San Francisco Art Wars
Sir Isaac Newton in 1686 presented his law of physics: “For every action …There
is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Art is generally defined as:
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically
in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be
appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
A San Francisco contemporary pop wall-artist who signs his work 'fnnch' recently
said: “There is a great quote by Shepard Fairey, ‘Art can’t be either evocative or
provocative – it has to be both’”.
fnnch now has a world-wide following through his honey-bear creations. He began
as an elusive and fugitive graffiti-artist in San Francisco 26 years ago, moving here from the American Midwest.
I first noticed 3 enormous honey-bears in SF’s SOMA district in 2018 on a wall of
the Clever Building. They immediately evoked in me pleasant memories of my childhood, not the dysfunctional and unpleasant ones. I remember consuming honey from containers shaped like bears.
These fnnch bears persuaded me to recall, “what do you want to be when you
grow up?” One of the 3 honey-bears wears a fireman’s hat, a second one holds an artist’s brush, and the third sports an astronaut’s helmet. I understand that the honey-bears provoke other SF residents to remember horrific, unpleasant memories.
The honey-bears procreated during the pandemic. Their offspring now occupy
many SF public spaces.
The fnnch website offers, “art is for everyone. Only about 5% of a city’s residents
and visitors tour its modern art museum. Street art and murals are art for the other 95%, inspiring and engaging them with the arts”.
Murals, street-art, wall-art and graffiti-art can be seen in places and spaces all over
the globe. fnnch aspires to the ranks of international street-artists: Banksy (Bristol
England), Keith Haring (PA USA deceased), Vhils (Portugal), Tavar Zawacki, (CA USA) Roa, (Ghent, Belgium) C215 (Paris, France), Mentalgassi (Berlin,Germany), Hyruro (Argentina South America), Titi Freak (Sao Paulo Brazil), Sp Y (Belarus Europe), Laguna (CA USA) and Blu (Senigallia Italy).
Many of them have gained fine-art status, which means the rich have taken
notice. Recently, a Banksy item sold at auction for $1.4 million. As soon as the gavel came down, a button was remotely activated and the image was shredded, the original work disappeared as if he blew away a sand mandala.
fnnch creates street-art and murals using multi-layered stencils and spray
paint. He depicts objects from both nature and everyday life. Over time, his work became popular largely through social media. fnnch has also been featured by The New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle.
I cannot help comparing fnnch to an earlier pop-artist named Andy Warhol. Warhol used a silk-screen technique and he designed images from his (and my) childhood. I am referring to his Brillo boxes, Campbell soup cans, and embellished photographs of celebrities. I appreciate Warhol, while others are unimpressed.
Social media has been both a boon and a bust for fnnch. Despite shelter-in-place
and mask mandates (intended to keep us safe}, coronavirus has claimed an
unprecedented and unimaginable number of lives. Panic, fear and misinformation has spread throughout the world by way of social and mainstream media.
The streets of San Francisco erupted in hopeful and peaceful protests which
devolved into riots, punctuating the unsolvable divide between rich and poor. Vandalism, gun-violence, theft and hate-speech seems to have prevailed. Too many San Francisco storefronts and businesses were boarded-up with plywood, as if preparing for a hurricane.
fnnch and other street artists adopted these wooden barriers as canvases for
their creations. fnnch honey-bears became both loved and hated.
By November 2020, three fnnch ‘diversity-bears’ appeared on the Victorian side of
the LGBT building (around the corner from my residence). They were dressed in Pride Flags. ABC7 news got a rare interview and fnnch said: "Part of my work is reassuring you that it's okay to be happy, it's okay to like something,".
Outrageously and ironically, this street-level mural has been tagged often. The
artist and his teammates notice the damage and repair it within a day or two. Any mural on this site can be easily seen by pedestrians, car traffic, taxicabs and busses.
The fnnch-bears have also been commissioned by MUNI as advertisement on
busses and bus stops in order to promote mask-wearing and to help support local
coronavirus vaccination efforts. While the artist’s identity remains a mystery, honey-bears typically sell out as quickly as they appear on his website.
Honey-Bear Hunt Kits include a masked and vaccinated bear printed on paper to
tape to your window. A map of these bears comes with the kit. It is a fun and safe outdoor game for singles, couples and families. The point of the game is to spot the honey-bears around the City.
By the light of the pink supermoon April 25, 2021, the diversity-bears were defaced beyond recognition with hate-speech. Instagram claimed that a gang calling themselves “the authentic queer artists” took responsibility for the vandalism on the beloved LGBT Center. I was depressed as the violated diversity-bears were power-washed off the building and erased with a startling coat of white paint.
