ActivismArts and CultureSan Francisco

Taggers Deface Mural Made by a Robot in SF. Hilarity Ensues

Is Tagging Over Corporate Art Ok?

The answer is, “I’m not sure, but in this case it’s hilarious.”

A mural of the city on Beale Street. | Photos: Nancy Ellen.  Via Hoodline

Last month a tech company called ‘SprayPrinter‘ that makes robots who spray paint images on walls, put up a mural in an underpass on Beale St, under Harrison. The process is 99% robotic, in fact, it looks like the arm of a laser printer from the 1990s moving up and down.

#waronboringwalls #sprayprinter

A post shared by Manisha (@manisha_th) on

Then came the real test.  Would the streets of SF accept the new corporate robot art?

The answer came pretty abruptly. Shortly after completion, some local taggers came through and wrote on the mural.

Then, the techies tried to fix the mural by incorporating the graffiti into the mural. (not a terrible plan)

But then (and this is the punk rock part!) the taggers came back and stole the paint that the robot and the techies were using to fix the mural.  And, to add insult to injury, the taggers used the corporation’s own paint to further tag over the mural.

Now stealing is wrong, and vandalism is wrong…right? Well in this case…the outrage can be felt in another way.  This wasn’t a commissioned piece of artwork, this was a corporation getting a free billboard.  The tech company did it for free because they didn’t have to pay an artist. Robots work for free!  And they must have known this mural would not only be free advertising but once the mural was defaced, THAT could be free publicity too! Do you think they’re really bent out of shape about it?  Of course not, do you think their robot printer is crying inside? (actually…maybe it is?)  This company, started by self-proclaimed ‘Hackers’, puts images on public walls, without the public’s consent.   Oh, wait.  How is that different from those ‘evil’ taggers?  Is it different because the startup has a ‘Series A funding portfolio’, and the taggers just live here?

The Rincon Hill resident who worked with the company to get the robot mural made was clearly confused by the vandalism, it was after all a project meant to ‘bring the community together. She told Hoodline, “It’s a techie kind of thing, I think that’s why people loved it.” No Ellen, that’s why people hated it.


“It’s a techie kind of thing, I think that’s why people loved it.”


That corporate ‘mural’ wasn’t done by an artist, or even a local artist, you know how we know?  It’s got a cable car and fucking bald eagle in it.  It looks like someone programmed a robot to draw it using the keywords #America, #sanfrancisco, #Skyline.   At best that mural could be called a large postcard. Something a tourist might buy for a dollar at Fisherman’s Wharf.  This wasn’t vandalism of public art, it was reclaiming a billboard space.  Sorry robot printer.

Yeah, a cable car and a bald eagle. Wow, thanks for the inspiration

To her great credit Ellen said she’s willing to work with the taggers if they’d like a creative outlet. “Let’s talk,” she said. “What do you want? What can we help you with? Let’s come together as a unit to beautify the city.”

Here’s our 2 cents:

Next time, why not pay an actual artist to paint something meaningful. Because teaming up with a tech company to replace an artist with a  an artless automation, is less funny, than local taggers stealing a corporation’s paint cans.  It’s a metaphor for how San Francisco is pricing out its creativity.

No one should cry over a robot billboard.  So to those ‘outraged’ over this robot Ad being vandalized.  Why not work with some actual artists on the next project?  Maybe instead of printing advertising on public property, you could support the local art scene.

Here are just a few wonderful local organizations, non-profits, and galleries who could recommend a great local muralist to you in a heartbeat:

San Francisco Arts Commission
Clarion Alley Mural Project
Precita Eyes Muralists

ArtSpan
50 Balmy Alley Law
@thecanvassf

1am Gallery


The photos from this article were taken from the original article by hoodline.
Photos were taken by Nancy Ellen, the resident who collaborated with the corporation to make the billboard happen.
The issue was brought to my attention by my buddy Chad.  Thanks Chad.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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