Sixty years ago Halloween trick-or-treaters trooped along Diamond Street, armed with shopping bags in one hand and bars of Lava soap in the other. If business or homeowners didn’t continue filling their bags, kids might soap merchant windows and the windows of parked Chevys, Fords and Plymouths.
Tricksters were pretty benign all those years ago; soap, after all, is water-soluble.
These days, Tom Coulter, owner of Glen Park Station, pays Lucas Armand and Johnny Breeding to paint his saloon’s windows, and the paint is removed with razor blades.
It’s October, after all, and an even year to boot. So Glen Park’s venerable bar’s Halloween windows share space with that other American pastime — baseball.
“I like it and our customers appreciate it,” said Coulter, as he stood before Armand and Breeding’s “splash” art, which this year boasts tombstones, one of which announces: ‘RIP Cardinals.’
That’s the St. Louis Cardinals
Glen Park was waking up the morning Tom Coulter carried bags filled with hot dogs and buns into his bar. Coulter anticipated a Giants come back after their 3-2 drubbing by the Kansas City Royals in Game 3 of the World Series.
Armand and Breeding had come back, too, returning to the neighborhood watering hole after Travis Ishikawa’s National League pennant-winning walk off home run had put the last nail into the Card’s coffin. The two window artists had added the words “The World Series – Champions 2010, 2012” above their earlier orange and black GIANTS inscription.
Below it, the two friends, who had traveled to San Francisco together from Portland 32 years ago, had painted “World Series – 2014.”
Fingering a one-inch foam brush and balancing two containers of acrylic paint atop Coulter’s ledge, Armand surveyed his work. Images of full employment ran through his mind as he mentally calculated the 24 other venues who’d employ him now that the Giants were making a run at their third world championship in five years.
“I’ll be painting all over town now,” said Armand, who was born in Eaglepass, Texas and who counts as his clients Squat & Gobble and Van Ness Avenue and Market Street automobile dealerships. “I missed most of the Cardinal series because I was doing a Crepevine in Berkeley.”
Window art is an old and honored form of outdoor advertising. It’s kept graphic artists employed and created customer awareness well before Steve Jobs ever dreamed of dolling up computer fonts. Such sign painting, reliant upon graceful parabolas, often accompanied department store window displays featuring well-appointed mannequins.
Around the same time mischievous kids conjured soaping windows along Chenery Street, mothers dragged their children to shop at Union Square. There they watched window trimmers such as Armand and Breeding plying their craft at City of Paris and I.Magnin. In those days Woolworths served up submarine sandwiches and MacFarlane Candies dished out double-decker ice cream cones. Glen Park moms bribed their kids with these offerings. With a hoagie and a block of rocky road chocolate in each hand, Sussex and Surrey Street kids watched window artists perform their magic.
All these years later the tradition continues.
“I was painting a window at a restaurant at Market and Church a few years ago, and a mother walked over and said her five year old son was a tough critic and wanted to talk to me,” said Armand. “The mom said her boy was ‘brutally honest.’”
Armand held his breath as the boy closed in on him.
“Your work is really great. I like it,” said the five-year old.
“I’d made the grade,” said Armand. “I felt validated.”
Splash art relies on cursive strokes and follows limited borders. It has few guidelines and fewer parameters. Unlike other art, it’s supposed to be temporary, created from memory, designed to become catchy, hand-painted commercial window campaigns.
“It’s from memory, neither studied nor sketched beforehand,” said Armand. “I get out of my car, carry my paints to a window and toss up a drawing on the spot. There are no stencils or patterns.”
In other words, Lucas Armand simply splashes it on.
“I was trained as an architect, but I liked this sort of work,” Armand said. “It keeps me outside and it incorporates art into business.”
“I’ve always been artist, though,” he said. “When I first got to San Francisco in 1982 I was homesick. I saved $1,400 painting for two solid weeks. I used the money I made and returned to Portland with lots of Christmas presents.”
Lucas Armand is rarely without paint and brush, working Mission Street bars, coffee shops such as Tart to Tart in the Inner Sunset and lots of restaurants, several taking him to the East Bay. There’s not a holiday — St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and Gay Pride Week — that doesn’t see Armand and Breeding’s imprimaturs.
Their efforts aren’t without downsides, though.
“Once I was doing a Squat & Gobble and a City cleaning crew drove up and washed down the window before it could even dry,” said Armand. “Another time a police officer got out of his patrol car and yelled ‘get down from there.’ He thought I was a tagger. I told them I get paid for this.”
Barkeep Tom Coulter has been paying Lucas Armand for nearly 10 years now.
“Christmas time is always the best,” said Armand, who lived in Diamond Heights for three years. “Kids come close and get really involved and ask, ‘Are you an artist?’ Their eyes light up and they ask do you color outside the lines?”
It during this season, when reindeers fly, that Armand’s art, full of squiggles and curlicues that delight children, refuses to remain within linear boundaries.
“Once, during Easter, though, I painted a bunny on a Squat & Gobble, but it was kind of frightening so I took it off,” said Armand, who moonlights creating digital images that he shops around card shops and science fiction bookstores.
“You know. Sign painting is a dying art,” he said, with a shrug of resignation. “It’s a joy, though. Each window is a joy.”
The word die isn’t in the 2014 San Francisco Giants vocabulary.
Two days before Halloween they didn’t think of giving up the ghost.
The day after Armand and Breeding’s final Series brush stroke, Bruce Bochy’s team went on to wax the Royals 11-4 in a four-hour marathon Game 4, and a day later, on Madison Bumgarner’s mythic left arm, they shutout Kansas City 5-0 in Game 5.
After the KC sixth game 10-0-blowout, it all came down to arguably the most exciting event in American sports.
Tied three games to three, the Giants needed only nine more innings to squeak out a 3-2 win and become the best team in Major League baseball, winning on Joe Panik’s peerless glove and on Bumgarner’s arm yet again.
“They keep on coming back, those Giants,” said Tom Coulter,
So does Lucas Armand who decided to put his acrylics away, take a step through the swinging door of his favorite saloon and lift a beer not a brush.
“I watched the game at the Glen Park Station,” he said.