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In art and in life, Michael Roman was a man of many layers, colorful visions and haunting complexities. The stencil artist and silkscreen printmaker, best known for layered prints depicting cultural and political icons, died [in 2016], succumbing to severe health complications. He was 60 years old.  Read More

Michael Roman is one of the most outstanding, productive and original artists working in San Francisco at the  moment. His work combines ancient motifs from many cultures,  such as India with Pre-Colombian patterns, as well as a unique sensibility in regards to the actual materials and images that he creates. Working mostly with the medium of silk-screen and hand set blocks Michael Roman has developed a style that is unmistakable: visually stunning, contemporary, with images overlapping - he creates a template that few artists can match. The  fact that he has created work specifically at the request of the world-renown musician Carlos Santana  can attest to his popularity and following.

-- Alejandro Murguía,  San Francisco Poet Laureate


No surface is safe near Michael Roman.

The genius of Michael Roman is a free falling universe of audacious color, images and ideas. Sweet courtships meets fierce gods, sex goddesses dance with vipers. Flying begins in his underground world of monsters and marvels.

Michael Roman’s sensibility is personal and playful, outrageous and informed by a universal nostalgia, courting kitsch and madness, but delivering beauty and often profundity. His imaginative mixture of traditional symbols, off-register silkscreen, deliberately clashing hot and sweet hues and a surreal mash-up of modern life energize Michael Roman’s art.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Michael Roman moved to New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1980s. He quickly became a stencil graffiti legend, a fixture in the exploding downtown art and club scene. Initially he worked as a bicycle messenger, delivering transparencies to Andy Warhol and was influenced by the work he was exposed to at the Factory. He soon began running and making art with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and David Wojnarovich. He started making designs for Betsey Johnson and Kate Spade and exhibiting at venues like Gracie Mansion, Ground Zero, Bruno Fracetti and B-Side. His work was seen frequently in Paper and Red Tape magazine.

His breakthrough moment was designing the skull motif for Madonna in her film debut Desperately Seeking Susan, that set the stage for her style and many future Michael Roman over the top outfits.

Michael Roman outfitted a roster of rock and punk rock icons including Keith Richards, The Undertones, Die Toten Hosen (see German Wikipedia page for Michael Roman), The Ramones and currently, reggae star Sister Carol.
No surface is safe near Michael. He works on canvas, cardboard, fabric, furniture, buildings, formal and informal. Michael Roman’s classic mural of flying angels at the legendary Pyramid Club in New York is still in place. He created the Interior design for Danceteria, The John Coltrane Memorial Church, 14 El Belazo Tacquerias, Little Chihuahua Restaurants and in 2014, designed and created a major outdoor mural for Bar Redux in New Orleans for the Jazz Festival.

Michael Roman’s long productive collaboration with Carlos Santana has yielded signature costumes, sets and album covers. Carlos Santana is the artist whose work has been closest to Michael Roman’s cross-cultural spirit. Carlos Santana has been a close friend and patron since 1989 when he hired Michael to work at the Mission Cultural Center and relocated him to San Francisco. Michael has worked with Santana ever since. Most recently, Carlos appeared onstage at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz Festival wearing clothes that Michael designed for him. Carlos Santana has an extensive personal collection of Michael Roman work.

When Michael Roman moved to San Francisco he became a major contributor to the Mission street art culture on construction fences, posters, fashion and most famously the Frida Kahlo pizza boxes. He was a featured artist at the deYoung Museum hit series Mission Muralismo and his art is highlighted in Street Art San Francisco Mission Muralismo, (Abrams 2009). He has been a long time teacher at Mission Grafica, celebrated print center, and part of the groundbreaking group of Latino artists including Calixto Robles and Juan Fuentes.

Michael Roman’s spiritual and political sensitivities are displayed powerfully through out his work from spray can wielding schoolgirls to dancing revolutionaries. He has decorated many nightclubs and taquerias with symbols of joy and sacrifice. He says, “I want to paint the women who work in the taquerias for my next mural. They toil haunted by fears of the ICE immigration police. I want to paint them chopping onions and crying, the paint on the wall always wet by their tears, till they are free from fear and harassment.”

Michael Roman is devoted to using images to deliver messages, as meditations and prayers, to connect ourselves to LIFE, culture, inspiration, suffering, compassion, and each other. His images are drawn from Roman’s original paper cuts, silk screens and prints layered with a mixture of global iconography.

Roman's work is in the permanent collection of the New York Textile Museum, the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and many private collections. Michael Roman’s art has a special connection to Day of the Dead and is on permanent display at the Oaxaca Heritage Museum in Oaxaca, Mexico. Michael Roman has been a valuable artist to La Mano Magica in Oaxaca Mexico for the past 30 years, and currently shows primarily at the Alley Cat Gallery and Back to the Picture in San Francisco.

The appeal of Michael Roman’s work is fusion contemporary San Francisco, unifying and expressing the discordant extreme vibrance that has made the city an international hotspot – punk, tattoo, latino, boho, hipster, hiphop, graff, stencil Mission style. The audience ranges from the Valencia Street fashionistas to international travelers cruising 24th Street to surfer/skater/alt.

Each work is an homage, an offering, perhaps a sacrifice considering the fury with which Michael Roman works. His affections for Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Zapata are emphatic tributes. Frida Kahlo appears most frequently in morphing images from saint to mermaid. Kahlo another previously overshadowed artist serves Michael Roman’s parallel interest in the spiritual, the fetish, the hidden sacred and nostalgia for Mexican graphics updated and edgy. Like contemporary street art Michael Roman’s work is especially appealing to the young sharing his spirit — playful and passionate — for a magical visual adventure.

-- Annice Jacoby
Editor, Street Art San Francisco