The War Against Graffiti: Will It End?

•April 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Cleanscapes General Manager, Joe Sablan, and old school graffiti writer, Ric, express their perspectives about graffiti in San Francisco. Will the war against graffiti come to an end in the future, or will graffiti writers continue to cost the city money to remove it? Watch and get their perspectives.

Click on photo to watch slide show:

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The best graffiti artists, according to Ric

•March 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The graffiti game is nearly overrun with new graf heads trying to get their mugs in the spotlight. Sure there are still amazing pieces floating around the Bay Area, but originality seems to have diminished after the popularity of the internet exploded.  Yeah I know, not cool.

Rather than pull my marvelously curly hair out my head, I went to have a few words with my friend Ric who has been around the graffiti culture for several decades. Yeah I’ll admit it, I’m still a bit uncultured about graffiti so I needed to ask him a question. During his lunch break, I asked for his opinion about who he thought were the greatest graffiti artists today. I was pleasantly surprised to discover his answer to my question.

In the back of my mind I thought that if the artist is not from the Bay Area then it definitely had to be someone from New York. Come on, it’s the home of hip-hop! No sir, I was wrong. These artists come from the home of sauerkraut and French bread. They are none other than Germany and France.

The first response that came to Ric’s mind was the style of lettering that graff writers in France and Germany have mastered. That style happens to be 3d graffiti art. he spoke passionately about a german graffiti artist Daim. He says Daim has some of the best 3d graffiti art ever, which is something I have never seen until after he mentioned it to me.  And yeah, I won’t lie, some of his pieces looked like they were coming right at me. But it’s ok, I had my computer screen to protect me. He also mentioned another artist named Totem, who, according to Ric, has lettering that is shaped similar to a shark.

Before Ric could get into more detail about his favorite artists he talked about the art of the letter and how it can be manipulated to look like nearly anything you want them to look like. Ric says that his interest in the letter and how people shift it and rock it brings the thrill to graffiti writing. “There has to be a passion in everything you do,” he says. He says he doesn’t see as much passion as he did in the old days, but he knows there are still people that “bomb hard.” “There are cats now that reduced considerably to how much they used to get up and now they cut back,” Ric says. “But when they do get up it’s even sicker because of all the time they allowed to wait.”

And what is Ric’s next step for his graffiti art? Yes, 3D graffiti art.

Amoeba: Covered in Graffiti!

•March 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Mad graff by Amoeba

Vibrant colors from all shades of the rainbow cover a majority of the walls on San Francisco’s Amoeba music store that rests on Haight Street. Every piece of art seems to come together as planned. Some pieces layer over others and make the shop nearly stick out like a sore thumb, only if there wasn’t a clinic across the street that happened to be smothered in graffiti writing as well.

I was struck with curiosity about the graffiti on the outside of the shop. Though I have been inside the store several times, lucklessly searching for Robin Thicke’s first album, Cherry Blue Skies, I wanted to know more about what is did for the store, along with the community.

Upon entering the shop I ran into a bag checker. On his forearms were several tattoos. He wore a snazzy beret-like hat titled atop his head, thin-framed glasses, and a faded black shirt with green print that read pop rocks. I later found that he goes by the name “Ric.”  I asked Ric about the work on the outside of the building.

He and another man, who chose to go by the name “Ralph” spoke about the artwork.

“The graffiti art deters other people from tagging our walls,” said Ralph, who mentioned the graffiti has been on the building for three years. Having murals, rather than tags, painted on their walls deters the law enforcement from cracking down on their business since business owners are required to paint over tags to avoid the risk of being fined. “People don’t want to keep buffing their building all of the time,” said the heavily tattooed Ralph.” So they get an artist to put a piece up. It makes it easier for everyone.”  Ralph and Ric both agreed that the Newsom administration’s attempt to clean up the city will only create a clean slate for graffiti artists to continue painting on. And just recently, the city’s Department of Public Works plans to clean up all graffiti covered trucks as well.

Graff

“This war against graffiti is a never ending cycle,” said Ric in between checking in customer’s bags. “People can keep taking it down, but to a graffiti artist it is a blank canvas.”

In Ric’s opinion, graffiti still has a negative stigma attached to it. He said that old school graffiti artists need to step up and teach younger graffiti writers the art of throwing up a piece. Fortunately, there is one San Francisco artist, Nate1, that teaches kids the art and history of graffiti in a monthly class held at the 1AM Gallery on Howard and Sixth Streets. He does this for a low rate and the students get something more than lessons on how to manipulate letters.

The graffiti outside of Amoeba Records and throughout San Francisco does more for the store owners, but it also creates an atmosphere where people from around the world can come and visit. The graffiti brings more life into the city and gives it a sense of culture and weirdness that San Francisco is well known for.

Graffiti by Amoeba

The Hugo Hotel

•March 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Several days ago a friend of mine told me about an event at the 1AM Gallery on Sixth and Howard Streets in San Francisco. She told me that the event was a fundraiser to keep furniture on a building. I was immediately interested in this. I recall driving downtown and sometimes passing by a building with graffiti covering the bottom of it and furniture hanging artistically on the side of it. Luckily that night, I was able to catch up with Jeremy Sugerman, the lead designer of the furniture artwork’s attorney, and two attendees. Below is the audio of the interviews. Have at it.

