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June 29, 2011

Graffiti Veins

Agapanthus and Fortnight Lilies

When I got back to San Francisco last week, it had finally warmed up to a nearly tolerable temperature. Finally, the Agapanthus began to bloom properly. That was the problem with them all year. It was too cold. That's why they look so much better in San Diego. They need a warmer climate.

On Van Ness, the median exploded with miles of Fortnight Lilies.

At work, the Wisteria bloomed a second time. Again, I think that when the Wisteria bloomed earlier this year, it was too cold for them and the blooms faded quickly.

The magnolias are stunning.The resilient Bottle Brush and Red Gum/Honkey Nut trees (Corymbia Ficifolia) continue to bloom like mad.

Other flowers began to bloom in the Mission that I'd never seen before. I'll have to inspect them more closely.

At work, in some mundane meeting in a small conference room, I pull out a pair of scissors and start slicing into the power cord of my Sony Vaio. It's been the Achilles' Heel of this old laptop. A constant source of irritation, I've repaired it countless times. The entire length marred by splices, welds, and Gordian knots of black electrical tape.

There's yet another short in it, which I've finally isolated, so in the middle of this meeting, I begin carving away at the power cord with the scissors like I know what I'm doing. I'm using scissors only because the airlines won't let me carry an exacto knife.

"Who is the expert on Manager Self Service," they ask my boss. And he points to me. Most people had, I think, assumed that I was the janitor. Or a security guard or something. Unkempt. Unshaven. Jeans. T-shirt. Long hair. Basically, I look like a meth addict coming off a bender.

They all turn to me, and I smile back at them, as I smartly sever my power cord with the scissors. Probably, a smarter person would have unplugged it, but somehow I missed that trick. Sparks fly. Smoke. Light. Somehow I'm still alive. But sort of stunned, like a bird that smacks into a closed window.

Undeterred, I unplug the laptop, plug in my soldering iron, and begin to solder the cord back together. All while the meeting is going on in this small closed room, I'm soldering the cord together. The stench of melting lead solder fills the room and I start to grow dizzy, like a bad science fiction book.

Eventually, the repair work is finished, and I plug in my power cord to demonstrate how clever I am everyone, but it doesn't work. Meeting adjourned.

Whores and Rumors of Whores

Recently, my ex-girlfriend ran off with my friend, not that I was surprised. She was never a very faithful cur. Dumb as a bag of hammers with a face like a wilted lettuce and the hands of an cornhusker.

She's as mean as a coon in a leg trap and will argue till she's blue in the face about any topic you're careless enough to bring up.

I say 'good riddance'.

It doesn't help any that the last two books I read end up with the main characters confined to asylums. The overall result of all of this is not exactly uplifting, as it were.

Hopefully, the next book I'm re-reading ("A Confederacy of Dunces") won't leave me feeling suicidal.

Isolated and Despondent

In the morning, cleaning crews wash down the streets with enormous trucks. Replicants pick up the litter, but it's a constant battle, and after a while, it's hard to think of the city as a "clean" place to be.

The sky is crowded with helicopters. Some guy fired at the police on the corner of Ellis and Gough. The cops returned fire. He missed. They didn't.

This city carves you up like a Thanksgiving turkey. It turns you from what you are into something you're not. Something less than you want to be. Isolated and despondent.

"Please help me. Please help me." A woman croaks into a voice modulator box she holds to her throat. These people live hand to mouth, so very close yet so far away.

"Spare some change? Can you help me out here buddy? God bless."

Woolly and wild. Weathered and worn. The soiled, tattered homeless stagger down filthy sidewalks. Shoes unmatched. Fists clenched to defend against that which might come. The evil that lurks in hearts of the strangers I've seen, but never met.

It's so hard to be here. To be strolling through this afternoon nightmare of spray-painted poverty. Graffiti and razor wire. Crime and confusion.

The Left Koast

Most of my formal education has little bearing on what I do on a daily basis. I apply some things we learned, but in a tangential way.

The state of California is about 800 miles long, as measured from the northern most point to the southern most point. Give or take a few miles.

