Read Between the Strokes – Surviving as an Artist in San Francisco

His art is beautiful, powerful and serves a purpose. As a painter, Claudio Talavera-Ballon uses his talent to make a change and has recently turned his focus onto highlighting the Mission district of San Francisco. Busy in his studio, and with multiple shows coming up, Talavera-Ballon brilliantly brings his art of the people to the people.

Born in Arequipa, Peru, Talavera-Ballon has worked professionally as an artist since 1997. He studied painting under his mentor Luis Palao Barastain, and considers himself a traditionalist, working simply with canvas or hardboard, oil paints and three brushes. Having lived in various regions of Peru, from the capital city to fishing villages and the mountains, he found a passion for painting people who make a living off of the land.
Talavera-Ballon“…I’ve always been captivated by fisherman, the farmers, the handworkers because they know the real meaning of life,” Talavera-Ballon says. The stunning works are more than just art, “I want to preserve culture and customs,” he explains. Each portrait has been somebody that has had a great impact on him either personally or in a specific moment in time, and now, after living in The Mission for two years, the visually and culturally rich neighborhood has become a muse for the artist.

“I paint immigrants, because I want people to recognize the Latino laborers. Farmers are very important in our lives, and we treat them like nothing.” Although he has found similar people in Peru and the US, there’s an issue here that he is quick to recognize. “The work is hard plus you add the problem of immigration. You are scared that ICE will come, and you might never see your family again.” Such a difficult and daily struggle of a large group of people tends to get overlooked, but Talavera-Ballon makes the people and their lives captivating and vivid, using art to open people’s eyes and see around themselves.

As an artist, it’s important for Talavera-Ballon to not only create great pieces but to survive. Talavera-Ballon makes it clear that in order to succeed as an artist one has to work hard every day. “You make a lot of sacrifices, and sometimes you work all day,” Talavera-Ballon explains. “You have to be very goal oriented.” Even a talented artist is nearly doomed if they do not understand the business. Talavera-Ballon has multiple agents both in the US and in Peru, and like many businesses, it’s not always what you know, but who you know. “Networking is a huge part,” he says. Meeting curators, gallery owners, buyers and other artists grows contacts and make both the artist and the art more visible and esteemed.

Talavera-BallonTalavera-Ballon also works with Artspan and Global America to help expand his business.
Artspan holds open studios for artists, and offers business classes to help them learn how to promote and sell their work. “I put everything Artspan taught me into practice,” he says. The two groups share a common trait of connecting the art and business worlds. With Global America’s help, Talavera-Ballon showed his work at Nissan’s grand opening on Van Ness. Further possibilities of integrating with tech companies have come up, and he is currently in talks with Google, Facebook and others about holding an art residency program.

Understanding the market is also key to the business. Talavera-Ballon explains that in the US people want to know the reasoning, inspiration and background behind the works; the artist’s philosophy is an essential element. For Talavera-Ballon that is an advantage. There’s a message in every piece of his art he says, and “The brush strokes are the words, and people can read the message.”

While he has worked for decades to highlight the beauty and struggle of laborers, living in the Mission has given Talavera-Ballon a new issue to fight for. “… in this Latino neighborhood, there is a problem of gentrification” he says. The Latino community and poor artists originally brought the life and color to the neighborhood, a brilliant and vivacious aspect that has made it iconic. Now, as a “cool” area, rent is rising so high and so quickly that original tenants are being pushed out of their homes of 20 years or more. It’s not just the displacement of the people that bothers Talavera-Ballon, but the changing landscape and scenery. “The Mission is full of murals, but they’re changing. Most of the murals now are just colors and don’t say anything to the people, before they had a story.”

Carnaval-de-La-Mision_300As gentrification chips away at the narrative and history of The Mission, Talavera-Ballon tries to reach people on a larger scale. The public can visit his studio by reservation and view his paintings on his website, and he connects to the community and viewers through Facebook and Twitter. As his collection grows, Talavera-Ballon recognizes the need and advantage that technology has in his business. Having a larger platform for exposure offers a stronger chance for the message and art to enter the public consciousness. Hoping to have an effect on those who view his paintings, Talavera-Ballon also understands the subjective nature of the art. “Sometimes there’s more than just one message, and each person has their own perception.” Whatever the personal perception, Talavera-Ballon’s craft goes beyond its striking beauty and will hopefully push further into the San Francisco business sectors and continue to grow awareness for The Mission and the strength and wisdom of land workers.

Visit Claudio Talavera-Ballon’s studio at 3712 25th St., San Francisco, CA 94110

View his website

Attend an upcoming show:

-City Art Cooperative Gallery, 828 Valencia St, SF
-Mission Economic Development Agency, SF (through the end of the March)
-ArtSpan’s Art Auction @ SOMArts, SF March 28

– Misho Gallery Spring Open Studios, April 11 & 12
– Spring Open Studios, April 18 & 19 (3712 25th St, San Francisco)

-City Art Cooperative Gallery, 828 Valencia St, SF (May, Opening Friday 2nd)


LAM is partnering with Latino Startup Alliance to showcase  a series of twelve Latino Entrepreneurs in the next few months. The Latino Entrepreneur Series is presented by Verizon Wireless and written by LAM member and journalist Alice Bauer.