifts in light, structures, and moods, I want to impart the sense of being located and included in a way that leaves an afterimage in the mind's eye.

- Jessica Dunne