The Honey Bear BART Bandit of San Francisco: ‘fnnch’
The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights local artists before they exhibit their work somewhere awesome, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place. Meet fnnch, BART’s unofficial artist in residence…
You may have seen fnnch’s work around town, he’s been painting our city pretty regularly for a few years now. He estimates that he’s done over 100 pieces of street art in SF, and about 30 of those pieces are still up today, some commissioned, some not. Many of his pieces get removed by power sprayers or simply painted over by the federal government.
fnnch’s latest work of ‘guerrilla art’ appeared in the Powell St. BART Station last week. From a distance the bears appear to be paid advertisements or a commissioned city art project. The piece has been so cleverly measured and planted that the tens of thousands of people who walk by it daily don’t realize they’re looking at something completely temporary and unsanctioned. I watched handfuls of people gaze casually at the bears as they passed, most reacted with a warm smile, some with curiosity, some with indifference. No harm done. The fact is the bears are painted on styrofoam panels and held in place by double sided tape, there is literally no permanent damage done to the site, they took 90 seconds to install and could be removed by a very stiff breeze.
“the honey bear is a universal symbol of happiness, everyone had them as kids, it’s completely innocent.” – fnnch
Alex Mak: Do you consider yourself a criminal? Are you just another ‘dangerous’ graffiti writer?
fnnch: “When you talk to people on the graffiti side, most are blatantly not trying to create art that you enjoy. It’s much more of a game with them, a competition within their subculture of who can ‘get up’ the most or in the craziest locations. They’re not really pretending that what they do is art.”
fnnch: “95% of people who live or visit SF do not go to the MoMa. Seeing honey bears on the BART may be the only art someone sees in their day. I’m trying to bring art to people in a way that engages them, I feel like most people are alienated from contemporary art by white on white painting and the level of abstraction that modern art brings. I’m trying to bridge that gap and bring art to people, I’m not an art gallery that closes at 5pm, I’m charging a ticket price, I’m showing that art can be can be populist and approachable.”
fnnch: “If I have a greater mission it’s to show that we need more art around us. There are canvases everywhere, on the sidewalks and rollup doors for example, there is canvas space everywhere. If a building is architecturally uninteresting and historically unimportant, why shouldn’t there be art on it?”
“What I learned was that if you do it in the daytime, the assumption is that it’s legal.”
“Noon is the safest time to paint, everyone assumes you’ve got permission to do what you’re doing”
“In the case of the BART project I believe the only conceivable crime was littering. We caused zero permanent damage to public property, the whole thing can be removed without a trace. It took 90 seconds to install.”
fnnch even asked BART how he could get his art up legally, he even inquired about buying advertising space on BART. Curious as to how much it costs to put up your own ads on BART is?
fnnch: “I had a call with Titan Worldwide in early 2015. At that time they quoted me: $190 / ad (22″ x 21″) on the BART train that would run for 4 weeks. I couldn’t put them all in one car, and I couldn’t pick where they go. $600 / ad (60″ x 46″) in a station, though the cost is doubled if I wanted to pick where they go. ~$100,000 to wrap a station, though it varies by how high traffic the station is. They do all of the printing of the ads themselves. All of the above prices are subject to a $2000 minimum order.”
There are studies that show that when a public transit station has art in it that ‘perceived’ wait times’ go down. Meaning that passengers feel like they are waiting less when there is art to look at. Art work also saves the city money in the long run, because it dramatically decreases the amount of vandalism and tagging done in stations.
AM: What’s the ideal reaction to your art?
fnnch: “I kind of want you to have that reaction of surprise and delight, something that causes you to look up from your phone…and it’s not only something aesthetically appealing to look at, it’s also something that says ‘a person did this for you’, you know? In a way it says, ‘we care for one another, we do things for each other’.”
fnnch: “There’s a great quote by Shepard Fairey, that says, ‘Art can’t be either evocative or provocative – it has to be both’. And that rings true, I try to be both aesthetically pleasing but also spread the message that art can and should exist in more public places, why not have art on the sidewalks or on that ugly blank wall over there? Why not?”
fnnch now has people reaching out to him and asking if he’ll paint something on their sidewalks. So the message seems to be getting through. He is also lobbying the city to do more public art…commissioned this time.