I Heart Street Art: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
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...
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.
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.
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?
All photos by Steve Rotman.