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Color That Lights Up SF Streets : Kate Tova Artist You Should Know

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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. 

Kate Tova was born in Balakovo, Russia.  A town with a population of 200k, but without a single art gallery or street mural to its name, not even graffiti graced its walls.  To escape the gray skies, the soviet facades, and 6-month long Russian winters, she painted with bright, intensely warm colors.   The type of color palette that can light up a dark street corner.

PHOTO BY Vincent Josol

We first saw her work when Paint the Void began organizing artists to paint the boarded up storefronts last Spring (over a hundred got painted, by 90 different artists).  Turning urban blight, into public art was a very San Franciscan move, and it felt good, in a very dark time.  In a decade where most artists seem to be moving away from San Francisco, it’s nice to see creatives coming in, the city needs color now more than ever.

Meet Kate Tova, she came from Russia with colors, and she’s an artist you should know.

Artist: Kate Tova
insta: @Kate_Tova

Medium(s): Acrylic, Gold leaf, crystals, beads, glitter and other mixed media. 

Where’s the most creative spot in the Bay Area? Right now (January 2021) – the streets! The San Francisco street art scene exploded after businesses boarded up. I can’t even count how many artists made their first time outdoor mural ever – including me. I think it’s so amazing that people started seeing the important role that artists serve in uplifting communities, giving hope and promoting thoughtful reflection. It’s scary to imagine if all of those boards were blank. Our beautiful city would look horrifying and depressing without street art.

“Say Her Name” was my first outdoor mural on a boarded-up Hotel Abri in Union Square. That powerful piece commemorated the black women who died as a result of police brutality. Rather than portraying just one of the victims, I decided to create a guardian goddess figure to represent all of them. I originally wanted the mural to be interactive and wished that people would write the names of victims and positive notes and pin them to the board, but realized it could be risky and easily get out of control. Maybe I’ll try it in the future, but back then I decided to place Mardi Gras beads in her hair that I refilled every week. Right now this piece is in storage and will probably come back once the outdoor dining/ fashion shows start at John’s grill. Limited edition prints of this work raised over $3,500 and 100% of profits will benefit “Black Artist Fund”.

“San Francisco is the place I never want to leave.”

The second mural I created was “Laverne Cox” painted on an ugly construction sight in Lower Height (Fillmore & Page st). It’s shocking how much that artwork transformed the space. Now you can see the rainbow hair reflecting in parked cars, windows and passing buses – it’s magical. As in the previous mural, this one also incorporated gold leaf, thick textured paint, Mardi Gras beads and crystals. I have never seen a mixed media textured mural anywhere so I thought it was time to make it happen.

The third and final (for now) mural was “California Native Glitch”. The “Glitch” is how I call my abstract floral burst compositions.  This mural is a tribute to California’s firefighters & all those affected by recent wildfires. Last fire season was shocking and I really wanted to reflect on it, draw people’s attention to the problem and show support for the victims. The mural features California native plants, many of which are endangered.

California Native Glitch. 1650 California st, San Francisco

You’re a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!

I learned the basics of color theory and composition at a kid’s art school in my hometown – Balakovo, Russia. I painted during all my free time so I definitely wanted to have a career in the arts. When it was time to decide for which degree I should get – I chose advertising. I realized that you can paint the most beautiful artworks, but if you don’t know how to share them with the world and promote them – good luck! Also, visiting the prestigious Russian Fine Art Academy gave me nightmares when I saw the students were painting still-lifes and poor little old grandmas in these dark swampy colors. I didn’t want to limit my artistic freedom by going there.

What’s your most recent favorite project? I began placing colorful hearts on boarded-up storefronts in San Francisco. It started with just a couple of hearts in my local Richmond district in September. I didn’t sign them so I didn’t know if they were still there and I always wondered what people thought about them. Once I signed the next few with my instagram tag – the feedback was overwhelming. 

I started getting messages from people saying that the hearts cheer them up on their commute to work, how kids are drawing colorful hearts and sending them to family and friends, a FedEx delivery man taking pictures of the hearts for his wife when he discovers one while delivering packages, and San Francisco natives admiring the heart on the old Cliff House. I received a tearful voice message from a fan when one of the hearts was taken down. 

Photo by Marcell Turner.

After all these years of being an artist I had no idea that art could be so powerful. I’m used to displaying art in galleries and high-end shops. Often, people are not even allowed to take pictures – let alone share them. All these years I had been missing the feedback and limiting the audience that could experience my art in person until I discovered street art. 

The hardest part, at first, was to find the bravery to go put these up without anybody’s permission. I’m used to being very proper so the first few times my hands were shaking like crazy. Now the only thing I’m trying to get used to is that some hearts get ripped out, painted over or tagged. It’s wild to see this happen with my work that’s typically sold for a few thousand dollars a piece. I wonder how Banksy must laugh when somebody removes his work.

How did you come up with your most recent color palette?  The bright bold pinks, reds, purples ect? 

I started using bold colors back in Russia as a way to escape the gray world and dreary 6-months winters outside the studio. Moving to New Orleans took that colorful style to a new level. The colorful carnivals, architecture, and tropical nature inspired the vibrant palette I have today. When I moved to San Francisco I was most fascinated by nature. My hikes and strolls around local parks inspired my abstract “Glitches” collection – a contemporary explosion of color and flowers that is also vibrant but reflective of the city’s combination of natural beauty and cutting-edge tech. 

Color always makes me happy – that’s why I wear it and surround myself with it. When San Francisco boarded up I felt like I could help brighten it up with the hearts. The heart is a universal symbol of love and I feel like love has been so important in our lives for the past few months: the love for ourselves, our family and friends, communities, essential workers, nature, and our pets. 

What’s next for you?

I’m giving away an original 18”x12” painting on plexiglass! Go to my website and subscribe to my Mailing List to enter and get a chance to win a heart.

I’m launching my whole heart collection on Saturday, January 30th at 10 am PT.


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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

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