I Heart Street Art: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Meek on Flickr - Photo Sharing!.jpg
A piece by Meek.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Rotman and Chris Brennan, the boys behind San Francisco Street Art, a new book of gorgeous photography celebrating our city's vibrant street art scene.

They talked for a while about why San Francisco's scene is the way it is, citing stuff like the constant influx of international talent, and the city's history of openness and experimentation. "You don't get clowned on as much if you do something weird," Steve explains.

As a result, we see a lot more creativity, a lot more variety, and a lot more collaboration. Those are all positive things, right? Right? Right. So, naturally, I asked why, then, are we now hearing about backlashes, crackdowns and super huddles? Their answers are pret-ty heavy...
Steve: These claims that I've been hearing over the last few months from city officials that say graffiti is suddenly out of control and we need all these new aggressive measures, to me that's insanely ridiculous. Three, four, five years ago, the city was covered in graffiti. If you went through Downtown or the SoMa District or the Mission, you would see rooftops, one after another, with big colorful pieces on them that would rotate and change on a regular basis. That's just all gone. Because the city erased them. So I just don't get the "Suddenly it's out of control." What's out of control? I don't know. There's something political going on here.

Meek on Flickr - Photo Sharing!-1.jpg

A fill-in by Meek.

Chris: With roll-down gates or rooftops, you hit a certain progression where they get tagged on a bunch, and then somebody does a fill-in, and eventually it gets to a piece, a multicolored thing that somebody puts up. And then it stays there. A few years ago, I could've pointed out things that were well over 10 years old. And they hadn't been painted on. They hadn't even been tagged on because there's a respect level that it gets to. So one of the interesting things that buffing -- especially on a regular basis like daily or weekly -- does is ensure that only the worst stuff is up.

Steve: Yeah, it lowers the quality.

Meek on Flickr - Photo Sharing!-2.jpg

More than a fill-in but not quite a piece by Meek. (Tell me those Es aren't ill.)

Chris: Because not only are people not willing to waste their colors and cans on doing a piece, they are going to go crazy just trying to keep their name up somewhere. So they're gonna paint on windows, they're gonna use glass etch, they're gonna grind their name into things, paint over like an awning and a wall and a window at the same time so that you not only have to get someone out their to fucking paint the thing, but you have to use some kind of rough chemical on the awning, and get the glass dude to come and buff the glass. It's like a war. You step up one thing and they step up the other thing. So all you're ensuring is that the gnarliest part of it stays. Which is the part that I don't even like. I don't like riding the bus and looking through glass etch out the window. I hate that shit. Now when I walk past a wall that's buffed every day, I know I'm only gonna see the worst tags. You're ensuring that it's just gonna be the most ruthless, barbaric stuff -- the worst stuff. And that it's not gonna progress.

Resq, Drac, Meek on Flickr - Photo Sharing!.jpg

A tag by Meek.

Steve: The kids who are starting to see graffiti and get excited about it don't get to see quality work anymore. They see all this junk that's out there now. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because of the city's buffing, most of the graffiti that people see now is not really that good. It does look kind of threatening.

So how about that, haters? By disallowing graffiti's natural progression to take place, are we ensuring only that we continue to see nothing but junk on our fair city's walls?

Thumbnail image for Flickr Photo Download_ San Francisco Street Art - Released!.jpg
The book is out now, but there's a release party at Books Inc. next Monday, at which Steve and Chris and a number of honest-to-goodness street artists will be on hand to discuss any of the above. Full details are here.

All photos by Steve Rotman.
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