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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Heart Street Art: San Francisco's Character-Driven Graffiti

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2009 at 11:46 AM

A few weeks back, I had a sit-down with Steve Rotman and Chris Brennan, authors of Bay Area Graffiti and San Francisco Street Art. In the resulting post, I skimmed past what they had to say about San Francisco's unique climate of openness and experimentation in order to get more quickly to the stuff about politics and crackdowns and legality -- the controversial stuff. Today, we go back and see what else they had to say...

I Heart Street Art: 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.

I Heart Street Art: 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.
click to enlarge screenhunter_10_jul._28_10.14.jpg
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.
I Heart Street Art: And that openness begets a bevy of frogs and giraffes and pop culture

references and other major deviations from tradition? What's up with Ribity et al.?

Chris Brennan: It's very nonthreatening. It's funny. There are plenty of people out there that just assume graffiti is gang related in some way, or it's the same people that are out there robbing people, or whatever. There's all kinds of wild ideas about it because the nature of it is you're not allowed to know about it. So I don't think it's that wild to think that it's gang related. It's an aggressive thing to do. So the frog is a good way... It begs the question, how much of a fucking thug can you be if you're painting a six-foot-tall frog on something? People realize


I Heart Street Art: So why the crackdowns now?

Chris Brennan: Probably has a lot to do with what's-his-name running for governor.

Purchase the duo's books via the links above. Visit Steve Rotman at his Flickr stream. Visit Chris Brennan at And, of course, follow Gavin Newsom on Twitter.

Ribity photo by Michael Angelo Pelusa.
Girafa photo by Plug1.
Sad Jose photo by young-young-in-the-game.
Rapts Cryk photo by Mission Mission.
Girafa Don't Wanna Grow Up photo by Steve Rotman.

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Allan Hough


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