While walking the streets of San Francisco, it is easy to come across an intricate graffiti mural painted on the side of a building. Vivid colors blend together to make obscure fonts and shapes, all done with a can of spray paint and a lot of attention to detail. Even if you can't make out what it says you still know it is art. Perhaps more often around the city you see "a tag." A single color scribble on a storefront or the back of a MUNI bus. You probably think to yourself how ugly it is and feel bad for the person who has to wash it off. Steve Rotman, photographer and author of San Francisco Street Art and Bay Area Graffiti, says the latter is actually graffiti in the traditional sense.
These are examples of legal graffiti murals, which is a little different than graffiti proper," Rotman said, while walking by the murals on the old RAI Care Center building on Haight Street, which were painted with permission from the property owner. "Graffiti in its purest form is an illegal form of expression. I love these, they're great, but it's not, strictly speaking, graffiti." According to Rotman, only a couple years ago San Francisco was a top destination for seeing illegal but picturesque graffiti murals. However, eliminating graffiti has become a major priority of the SFPD and some city officials. "When I started shooting graffiti it was ubiquitous it the city, it was everywhere. You could go to any neighborhood and see not just tagging, but full color, really fantastic pieces, on the street, on rooftops and on billboards and it made the city a very exciting place to be," Rotman said. "Since then, the city has engaged in a very aggressive and successful, from their point of view, crackdown on graffiti."
OK guys, what's the difference between graffiti and street art?
Steve Rotman: Graffiti is a subculture. It has a certain tradition and history. That has to do with getting up and writing your name. "Street art" is a bigger term. There's a lot of gray area. Street Art includes things like stickers and stencils . Usually the imagery you see in street art is something people can relate to pretty easily without having to learn much about it. Whereas with graffiti, it's often very confusing if you're an outsider. You don't know quite what you're looking at, it may look a little frightening or unfamiliar. It takes a while to learn what's happening. With street art you have an immediate relationship with it.
Chris Brennan: Graffiti is something that's done on the spot, with the traditional tools. Street art is generally premeditated. It's done in the studio and brought to the street, or it's done with the intention of being installed, and it's not so much concerned with the fame and the game that goes along with graffiti.
How does San Francisco's scene compare to other scenes?
Steve Rotman: My impression is that San Francisco has a lot more character-driven stuff.
Chris Brennan: Definitely. San Francisco started that deviation from traditional graff. There's a lot of other street art. SF is a major international hub. If you're a writer or a street artist or an artist in general, you wanna do something while you're here. People that write, they don't come through without at least catching a couple tags. It's that constant influx of people from other countries, other places, that are influencing the scene here as well.
Steve Rotman: Which is one of the things I love about SF and the Bay Area in general. There's a little more of a quirkiness here. And risk taking with what people are willing to put up. People don't get clowned on as much if you do something weird. So that's kinda neat, 'cause you see more variety.
Based in San Francisco, CA, Upper Playground is the leader in today’s progressive art movement with its innovative apparel and accessories line and art galleries. Since 1999, Upper Playground has been recognized as a catalyst for the fusion of fashion with fine art.
UP apparel and accessories are designed by local and international artists including Sam Flores, Jeremy Fish, Estevan Oriol, David Choe, and Alex Pardee. The Upper Playground collection is sold in over 300 boutiques worldwide and online. In addition, Upper Playground has stores and galleries in San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, New York, and London.
Let’s talk about your collab with adidas. Where did the idea to team up with Originals come from?
In 2005, we teamed up with adidas on their 35th anniversary of the Superstar sneaker. They asked us to design a sneaker as part of the project and we created a BBQ themed sneaker that sold out nearly immediately. When they came to us earlier this year to ask us if we wanted to create a small quantity of adidas Originals sneakers we jumped at the opportunity.
Why did you decide to enlist well-known artists and musicians to co-collaborate on the four part series?
Upper Playground has always been a brand that fuses fashion with fine art, so it seemed natural to partner with contemporary artists on a sneaker line.
Interview with Eon75, a spraypaint artist from San Francisco who was influenced in the early stages of his graffiti carrer by the European scene. Eon75 paints with HBT Crew, Team Alosta and WCF Crew.
When did you begin painting graffiti?
I began painting around 13 years ago… not that long as artists go.
How did you get into graffiti and what made you start painting?
well I used to live in Gainesville, Florida and at that time we had a lega (semi-legal wall) called the 34th Street Wall, there was always a lot of sority and fraternity text on this big beautiful wall. From time to time crews from Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville would come through and do a nice piece or two, but never a very good concept or intelligent background. Well, one day in '96 Daim and Seemso (Kane7) came through and did a memorial wall for a kid that had died, it was the most amazing piece of art I had ever seen! I walked to the wall the next day and just stared at the characters and the Daim and Seemso pieces, I had never seen graffiti executed with level of precision and mastery. Frankly I didn't even think it was possible. As a result of this I immersed myself in the culture, bought some Kryons and went to the wall the next day and painted my first piece under the name Quad and I have been addicted ever since. The piece was the worst thing I had ever seen but I knew I could do better so I kept painting.
Here is an interview with graffiti artist Apex from San Francisco.
Where are you from? Tell us about your beginnings and your discovery of graffiti
i was born and raised in san francisco, california, usa. I entered the world of writing at a very young age, san francisco was saturated with writing in the 80’s, it was great.
What’s the meaning of your name?
n. pl. a·pex·es or a·pi·ces (p-sz, p-)
1. The highest point; the vertex: the apex of a triangle; the apex of a hill.
2. The point of culmination. See Synonyms at summit.
3. The usually pointed end of an object; the tip: the apex of a leaf.
i would just like to see if i could ever reach my apex.
What was the interest in art and what lead you to create all those things?
my interest in art just came to me, i did’nt really look for it. It grew out of me at a very young age. I had to create.