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The Beauty & ‘Beef’ in San Francisco’s Street Art Scene

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You’ve seen their work all over the city, on boarded up storefronts and hanging in windows, you’ve seen it on walls, garage doors, and mailboxes.  Street art in San Francisco a reflection our city’s culture, politics and creativity.  The great majority of art hanging in SF’s museums, is not by sf artists, San Francisco art is seen on its streets.

SF street artist mosaic of 2020, this article is about wheat-pastes and muralists, not graffiti artists and taggers

Let’s begin with a little fun, namely the recent, one-sided rivalry between two street artists in 2020.  The ‘beef’ between the honey bear and the rat, is one part harassment, one part hilarious, and one part symbolic of San Francisco culture and change.  Between the rich transplants and the priced out natives.

The honey bear by Fnnch has become nearly ever-present in San Francisco during shelter in place, his ‘masked’ honey bears have popped up on street corners and vacant store fronts across the city.  His honey bear cutouts are now in literally thousands of residential windows is San Francisco. (+3,000 households in SF alone according to Fnnch) and they get coverage in SFgate and NYtimes, he’s turned his street art into the local mainstream.

The shelter in place game, #GoingOnABearHunt that blew up on mommy apps like Next Door, is popular with children and parents anxious for activities during during shelter in place, they walk around neighborhoods to spot teddy bears in windows.  Fnnch cleverly noticed an opportunity and offered to send residents their own honey bear cutouts at cost, to hang in their windows at home.  Now children walk around SF, looking for thousands of Fnnch’s bears, its very effective marketing.

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Today I am launching The Great Honey Bear Hunt. The idea is to have people put Mask Bears in their windows so neighbors can walk around and spot them. This is a fun, safe activity for individuals, couples, and families. I am now offering a "Honey Bear Hunt Kit" on my website store.fnnch.com that is basically at-cost. Link in bio! It includes a bear printed onto paper that you can tape into your window, plus a sticker and a mini-print as a thank you. Optionally, and by default, the locations of the bears will appear on a map to facilitate the hunt. This is not San Francisco only — the hunt can be nationwide or worldwide! Also please only one per household. This is an experiment, and I am excited to see how it goes. Stay tuned for a Mask Bear in a window near you! Also, if you’re at Alamo Square, look for this bear in the @pinkpaintedlady! #fnnch

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Fnnch, a Midwest born, former tech entrepreneur, by the numbers is easily San Francisco’s most prolific ‘street artist’ in 2020.  He prints so many bears that he has several art assistance working for him.  He measures orders in the tens of thousands, and measures sales and money raised for charity in the hundreds of thousands, and he hustles at night too.  Not only does he manage a team that makes and sells his art online, he is also darting around the city in the dark, throwing up wheat pastes of his honey bear everywhere.  But, there are a lot of street artists in SF, and many don’t appreciate the ubiquity of the honey bear.  Recently a rat named Ricky made it personal, and very public.

“Fuck his Fisher-Price street art.” – Ricky Rat

Ricky Rat comes from the opposite side of street art as Fnnch. He’s born in the Bay Area, he’s poor, his style is old school and political,he draws comix and graphic novels, he quotes Mac Dre, and lately, takes every opportunity to shit on Fnnch’s work.  Wherever they appeared, Ricky Rat popped up on the bears shoulder:

Dozens and dozens of Fnnch’s bears, woke up with a rat next to them one morning…talking a lot of shit.  When I asked Ricky Rat what he represented he said, “The original SF Bay Area culture that is weird, eccentric, and fun that still remains and a reminder that we’re still here.”

When I asked Ricky to summarize his problem with Fnnch he wrote, “I can’t claim that the Honey Bear is to blame for the gentrification rampant in the City, but it certainly characterizes that culture. By virtue of its cute, homogeneous ubiquity the Honey Bear is a reminder of the worst qualities of this gentrification — white privilege, corporate power and social conformity.”

Ricky is definitely punching up, in fact anyone who admired SF’s much funkier, much more affordable past, is punching up these days.  The rat did it’s best to make sure the honey bear was no longer rated “G” on the streets.  If Fnnch is for the transplants and soccer moms, Ricky Rat wants to be more for the natives, and the skateboarders, and the punks.

(in referene to SF’s original street art bear @sirronnorris, and BLM controversy that got squashed)

The bear and rat are not the only games in town of course, there are many, many other interesting and prolific street artists in SF getting up during COVID.  Like the SF classic Calamity Fair and The Drip Up, who have been getting up for years in the city.

Calamity Fair

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Wild in the streets! with @art.tits & @thedripup

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If you walk the streets of SF this year, it’s nearly impossible not to have seen their work.

The Drip Up

And there are many more iconic pieces of street art like Jeremy Novy’s Koi fish, and queer Bears (not to be confused with honey bears) painted and pasted on our streets for many years.

Novy

There’s Rikki List and The Manimal Project

Lui Nova

Iconic SF LGBTQ+ activists in honor of pride.

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To commemorate the 50th anniversary of #SFPride, I put up a mural on plywood in the Castro celebrating key LGBTQ+ activists: Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera – two key transgender activists that catalyzed the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Harvey Milk – the first openly gay elected politician in the history of California, changing the political landscape of the city and its constituents. Audre Lorde – one of the most influential Black lesbian poets of our time, challenging myths and taboos of Black, women, lesbian, and feminists in her writing. Larry Kramer – one of the most important AIDS activists that called out inaction of the US government as HIV spread throughout the US (and the world), advocating for research and treatment. James Baldwin – Regarded as one of the greatest 20th Century writers who explored topics of race, social issues, and being Black and gay in America. Even though the pride parades have been canceled due to COVID, we can still celebrate and show up for our LGBTQ+ community this month. Share and tag #SFPride to show our community some love! #luinova

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Political Gridlock

Justice for George & Breonna.

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Oakland

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Paint the Void

This is just a small chunk of unsanctioned artists getting up on the boarded businesses lately.  If you are interested in the muralists who have painted pieces across the Bay Area (in the daylight & with permission) check out the 96 Murals, 79 Artists, 84 Storefronts done by the artists of Paint the Void.

The ladies of ‘PTV’ are an artscollective who organized the painting of SF’s empty store fronts this year. Paint The Void is responsible for raising money and covering up our blighted streets, with creativity and beauty, with the building’s and businesses permission, which is no small feat.  We’ll cover their 100 murals, later this month.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife (not so much nightlife anymore).

If you're a writer, artist, or performer who would like to get your work out there, or if you've got a great product or service to promote, we've got 120k social followers and really fun ways to reach them. We make noise for our partners, and for our community. alex at brokeassstuart.com

2 Comments

  1. Sam
    July 16, 2020 at 2:33 pm — Reply

    More about the RAT!!! this rat is genius.

  2. Sierra
    July 16, 2020 at 4:23 pm — Reply

    Hey I was born and raised in the Bay Area, in Oakland, so I appreciate the beef between Ricky Rat and Fnnch. I also appreciate your reporting. However I stopped calling myself a Bay Area “native” because I am not a member of the Ohlone or other indigenous group. I now just use the term “born and raised”. I wonder if you might want to make that change as well?

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