Skip to main content
Arts & Entertainment

Meet the artist behind San Francisco’s massive art installation

Rendering of ‘Lady Bayview’ by artist Raylene Gorum | Courtesy Raylene Gorum

Artist Ralyene Gorum has worked on public art installations everywhere from Omaha, Nebraska, to Stamford, Connecticut, but her latest piece—in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood—is personal. 

That’s where Gorum’s grandparents, an interracial couple not permitted by the state of California to marry until 1948, lived in the 1950s and 60s. 

“All the stories from that era were full of joy,” Gorum said. “Hiding candy from the kids, having rent-raising parties.” 

That familial connection—as well as the legacy of the Big Five of Bayview, women who struggled tirelessly to improve the living conditions in their neighborhood in the 1960s—is the inspiration behind “Lady Bayview,” a nearly 6,000-square-foot artwork to be installed on top of a pier in San Francisco’s new India Basin Park

When completed in 2024, the massive, purple-blue undulating figure will be visible from Google Earth. 

But Gorum almost didn’t become an artist at all. After studying architecture at California Polytechnic Institute, she moved to New York City—in September 2001—with dreams of big buildings in her mind. 

Artist Raylene Gorum | Courtesy Raylene Gorum

“It did something to my brain,” Gorum said of moving to Brooklyn immediately after 9/11. “I realized architecture is very volatile.” 

After a detour as a karaoke bar owner, Gorum combined her previous experiences to pursue art head-on. 

“There’s a fusion between art and architecture,” she said. “It took a little while to get reestablished, but I just jumped in with both feet towards art.” 

Gorum’s architecture background gave her a lot of skills for creating large-scale, public art projects—everything from collaboration with engineers to crafting budgets to working with extensive materials. 

Raylene Gorum's art installation at the University of Nebraska Omaha | Courtesy Raylene Gorum

Yet the California artist doesn’t only create public art pieces—she’s also been commissioned to produce pieces for individuals in private homes. 

Once she was shortlisted for the India Basin Project, Gorum committed to embedding herself in the community, joining neighborhood associations and cleanups at the park. 

“I wanted to soak in the site and what’s going on,” she said. “I took in [the community’s] perspectives and concerns and stories.” 

The architect-turned-artist wanted a piece that was as unique as the site itself—which is on the water and enormous. Gorum considered the multiple vantage points for the piece: from on the hill beside the park, looking down from above and while walking through it. The piece has a swirling pattern that represents the wind and the sea with wind barbs that sailors use to tell the direction and speed of wind.

Gorum chose a royal purple gradient for the color palette, which she thinks speaks to the figure’s regal and peaceful countenance. The finished artwork will have bits of colored glass—in shades of ruby and purple and lavender—to represent rich, dynamic color and flicker in the ever-changing light at the site.  

It’s a fitting depiction of a lady inspired by women who fought relentlessly for their neighborhood. 

“They went to Congress and wouldn’t leave until they got an audience,” said Gorum of the Big Five of Bayview. “They came back with a couple million dollars and got Robert Kennedy and James Baldwin over here.” 

“But they went beyond that, to advocate within the community, create health care centers and theaters,” she said. “It’s that protective female energy, and there’s still a lot of that in the community.” 

That’s part of the reason why the new India Basin Park is being developed hand-in-hand with the surrounding Bayview community, drawing their input at every step. 

“I was really excited to bring this story back to the Bayview,” Gorum said. “It’s like I’ve returned back to that day and my family’s floating around in that project for me personally.”