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The San Francisco graffiti scene

ab014While 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."

In July 2008, Assembly Bill 1767 was signed into law. It created a pilot program in San Francisco that allowed the city to require graffiti offenders to clean up graffiti as part of their community service. Author of the bill, Assemblywomen Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), claimed graffiti removal was costing the city $20 million annually.

Roman Cesario, the art director of 1:AM Gallery, says graffiti belongs in certain places. "I think graffiti shouldn't be it some places, like on someone's house or a business's window," he said. "But if it's a building that's about to get torn down or something that is already pretty sorry looking then I think any modification is going to benefit what's there."

However, the SFPD's official graffiti motto is "the greatest graffiti is NO graffiti!" SFPD Spokesperson Sgt. Wilfred Williams said a graffiti offender can be convicted of a felony if the property damage exceeds $400.

Cesario says graffiti is no more offensive than advertisements. "When you're driving down the street and that big Whopper billboard is staring at you, you may not like it but since they paid for it they're allowed to be there," he said. "It's all a violation of public space, it's just how you perceive it."

by Dave Anderson .......

Steve Rotman and Chris Brennan, authors of Bay Area Graffiti and San Francisco Street Art interview

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.

Chris Brennan: And you generally see more collaboration between people who wouldn't otherwise get down together. In NY you might see the same name running 10 or 20 years and you never meet that person even though you know they live on your block. It's more open here. People are more interested in collaborating with different types of artists. It's really easy to insult somebody you don't know. If you have friends that are really into something and you've seen it from their angle, you start to realize the ties between those things.

Steve Rotman: SF is an open place. People are more open to new ideas, new forms of expression.

By Allan Hough .........

Upper Playground  - SF art movement

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.

With a love and appreciation of all art forms, Upper Playground has solidified themselves as the label to collaborate with. Having utilised artists in different mediums to inspire and design for their apparel range, they once again caught the eye of the Three Stripe brigade (after their tantalising 35th anniversary superstar) who employed the brand to add their touch to four exclusive new sneaks. Thinking outside the box, UP hooked up with four of their favourite artists to sprinkle some much needed creativity in a scene overloaded with colabs.

UP’s founder Matt Revilli interview

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.

How will each shoe differ?
Each sneaker truly captures the style of the artist featured. There are a variety of colours and types of sneakers in the series – everything from Stan Smiths to a Lo Centennial to a hi top sneaker.

How did you settle on Herbert Baglione, Aesop Rock, Dave Choe and Sam Flores as the artists?
We have worked with all of these artists in the past and are continually impressed with their artistic talents. While I work with a ton of artists for our galleries and the UP apparel line, I felt that these four artists would create designs that translated well on a sneaker.

What was the reaction to the initial drop with the Herbet Baglione shoe? Did it surpass your expectations?
Yes, we were pleasantly surprised by the attention that Herbert Baglione’s sneaker received. Herbert’s really become mainstream in the fine arts scene and it’s exciting to see his work get the attention it deserves in the press.

Are we seeing a return to the heyday of adidas with strong projects such as A-Zx and this one? Could they be a contender to shut down the Nike reign?
To be honest, I’m not too knowledgeable on the sneaker competition between the two brands and where they currently stand in the industry, but I do know that adidas seems to 'get it' and they don’t get overly involved in the creative process. They’re a brand that we enjoy working with because they trust our vision and artistic style.

How do you continually keep the Upper Playground label where it belongs?
By not resting on laurels and continuing to push ourselves to create new and interesting projects. We have already created two films focused on the fine art community, Dithers and The Run Up, and we are now focused on ramping up the online video aspect of the company. We have a team dedicated to creating an internet-based video model that serves to entertain and educate called WalrusTV. The plan is to early next year launch a network of video online content and also produce video through traditional broadcasting channels.

Eon75 - Graffiti Artist Interview

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.

