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The fnnch Honey Bear Controversy Explained

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Image: Stephen Kelly Photography via Flickr

Honey Bear street artist fnnch has raised nearly $400,000 for charitable causes during the pandemic, yet KQED describes his work as “the Most Despised Street Art in San Francisco.” Love them or despise them, you will see those ubiquitous honey bears in now-saturation mode on bus stop shelters and towering on the sides of nightclubs. But you will not see them on LGBT Center on Market Street and Octavia Boulevard anymore. 

Tuesday’s removal of fnnch’s mural from the LGBT Center represents the most recent honey bear controversy, but a general loathing of the bears has been slow-boiling among street artists and subcultures for years. Fnnch critics have often repeated the phrase that the honey bears are “synonymous with displacement and gentrification.”

One on hand, fnnch’s prints, paintings, and other works have raised about $390,000 for nonprofits, charitable causes, and struggling small businesses during the COVID-19 period. This includes more than $100,000 raised for the Safety Net Fund that gives grants to out of work artists, and about $25,000 for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He’s done campaigns to promote mask-wearing and vaccination during the pandemic, and prior to the pandemic, fnnch worked with elementary school students.

On the other hand, the commodification and superspread of his pricey prints has led to gripes that these are “the logo of SF gentrification,” “twee confederate flags,” and “an extension of elitism and White Supremacy.” And fnnch threw some major gasoline onto that fire with the wildly ill-advised comment, “I’m from Missouri. I immigrated here. I’m an immigrant to San Francisco.” 

That comment came when fnnch was removing defamatory graffiti from a honey bear mural at the LGBT center. That mural has been there for 10 months, largely without incident, until being tagged hard a couple times this weekend, with commentary that called out fnnch specifically.

Local artist DoggtownDro confronted fnnch in the (highly edited) 7-minute video above, accusing him of “painting our walls with all your out-of-town, bullshit-ass bears.” The conversation obviously escalates from there, but all that anyone will remember is the “I’m an immigrant to San Francisco” remark.


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This led to an open letter to the LGBT Center decrying that “Fnnch has become a symbol of gentrification and displacement, especially as a self-proclaimed ‘immigrant’ from Missouri.”

“Fnnch’s mural on your wall were 3 flags in the forms of a plastic, mass-produced product in the shape of a honey bear created in Pennsylvania,” continues author xeniyuhca. “The three flags represent Gay BIPOC, Bisexual and Transexual pride. We are a community and movement that champions those flags’ values as minorities.”


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The LGBT Center removed the mural Tuesday, and put out the statement above Wednesday. “We acknowledge the fact that fnnch has engendered a host of opinions and that some of his recent comments about being an immigrant have brought pain to many members of our community,” the center said. “Though we believe that every artist we work with is entitled to their own opinion, the Center does not agree with fnnch’s recent comments, and we have shared our concerns about the impact of his comments directly with him.”


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Fnnch did not respond for comment for this article, but has since posted an apologetic post. “As some of you are aware, I was recently approached on the street by a detractor, asking me to account for how my work is sometimes being interpreted and telling me that I was not welcome in San Francisco,” he says. “I was shaken by this encounter and did not handle this the best. In particular, I used the word ‘immigrant’ to describe myself, a person who moved from Missouri to California 16 years ago. This is an insensitive usage, and I am deeply sorry. I believe that both America and San Francisco should be welcoming to everyone.”

Fnnch has also drawn criticism for a Black Lives Matter honey bear that some saw as “blackface,” and selling a $64,000 NFT that channeled Mark Zuckerberg. And boy do we despise those fucking NFTs.

The conundrum of fnnch is that he can raise a hell of a lot more money for charitable causes than many other artists, thanks to a savvy years-long campaign of saturation and promotion. But his being the go-to street artist can shut other artists out. And fnnch is incredibly goddamned good at capitalism, but capitalism is something streets artists generally abhor.

“fncch’s honeybear has become the latest symbol of tech gentrification, colonization and artwashing of San Francisco and beyond,” poster artist Lil Tuffy tells “Now, fnnch is San Francisco’s artist. White, non-confrontational, cutesy. Instead of being fined or arrested for defacing government or public property, he’s rewarded with commissions from the city, corporate partnerships and the ability to put up his work in broad daylight and the Mayor poses for photo-ops.”

“The honeybear has come to represent gentrification because it is a constant reminder of what the tech industry has done to this city over the last 30+ years: self-seeking opportunists coming to San Francisco for the art, culture and community and then presumptuously eradicating it with bland and tasteless crap that no one really asked or or needed in the first place,” he adds. “We’re sick of disruption, going fast and breaking things and he is ‘the Uber of street art.’”

Or as rival street artists Ricky Rat told us in July, “Fuck his Fisher-Price street art.”

Image: Shepard Fairey’s Cesar Chavez mural: Stephen Kelly Photography via Flickr

It’s an inherent dynamic of street art that the most popular and commercially successful artist will always have a target on their back. Graffiti artists absolutely hate Banksy. And it’s no accident that Shepard Fairey places his work at higher altitudes where taggers and his haters can’t reach it.  

But the fnnch controversy is happening here in the petri dish of San Francisco, which is the nation’s ground zero for income inequality and the displacement of people of color. Add to that the extra triggering value that in this case, a straight man is often welcomed to paint on LGBTQ spaces. So in that sense, fnnch’s work is not unlike “the Uber of street art” — a brand that is widely disliked and carries a lot of baggage, but is nonetheless an astonishingly lucrative venture.

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Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.