I had been oblivious to social and mainstream coverage of this street art war. I
missed headlines such as” How fnnch’s Honey Bears Became the Most Despised Street Art in San Francisco” and “The Queer Toothache That Comes From Walking Past San Francisco fnnch's Honey Bear Murals”.
Around 5pm on April 28th "the authentic queer artists" celebrated the demise of the diversity bears and they again vandalized the LGBT Center building. They staged a protest with signs that read "honk if you hate fnnch". One protester wore a rainbow flag.
They pledged to any passerby that they intend to eradicate all fnnch honey-bears
throughout the City, by any means necessary, including breaking windows to get at them.
I hesitated but I called the police who arrived in time to witness the protest. Officers took a report from me. I told them, “I do not dare hang a honey-bear in my window. I am 70 years old, disabled and afraid”.
The next day, a headline reads: LGBT Center erases ubiquitous honey bears
painted by street artist fnnch. The Center says Midwestern-born artist’s claims of being an ‘immigrant' have caused 'pain'.
A friend and neighbor told me, “I walked past the protesters on my way home from work. I wondered what was going on. CENSORSHIP? PROTEST? CANCEL
CULTURE? ARTISTIC ENVY? And the LGBTQ center just caved like a house of cards.
On the other hand, I was kind of secretly sick of seeing them everywhere and I got the anti-gentrification push back. But does that give people the right to destroy another artist’s work? It has the stench of an old-fashioned book burning.”
I reached out to District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. His legislative aide gave
me a quick response: “Hi EDDE, thank you for sharing your concerns with our office.
We have proactively reached out to the SF LGBT Center about this situation and will pass along your email and case number to the SFPD's District 8 Public Safety liaison. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any future issues. Best, Tom”.
I replied, “Thank you, Tom, for your response. I am deeply concerned. I am not
satisfied with the public response from the Center, and I want the name of its
spokesperson, please. I want to be included in this conversation”.
I will not be a party to hate-speech of any kind. I will not be a party to half-true
information. I will not be a party to destruction and vandalism. I will not be afraid to voice my opinions. I will not be threatened and made to feel unsafe. There is plenty of room underneath the rainbow to include everyone.
One reaction I heard was: “Ask me if I care! Much ado about nothing! Oh Honey,
I can’t bear any of this!”
I have attempted to cobble together the issues revealed in these articles:
a) The honey bear artist is out-ted as a straight, heteronormative white man who
is profiting from the LGBTQ community while employed by the tech industry.
b) Conversely, fnnch is on record as saying that he moved to SF in the midnineties.
as his uncle was dying from AIDS. The diversity-bears were meant to pay tribute
to that uncle.
c) He misspoke, referring to himself as an immigrant from the Midwest and his
apology has not been accepted.
d) LGBTQ artists, especially young artists of color, are dismissed and do not have
the same opportunities for self-expression and economic privilege.
e) These artists view the honey bears as nothing but logos for corporate takeovers
and say the bears are “not art”.
f) fnnch had donated the canceled mural to the LGBT Center. It was among the
artist’s charitable causes.
g) LGBT Center staff embraced the donation initially. As the blow-back evolved,
the Center said they had planned all-along for this wall to be a revolving street-art
installation. After the diversity-bears were annihilated, the Center chose member-artists of the LGBTIQ+ and BIPOC community to replace the bears for PRIDE.
I am bewildered by this controversy. I, too, was a throw-away gay youth when I
turned 18 years old. I was again traumatized during the 1979 murder of veteran Harvey Milk.
It sparked violent White Night riots because the murderer, Dan White, was given
a lenient sentence.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California. His birthday
occurs May 22nd. Let us not forget that both Supervisor Harvey Milk (the mayor of Castro) and Mayor George Moscone (the people's mayor) were assassinated. Consequently, Diane Feinstein became the first woman mayor in the USA. Moscone and Feinstein were straight.
I was saddened by the graffiti which appeared on the white-washed wall after the
diversity-bears were destroyed. In red spray-paint it said, “I care about SF more than most. $FRIP.”
I was born this way in Oklahoma and I am 70 years old this PRIDE. I am retired,
out and proud to live in San Francisco. I have been a teacher, a social worker and
government employee as well as a protester. I can now explore my passion for art. I sign my own creations ‘EDDE’, a palindrome.
I love San Francisco, it is not dead yet. I am proud to be a part of San Francisco
values which manifests for me - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. SF is my home.