How did you choose the name Eon75?
It stands for "Extermination Of Normality", I used to just write Eon until I found out there was an old school Eon from the bronx back in the 70's so I put the year I was born on the end out of respect to somebody that was there before me. I have written under a bunch of different names, some of which are: Quad,  Cata, Asco, Eace... I still use those names from time to time and switch up the style, it's always nice to create a completely different style under a new name… keeps people guessing as to who you are.

Do you write with any crews and if so which ones?
I am proud to say I write with HBT Crew, thanks to Mr Center Ones. I am also part of an amazing talented crew called Team Alosta, I can thank the godfather Waf for that. Team Alosta is just filled with so much talent it is scary! The creative energy that Waf and the rest of crew has is unbelievable! Every time Center and I go back to europe to paint with them in Belgium I am always so shocked by what they are producing! Heaven is found in Waf Graffiti Garden. Since I've moved to San Francisco I've painted a lot with Lords Crew, thanks to Lord Satyr. Just recently K2 put me down in WCF Crew. If you know your bay history you know they are! Kaytwo is the man and great mentor or mine.

How would you describe your style?
A bit of the organic funk sci-fi weirdness! I just love to shade so I'm always trying to make my objects look softer and more rounded or add dimension to them by overlaying pieces on top of each other. I study a lot of the forms and laws that nature has produced and from there I gain inspiration and a basis for my organization. If you look at my pieces you always see a rhythm of 3 and there will always be a color balance. If I use blue on one side of the piece, the opposite side will have blue as well to balance out the eye. I'm always looking for a balance and harmony in the piece to let the viewer feel comfortable with what they are seeing.

I believe you went to Berlin in Germany after finishing school to do a masters degree in Architecture, does architecture play a part in the way you paint? What are the influences behind your work?
I went to school in a little East German city called Dessau, after one semester I moved to Berlin as fast as I could and was so happy with the move. As far as architecture goes it taught me how to be rigid and disciplined with my pieces and concepts, I like to tape off my backgrounds to have precise lines and straight edges. Architecture taught me a lot of rules… only by knowing the rules can you break and bend them to your advantage.

What were your thoughts on the European graffiti scene and do you still keep up to date with what is going on over here?
The scene in Europe is incredible, I am always blown away by how much raw talent there is… I find that kids are painting pieces I couldnt have imagined at such a young age! I think because the level of graff is so high everybody keeps pushing themselves to try new things.

What are your feelings on the graffiti and street art scenes in San Francisco and the USA at present?
It's vibrant and alive. In San Francisco there are not so many legal walls to paint and the ones that are semi-legal are on lock down by the crew that painted it last so it can be a bit frustrating at times, I'm used to the freedom that I had in Europe. Other than that I think scenes everywhere are ever evolving and growing. I think people in Europe experiment more and are pushing the boundaries a bit more, but America is where the roots are and you have to respect that.

There is a very fine line between those who see graffiti as art and those who see it as vandalism, what are your views on this?
wasn't for the young writers tagging everything they see. I was guilty of it too in my youth. People that view it as vandalism just have not been exposed to the art aspect of it and this is something I like to educate people on, I see it as challenge to change their perception.

Do you prefer doing legal or illegal pieces?
Don't care as long as I get up.

Apex interview

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?
a·pex (pks)
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.

Tell us about the graffiti scene from your town?
San francisco’s writing scene is always changing. A lot of people move here, get up, then leave, and the locals keep doing there thing or not. San francisco is a little New York on the west coast, its dope.

How would you define your work and what inspires you?
The best way to define my work in general writing terms, one can call it superburners. everything in the world inspires me, im just a filter for life to flow threw until it reaches a surface.

Are you in anyway linked to hip hop ?
Hip Hop…well i grew up with it, there are a lot of dope hip hop guys around the San francisco Bay Area that I know. Writing has become one of the elements, so that is another way that im part of hip hop. do i do any other part of hip hop, no, i just stick to what im good at.









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