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San Francisco’s Prolific Street Artist : Calamity Fair

Updated: Jan 28, 2021 12:09
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The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights Bay Area artists who are doing incredible work, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place. 

Calamity Fair, wheat paste.

If you’ve walked the streets of San Francisco this decade, you most likely will recognize this work. His wheat pastes are distinct, bright, and horrific all at once. They stare at us from street corners and boarded up store fronts.  Often seen sharing space with pieces by @thedripup, @politicalgridlock_, @rickyrat or many many others.

It takes a lot of legwork to get up all over the city, in the dead of night, week after week.  Wheat pastes, along with most street art is constantly being ripped down, tagged over, painted over, or washed away.  In fact, the reason wheat pastes are so attractive to many street artists, is because it is inexpensive, easily replicated, and causes no permanent damage to the surfaces they go up on.

So to stay up in the city, no matter what your using, is nearly a full time job.  Calamity’s art career is a lot like his art, it’s a collage, many eyes looking in many directions.  Collaborations and mediums galore.  So meet one of SF’s most prolific street artists, Calamity Fair.

Calamity Fair in studio.

Artist Name: Calamity Fair

Medium(s): Collage, illustration, spray paint, epoxy resin, acrylic, photoshop, tattooing, wheat paste, printmaking, just to name a few. I also enjoy photography, writing poetry, assemblage sculpture, songwriting, making zines, vegan cooking, and rapping, but I’m rather a dilettante in those fields.

What was your first job in the Bay Area?:

My first job in the Bay Area was at the infamous Mitchell Brother’s strip club that recently closed down for good. I was around 21 at the time and still in college and desperately in need of a job. My roommate who worked there at the time told me they were hiring and desperate for employment I shortly thereafter found myself working in this notorious porno palace. I had no idea what I was signing up for at the time, but soon after learned about the history of the Mitchell Brothers and their involvement with Hunter Thompson, Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Ron Turner and other idols of the lowbrow art and literature community back in the 70s. They were big proponents of free speech and I thought that was a cool legacy to be a part of. After a while however I realized that that aspect of the place had disappeared decades ago and what was left wasn’t quite as glorious or revolutionary. The majority of the time I worked there was spent in the front office drawing and cutting up magazines with an x-acto knife.

Where’s the most creative spot in the Bay Area?

Haha, interesting question! For me it’s my apartment or more specifically my bed. I’m a creative workaholic and every day I’m grinding on my craft in some form or another, but the majority of my mental fireworks go off when I’m laying down in that hypnogogic midway point between sleep and wakefulness. Usually if the vision is significant enough I know I’ll just remember it, but I keep a notebook and sketchpad next to my bed at all times in case I need to capture any of those fleeting epiphanies.

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!

Academy of Art Film Department drop out all the way baby! Growing up and still to this day, film, or surrealist film in particular, has always been a huge inspiration to me. When I was younger I thought it was what I wanted to pursue as a career, but unfortunately a couple years and several thousand dollars into film school I realized it was an industry I absolutely did not want to work in. Aside from high school art classes and a few sketching courses at the university, most of my fine art practice is autodidactic.

SF drag queen Juanita, by Calamity Fair.

What’s your most recent favorite project?

I don’t know if I have a most favorite recent project. I did the annual holiday card for SF drag queen Juanita More back in November and that was a lot of fun because they more or less gave me permission to get as weird as I wanted with it. Overall I really prefer the stream-of-consciousness approach to art, I think there’s a cathartic playfulness to it and find I am happiest when things are sporadic and unplanned. Ideally I’d like to get to a point where I could work exclusively in this fashion but collectors and the art world crave repetition and familiarity and like most artists that means I often have to make compromises to make ends meet.

The hustle is real.

How long have you been doing street art and wheat pastes?

I did my first wheat paste probably about 12 years ago, but it wasn’t until maybe about 5 years ago that I started regularly integrating my collage practice into outdoor pasteup art. It started out mostly as something I would do when I traveled, as I found it was a good way to link up with creatives and leave my mark in international cities. For a long time there wasn’t much of a paste up scene at all in SF. The first couple years it would usually just be my friends @thedripup or @politicalgridlock_ and me going out once a month or so, but over the past few years the community has grown exponentially. Now there are at least a dozen or more active wheat paste artists that are reviving the scene and I’m happy to be a part of it.

What do the eyes symbolize in your work?

If anything the eyes represent over-stimulation. In our modern world with not only televisions and screens every where but also hand held devices constantly in front of our faces we are bombarded non-stop with different types of stimuli. I think as human beings it is more consciously overwhelming than many of us even realize or admit and I’m very curious and a little fearful of how this is going to impact future generations.

A lot of the creatures and figures I make are also these like mutated hybrids of humans, plants, and animals. By using different combinations of eye types it’s an easy way to cluster a bunch of different beings recognizably into one. Plus eyes just look cool and they’re the window to the soul or whatever.

