Painting the Town: Street Artists Bomb the Bay

One of the nice things about living in the Bay Area is that people come here. Just, you know, to visit. We’re coming up on the high season, when the streets swell with tourists, clicking their cameras and speaking their different languages, hanging limbs off cable cars and sharing undoubtedly brilliant commentary in the halls of museums. We don’t complain so much about tourists in the Bay Area—aside from the fact that they spend a shitton of money (and have hopefully read the part in their guidebooks about tipping), it makes us feel good: we live somewhere people want to come to.

It makes us feel especially good when those people are street artists who leave us little gifts.

The Bay Area has been freaking out over the past few days about 6 Banksy pieces that have surfaced in San Francisco. We’re a medium-sized city, so it makes us feel special that an artist that big would come out and leave his mark. I, for one, had to take advantage of a sunny spring day and go on a taco-fueled, MUNI-powered mission across the city (cause, you know, why not?) to see as many as I could. But here on the quieter, slower side of the Bay, a couple other street artists/collectives have made visits. They may not be as big as Banksy (who is?), but spotting their work made me feel, I’m not gonna lie, a little warm and cozy about my hometown.

The blogosphere has been abuzz over Banksy lately. With the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, everyone’s favorite British recluse has been hitting up spots where the film’s debuted. (His recent work in LA caused quite the stir when it was physically removed to be sold in a shady art gallery.) The San Francisco debut of the film went down recently, and we were all waiting, holding our collectively aerosol-stained breath, to see if any Bay Area pieces would surface.

They did. Warholian broke the news, spread the word and even got himself on TV:

I had to wait a few days, for a full day off (new waitressing gig = mucho trabajo) to embark on the mission. Luckily, Warholian posted exact locations on his Flickr stream (along with far better photos than I took). Oh, the digital age…

What was funnest about missioning around to find the pieces wasn’t really the art; it was seeing all the people come out. Folks were really excited to see the work, like a treasure hunt where the reward wasn’t some crappy Easter egg but sick-ass stencils that spawned social commentary—and a nice dose of civic pride. One guy I met was super stoked that a piece ended up abutting his soon-to-open bar (“It’s like free publicity!”). A group of European kids posed for photos by the Native American stencil while a hip dude explained in Spanish to a passer-by what all the fuss was about. On Haight Street, I met an old dude with a serious camera—miles of lenses and clicky gadgets—who told me, “I’ve never been that into this whole street art thing. Always looked like a bunch of scribble to me. But I read about this in the paper and thought, well, that’s pretty cool. So I wanted to come out and document it.”

Doubt this one will be winding up in a gallery

Yeah, my camera sucks. You should really just Google this shit.

Say what you will about Banksy—publicity stunt conspiracy theories and cries of being too mainstream—but that Bristol boy got San Francisco juiced, taking pictures and making missions and actually chatting with each other (usually a more Oakland phenomenon). And at least one cool old dude seeing street art as something other than vandalism.

But I’ve been noticing more cool pieces around lately, on my own side of the Bay. One of my favorite street art blogs alerted me to that fact that Feral was in town, and I spotted one of his pieces (now gone) by the MacArthur BART station.

Abandoned furniture and trash-feasting pigeons: that's my town!

And up on Telegraph, the epicenter of gutter punks and flip-flop-wearing bros, I spotted one of TrustoCorp‘s guerilla street signs. These have been making me giggle for months, and I was stoked to see some stuff locally.

I’m not sure who did this piece, but I liked the placement of it—a busy intersection across from a Whole Foods—and its stark insistence on being noticed.

I’m continuing to think a lot about street art and what exactly it is that draws me to it—what exactly it is that seems so undeniably related to travel. It’s got something to do with place, with the insistence of place, the immediacy and intimacy of interacting with a place on such a visceral, physical level (the subject of one of my first ever blog posts). The words are forming, the drooling gibberish shaping itself into discernible sounds under my wet pink tongue (“mama,” “dada”).

In the meantime, I’m thinking a trip to Italy for Fame Festival might answer some questions and cure some wanderlust. Just in case the Bay doesn’t receive any visitors for awhile…

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11 Responses to “Painting the Town: Street Artists Bomb the Bay”


  1. 1 Keith April 30, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Great post. I’m going to be in San Francisco for Bay to Breakers next month and maybe I’ll try to catch a glimpse of some of Banksy’s work while I’m there. Very cool!

    • 2 laurenquinn April 30, 2010 at 10:48 am

      So, we’re totally gonna hang out when you’re in town, right??

      • 3 Keith April 30, 2010 at 11:38 am

        Sure, absolutely. I’d love to get a local’s take. I’ll be there with a friend crashing at my brother’s place in the Avenues just south of GGP near Haight.

  2. 4 pam April 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Loved this piece. I see that funnest is now a respectable word. sigh. Trip to Italy? I’m in!

    • 5 laurenquinn April 30, 2010 at 10:54 am

      I don’t think “funnest” is a legit word. I just decided to use it anyway…

      Concocting a pretty bad-ass 3-week itinerary that includes Naples, the art festival, then ferrying over to Montenegro/Albania, maybe venturing through Northern Greece to Turkey… Since SE Asia’s postponed…

  3. 6 thebanksyforum.com April 30, 2010 at 11:02 am

    LIFE IS TOO SHORT piece is by is by Trustocorp.

  4. 7 Naomi April 30, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Oh man, am I glad you posted this – I’m definitely going to try and scope out those Banksy pieces in the city. Also, I regularly drive past that portrait outside of Whole Foods, but I never realised that it was in colour before. I’ll have to actually stop the car next time and check it out 🙂

    (& ps: the other day I read this really awesome article on Matador about 5 off the beaten track places in Morocco, and just as I was about to comment, realised that it was by you! So thought I’d just say that here instead 🙂

  5. 8 Gray May 1, 2010 at 8:37 am

    OMG, I love that grim reaper sign! Every crosswalk in the world ought to have one of those attached to it.

  6. 9 Emily @ Maiden Voyage May 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    How cool — what incredible street art! I live in Austin, where we are graced with some really incredible street art. We don’t have a ton of it, as we are small compared to somewhere like the Bay Area, but one part of town has some really phenomenal pieces. And someone just created this yarn street art installation that everyone is raving about — in two areas of town, people have covered things (columns, reflector signs) in “yarn graffiti.” Good stuff 🙂


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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