Goldbaum on a ladder. the background of the mural is dark grey, the image traced in red lines on it shows a vista of SF
Amos Goldbaum working on his “Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower" at Church and Day streets (Courtesy/Amos Goldbaum)

Q&A: An artist who draws S.F., line by line

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Name: Amos Goldbaum
Age: 31
City: San Francisco
Position: Artist

J.: You draw complex images that you turn into prints and screen onto T-shirts. You produce commissioned murals for businesses such as Square, Dolby Laboratories and Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. And you create public murals, including one in San Francisco of your grandfather and one in Nepal of a yak. How do you describe your work?

Goldbaum is seated, working on a yellow drawing on a wall
Amos Goldbaum at work (Courtesy/Amos Goldbaum)

Amos Goldbaum: I am a line drawer. The line is the basic component of all the work I do, which is almost diagram-like — simple, pure line drawings with no tonal values or shading. I can do a lot with a line, imply shape and form, and I’m always exploring how far I can go, how detailed I can get.

When did you begin drawing?

I started at 2 or 3. My mom and grandma both are artists, and in my family, if you were bored, you’d be told to draw something. There were always art materials around, and it just felt natural to pick them up. All kids make art, starting with crayons or chalk, and I just never stopped.

Did you study art in college?

I majored in art at Grinnell College and have been making a living as an artist for almost 10 years now.

Which artists do you admire?

Bill Watterson, who drew Calvin and Hobbes — his range is amazing. Georges Remi [pen name Hergé], the artist who did Tintin. [Figurative painter] Egon Schiele. And Diego Rivera, for his murals.

black line drawing on white background shows a market street, including a bagel cart
Amos Goldbaum’s mural at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen (Courtesy/Amos Goldbaum)

You were born and raised in Bernal Heights, where you still live. Many of your drawings depict San Francisco in all its glory. How do you see your hometown in your mind and how does that translate to your art?

San Francisco definitely lends itself to the way I draw. The city is visually complex, mostly because of the many hills but also because in a lot of places, it was built without much of a plan. I draw the foreground, the medium ground, the background and all the layers in between, intermingling them in an interesting way.

What is your process before you draw?

I take photos of different views. I like to take one of the foreground and one of the background and then I walk up and down the hills, get on a higher level, to get a different impression. There are really interesting shapes here, with the architecture, the hills and the landmarks. I also look at historical images.

Which are your best-selling T-shirts?

Dolores Park, the Ferry Building with the old freeway and Candlestick Park are favorites, but the biggest seller — and one of the first shirts I made — is the one of Sutro Tower. That tower is such a cool shape, and it’s an ever-present landmark wherever you are in city, and even farther out. It has a really nice elegance. A lot of people think of it as a landmark, like the Transamerica building or the Golden Gate Bridge.

Do you have a shirt depicting the Golden Gate Bridge?

I do. I resisted for a long time because there are so many images of it out there, but I just recently made one that shows the bridge under construction, with Fort Point in the foreground.

Talk a bit about drawing your grandfather, Avrum “Al” Goldbaum.

a bright blue line drawing on a dark grey background
“Boomie,” at Valencia and Clinton Park in the Mission, a portrait of the artist’s grandfather (Courtesy/Amos Goldbaum)

I have dozens of drawings of Boomie — we all called him “Boomie.” He was a good subject. One T-shirt showed him wearing headphones. When I would visit him, he would be wearing headphones while he watched TV because he was pretty deaf and needed the volume turned way up.

Did he like your pictures of him?

I know Boomie liked my company. He was a photographer and a high school teacher, and he was into my art, though he did say I always made him look too old, with too many wrinkles. After he died in 2015, just a month before he would have turned 103, I did a mural of him. It’s in an alley called Clinton Park, off Valencia Street between 14th and Duboce.

Were you brought up Jewish?

I was brought up in a leftist, secular, atheist form of Judaism, with an appreciation for Jewish traditions but not so much for the religious part. My grandparents were New York lefties raised in strict Orthodox households, and they rebelled, so my mom was more into Jewish secular humanism. I do take pride in my Jewish identity and the whole culture around it. There are amazing Jewish figures in every field, especially the arts.

Your work is available in a dozen Bay Area shops, but on your website you describe yourself as a street peddler. Where can readers find you?

When I’m not at street fairs or festivals, I sell almost every weekend afternoon on the corner of Valencia and 23rd streets. I always post on the website and social media about where I will be.

What’s next for you?

In September, I’m having a solo gallery show in Dogpatch, with some of my bigger pieces. I’m excited about that, and I also have a couple of other mural projects in the works.

“Talking With” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected].

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.