When did you discover Hieronymus Bosch, and are we all going to hell?

I was probably a teenager when I first discovered Hieronymus Bosch. Growing up as a kid I was really into things like Where’s Waldo, or any kind of imagery with a lot going on that you could totally envelope yourself in. As an adolescent Bosch had an immediate appeal, but it wasn’t until I was around 20 years old that I really connected to it. One night my friend Danny and I took a bunch of mushrooms together at his parent’s house, most of the night Danny was hurled over the toilet having a terrible experience, while I was in his room and had somehow found myself in front of his computer totally immersed in looking at these images of paintings from Bosch, Bruegel, Memling, and others and getting wildly sucked into all of the symbolism and detail. It was an almost religious experience and in retrospect I’d say it definitely left an imprint on me and my creative vision.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Aprox 1500 AD.

As for Hell, I can’t speak as to an actual afterlife, but I do firmly subscribe to the notion that heaven and hell both are very real places that we create for ourselves and others right here on earth. I think we all hold that ticket to Utopia within ourselves, however living in a society that has so much inequality and such out of harmony priorities, entrance to that paradise becomes incredibly difficult if not impossible for so many to achieve. The Utopia is possible and worth fighting for, but first we need to drastically reevaluate and change the way we treat other humans, animals, the planet, and ourselves.

If there is an actual hell in the traditional sense, I like to hope it’s reserved for people like these greed driven corporate overlords who’ve ravaged humanity and our planet for nothing other than the sake of profit, but in my better moments I hope that even they may find some path to redemption in the end. I guess we’ll find out!

Any SF artists you think are particularly outstanding right now?

There are so many great ones I don’t even know where to begin! Instead I’ll use this question as an opportunity to shout out my best friend Griv (@looksnatcher) who has always been one of my favorite creative minds and friends to collaborate with. I’m incredibly excited how recently passionate he’s become about wheat pasting and stencil making. Personal reasons set aside, if there is anyone whose creative progress I’m interested in seeing it’s his.


Are there any good online galleries? Or sites to get your art fix?

It’s all Instagram these days. It’s a shame because the platform has become so inundated with marketing and advertising now that you can’t even scroll five posts without someone trying to sell you something or pay to self promote. The early days of Instagram were like a mecca of discovering new artists and I still do accredit a lot of my success as an artist to that, but it’s a shame that lately it’s become so overly commercialized. As far as actual galleries, the ones I really respect and enjoy following the most are @superchiefgallery and @archenemyarts. Locally I think @mirusgallery, @hashimotocontemporary, and @moderneden in SF and @pt.2gallery in Oakland all exhibit and represent cool and diverse groups of artists.

Calamity Fair

Favorite street art right now?

That’s a tough question to answer. A couple years ago I was visiting Buenos Aires and had the pleasure of linking up with some of the street artists down there and was really inspired and impressed by what they had going on. Gerdy Harapos, Ale Giorgga, and Boxitrixi, just to name a few. There are entire neighborhoods there just completely saturated with their aesthetic as a paste-up community and aside from that there was this really great sense of collaboration that everyone had. Not only is the street art community very welcoming, but the general public had a very curious and accepting attitude towards it. We would go out and paste on like a Saturday morning and instead of being harassed, both the passersby and the police would approach just wanting to see what we were doing out of interest. It was very motivating and something I’ve been trying to cultivate here in SF ever since.

Group of Paste Up artists from Buenos Aires @alegiorgga @guillepachelo @boxitrixi @gerdyharapos @bicicletabicicleta @rustydeimos

How do you think the SF art scene has changed over the years?

Because of the gentrification, housing costs, etc, a lot of artists and creatives have been pushed out of the city without doubt, with a large majority of them migrating over to Oakland or down to LA. However overall I feel like the art scene has been pretty resilient and SF is still one of the big international hubs for new contemporary art. There are still a lot of heavy hitter artists, galleries, and murals in this city and the pandemic has created a resurgence in lowbrow street art which has been amazing to witness and one of the silver linings to all the mayhem of 2020.

What’s coming up for you?

Right now I’m working on opening up my own gallery/studio/workshop space with my friend @seibot here in the Tenderloin. It’s called Moth Belly Gallery and we just wrapped up a big opening fundraiser and are in lease negotiations as we speak. Definitely not something I would have foreseen myself doing a year ago this time, but 2020, apart from other things, was a great year to reflect on goals and priorities and this is the path it has lead me down. We have a lot of work cut out for us to get this project on it’s feet but I think having a legitimate space and enterprise to continue my art practice is the next step in the ladder for me to not only level up my own art, but that of my community.

Apart from that I’m just wrapping up the prepping/gestating period for my next big cycle of collage pieces that I’m incredibly, incredibly excited about getting started on and sharing with the world.
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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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