The Painting Department at SFAI thrives at the intersection between tradition and experimentation.

Throughout its history, it has been home to celebrated artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Barry McGee, Toba Khedoori, and Kehinde Wiley, and central to movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, California Funk, and the Mission School. Today, the core goal of the program remains unchanged: to challenge students to become risk-takers and innovators who continually push the boundaries of the medium.

Guided by faculty working in diverse styles, students hone formal and technical skills while exploring painting’s conceptual, psychological, political, and emotional power. Though the program is rooted in historical knowledge, intensive studio practice and class critiques help students identify their own aesthetic concerns, and locate their work within the discourse of global contemporary art. Elective courses on topics such as mural painting, illustration, collage, and digital painting techniques further broaden students’ experiences and skill sets.

The Richard Diebenkorn Teaching Fellowship and the Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation Distinguished Visiting Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Painting Practices bring major contemporary painters to campus for public lectures, colloquia, and critiques. Recent visiting artists include such luminaries as Lisa Yuskavage, Chris Ofili, Gottfried Helnwein, Taravat Talepasand, and Wangechi Mutu.

At SFAI, a painter’s education continues outside the classroom: students exhibit in the on-campus Diego Rivera Gallery, and the Bay Area boasts major museums, galleries, alternative arts spaces, and a vibrant public mural movement.


The Painting Department offers 24-hour access to four large painting studios with natural light from the large north- and east- facing windows, color-balanced artificial light, and state-of-the-art ventilation, as well as two drawing studios. Additional facilities and equipment include aqua-based brush washing machines, a work area for building supports, a large rackroom for storage, and a critique/slide viewing room. There are also semi-private studios for selected seniors.