A Run-in With A Mural On Haight Street

•March 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Estria's mural on Haight Street

A few days ago I made a trip to Haight Street. I made my way past a guy selling incense like nobody’s business, street kids, locals, and tourists. Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t stop because there was a man getting arrested right in front of me, oh no, this was for the amazing mural I stumbled upon on the side of a liquor store.  Was it the mysterious look the woman in the mural gave me that drew me in? Or was it because she held a really cool samurai sword while wearing an orange karate gi? I had to know more about this. I spoke with several people on the street, hoping to see who contributed to the wonderful piece of work. A few luckless minutes turned into success after I discovered world famous Bay Area graffiti writer Estria Miyashiro and a few others contributed to the piece.

Unfortunately, like many graffiti writers, Estria dealt with the law several years back, resulting in his arrest. Though Estria served some time for what he loved doing, it can still be easy to admire someone who has done so much for the graffiti culture as he has. For starters, he pioneered the game back in the 80’s. Not only has he been a huge influence to the graffiti subculture, but he teaches kids about the art of graffiti, he has his own clothing line, and he provides a space for the best writers around the world to showcase their work for the community to see. Maybe it  was a coincidence that I just so happened to be attracted to a piece of artwork done by  Estria, who I happened to share a few words with last year at the Estria Invitaional Graffiti Battle. Regardless of my opinion, Estria’s artwork is not intended just for me, himself, or his friends. His work is meant for everyone to enjoy. So the next time you’re walking down Haight and notice a samurai girl the size of a brick building don’t simply walk past her. Enjoy the work and know that it came from one of the Bay Area’s most influential graffiti writers.

A Brief Chat With Steve Rotman, Graffiti Photographer

•March 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Steve Rotman(Photo: Troy Holden)

Graffiti photographer Steve Rotman sees more than the average person strolling past a graffiti mural thrown in the Bay Area’s city streets. He sees art waiting to be captured through his camera lens. With graffiti books such as Bay Area Graffiti, and San Francisco Street Art, it is no wonder why he has grown respect in the graffiti world over the past few years.

“I was not working, but I became a full time photographer,” says Rotman after losing a job a little over six years ago and taking to the streets with his camera. But do not be fooled by his full time work as a graffiti photographer. Rotman says he has never found a way to make much income photographing graffiti. In fact, he’s been mostly living off savings the whole time and, as his resources dwindle, he’s now looking for work. “I spent all this time shooting graffiti because I love it and also I wanted to fulfill my dream of making the books,” he says in an email. Part of Rotman’s success can be attributed through the release of his two books, but his early recognition started with the photo uploading website Flickr. “Sometimes I was putting up seven to ten photos up a day,” says Rotman, who took photos almost every day of the week, five to six hours a day.

And Rotman literally went everywhere he could think of to get amazing shots of graffiti around the Bay Area. But how did a “newbie,” such as Rotman when he started taking photos, locate so many hidden graffiti spots? Well, for starters, he looked where most people go surfing. No, I’m not talking about at the local beach hangouts where model types walk around in string bikinis and disgustingly hairy, overweight dudes chase them in unflattering Speedos. Rather, he found his information online. With the help of the net and a good ol’ sense of exploring, Rotman traveled to abandoned buildings, “chill spots” (locations that are not easily spotted by police authorities), and graffiti-covered trucks, which sometimes required him to trespass. It was Rotman’s luck that he has never been caught—well kind of. “I had a few run-ins where homeless folks would ask me to leave,” he says. When Rotman began getting recognition on Flickr under the equally cool screen name Funkandjazz, Bay Area graffiti writers began requesting him to take photos of their work. But it was not always that way.

“In the beginning a lot of writers thought I was a cop because I’m older and I look kind of square,” he says with a laugh.

With years of experience under his belt, Rotman seen and interviewed hundreds of the Bay Area’s finest. With his newfound love for the graffit subculture he grew attached to something more than the work itself: the writers. “When you get to know one particular artist it is fun to watch them progress and grow,” he says, recalling several artists he fondly remembers. Though he loves a variety of writers for their different styles, one writer he is enjoys is a Bay Area writer known as “Apex.” “The technique and precision of what he does is pretty amazing,” says Rotman, who admires the array of colors Apex uses in his pieces.

As Rotman’s graffiti photo-taking days slow down, he, along with those closely connected to the graffiti world, notices the gradual deterioration of graffiti around San Francisco due to measures from the Gavin Newsom administration. “They want to discourage graffiti writers,” says Rotman, “they’re encouraging store owners to get rid of graffiti paint on their walls. If they don’t, they get fined.”

Rotman sees this move to a “clean” city as a result of the types of individuals moving into San Francisco. Higher income equals the urge to make the city more “presentable.” And I agree with him on this. But what does this do for the city? Will taking out all of the city’s graffiti truly make it a better place? Well, I don’t think so. I’d rather live in a city full of culture, flavor, vibrancy, and, yes, graffiti. Why not keep art on the streets for everyone to see? And, even better, it’s free!