San Francisco’s Ant-Man
Here at BAS love the eccentric, the creative, the different…the people who spice up our city up and give it the character and diversity that people from all around the world have come to love. Meet the local artist you probably already recognize, this ain’t some Marvel comic book character Ant-Man, this is the real Ant-Man of San Francisco.
This interview and guest post is by writer & curator Marilyn Jones
I met Antman in the late 90’s in a bar called Murio’s, located in Upper Haight. He was drawing characters of the bar’s attendees, in exchange for a drink or 5 bucks, so he could buy himself a beer. His artwork graced the ceiling, wall-to-wall, stapled up by all the bartenders who worked there. Some people chose to keep the drawing done of them, others would be offended, claiming that they were crude, and most of them were. Many of the drawings were too controversial to hang on the ceiling. Antman is not your standard tourist attraction caricaturist. The drawing of me had me leaning over the pool table with a caption above my head that said, “I can’t see the balls but I have a nice ass”.
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Born in Okinawa, Antman came to the city in the 80’s to be closer to his two brothers, both of whom he never sees. He started working at café’s and waiting tables, just to get by, but never really sold his art until Murio’s. If you were an early riser, and a juice drinker, you would find him making smoothies with me downtown at Juice World. Every day I would come into work and there would be some crude joke on our tip jar. He made work fun and I laughed at least once daily. It’s really hard to get mad at the guy if you have a sense of humor.
Our middle-eastern neighbor’s would always use our ice machine and Antman wouldn’t charge them. His attitude was always, “it will come around.” Unfortunately, one day we both showed up to work and there was a sign in the window that said closed business, and we were both left without jobs, and our last paycheck. Soon after, the Antman was homeless sleeping in his friend’s car. He borrowed money, but then couldn’t pay it back and the interest ended up far exceeding his original amount. For those with bad credit, you know how difficult it is to get a job once they do a background check, plus, his appearances; well…he looks like an ant. The Antman rubber bands two locks of hair to form two antenna on top of his head. When I asked him why he was so weird, he replied simply, “To make girls laugh.”
Me: At what point did you start making offensive art?
Ant: There are these Japanese cards called Hana Fuda that I would put pins on and sell them. The thing with that was that the Korean’s still think it was theirs and call it Hatoh. I did that for about 5 years during the Cherry Blossom festival. They are playing cards, so I would sell out of the high one’s first and people would wear them.
Me: Did you do art back in Okinawa?
Ant: Artwork is the best form of communication, and I stuttered a lot when I was a kid. The only way I could communicate was thru art and making people laugh. Kids in my social studies class all wanted me on their group projects because I could draw.
Me: Are there any particular artists whom you admire?
Ant: Women. When I see them smile, that is my inspiration.
Me: That’s great, Ant. I am not sleeping with you.
Ant: Why not.
Ant: You seeeeeee? There it is.
Me: What about showing your art in more of a professional setting? Like a gallery?
Ant: The thing with art is that it takes too long to sell. I could have a gallery show, and I have in the past, but the framing is too heavy to carry around. I live in an SRO, single room occupancy, and it’s too small to store stuff. Besides, I prefer to make my artwork affordable so I can appeal to the masses.
Me: Like on T-shirts? How do you make your shirts?
Ant: Well sometimes I go out and buy five shirts and print them. I can’t buy more than five because I never have enough money to buy a large batch. I make a couple bucks this way, not much, but I still make ‘em. The gay’s love my “Cougar Bait” T-shirt.
Me: So now that Murio’s is no longer owned by the same people, where do you sell your work and is it profitable?
Ant: Well, I go to Zeitgeist; Kilowatt is my main stomping ground, Bender’s and Nick from the old Murio’s still works on Wed. and Friday nights so I go there then. As for profitable, I don’t know. Is my community service profitable? I have been sweeping streets to stay in my SRO for the last decade and the city hasn’t gotten me a better job to do so that maybe I can pay for a nicer place to live. I have seen so many people die in my building so I stay away from the heavy stuff. My art, for a beer and a laugh, THAT is my profit.
Me: What is your favorite drink?
Ant: That depends on if a woman is with me. If I could afford it, and I wasn’t in the presence of a woman, it would be a local artisan beer. But I have a rule where I don’t open a bottle alone in a room. It is bad luck.
Me: And if you were in the presence of a woman?
Ant: A nice bottle of red wine, so I can see her bluish teeth and red moustache when she smiles. You wanna come over, I have some wine.
Me: How ‘bout I buy you a beer.
Antman’s art can be bought from him directly in person. Also, although he does have an Obama phone, his controversial art has pissed a few people off, and doesn’t want to publish his cell number, and has asked me to broker his art. When you can’t get a hold of me, he said you could leave a message at his SRO Royan at 415-621-2063.
Marilyn Jones is former curator for Blackbird, Triple Crown, and believer in promoting artists. If there is an art opening, please let me know about it!