A reasonable person might assume the coast to be roughly the same, but the truth is not so simple. If you start measuring the actual length of the coast, and begin to consider as part of the coast, every inlet and every bay and every sound, you begin also to see that the length of the coast increases. It ends up being much longer than initially expected.

In fact, the length of the coast depends almost entirely on the length of the tool you use to measure it. As the degree of precision increases, so increases the length of the coast.

Theoretically, the length of the coast approaches infinity, as your unit of measure goes to zero. At some point, you're reduced to measuring the circumference of each grain of sand, wherein the length of the coast is essentially infinite.

This, we learned in Calculus. So, twenty seven years ago, I tucked that little gem away. I doubt I've brought it up since then. It's not something you can discuss with everyone. It's counter intuitive. It's not something I would try to explain to women, as the ones I see are mostly concerned with their makeup, perfume, and how they look in the new "skinny jeans".

Grid Searching The Loin

I'm grid searching the loin and the mission and SOMA for a reason. There's a method to my madness. I'm looking for graffiti because, long ago, I realized that I'd probably photographed all of the graffiti in San Francisco. The city is, after all, fairly small as cities go. It's all encompassed within a 7 mile by 7 mile grid.

So, I imagined myself going on to the next project and bragging about how I'd shot all of the graffiti in San Francisco. Surely, I'd shot it all by now. Or certainly, all of the major works. Or all the major works that I wanted to shoot. As a general rule, I don't shoot commercial murals, as I consider them more ads or billboards than true art. Also, I tend to steer away from the multi-culturalism murals with everyone holding hands in the "can't we all just get along" dystopian vision for my own reasons. But, basically, I'd shot all of the important murals in the city that I was interested in. Or so I thought.

As an exercise, to test my hypothesis, I started grid-searching the city. Ritualisitically driving down each city block, running the wrong way down one way streets. Driving down sidewalks.

What I found shocked me. What I found was that, on the same route that I've taken to work every day for months, there are seemingly countless murals that I'd never seen before. Why? Because they're on short streets that don't run but a block or two. Or because I'm going down a one way street and the only way to see them is to look back as you pass them (not a good idea on a motorcycle). Or because they were new. Or because they were on garage doors. Or inside of businesses and were only exposed part of the time.

Also, I noticed that a lot of new murals were going up on a seeming perpetual basis. Everywhere I looked, people were sketching out new murals, armed with more paint than you could imagine.

I was stunned, and, in a matter of days, my vision of the city's graffiti scene changed entirely. No longer did I view the murals as something static to be captured and stored in an encyclopedic edition of a graffiti coffee-table book. I now view the city as a dynamic canvas, with murals that are constantly being erased and recreated, as the tides sculpt the beaches.

Only now do I begin to appreciate the complexity of the city's dynamic graffiti scene. It's nothing like I'd initially imagined it to be.

Photographing the city's murals seems a lot like trying to measure the length of the coast. The closer you look, the more you find. And because the art is constantly changing, shooting it all is an impossibility. A Quixotean quest.

With this new understanding of the city, I began to do mad grid searches of massive sections of the city after work. The tenderloin, SOMA, the financial district, the Mission. Chinatown. North Beach.

Now, it's like the blinders have been removed and I can see the city much better than before. Instead of assuming I've seen it all, I assume it's all constantly changing and there's no way of predicting what I'll see in Clarion Alley on any given day.

Graffiti Veins

This new approach has led to some unexpected observations, primarily that the murals, wheatpaste, and graffiti art seem to be more prevalent in areas where the nicer neighborhoods intersect with the seedier neighborhoods. I've discovered concentrated veins of graffiti that run through the city, delineating the interface between the rich and the poor.

In the very nicest neighborhoods, there is no graffiti because they don't want to see it and anything put up is promptly removed or repainted. This was expected, of course.

But surprisingly, when you go into the very worst neighborhoods, the graffiti disappears also. When you're surrounded by razor wire and construction zones, empty lots and abandoned buildings, It just goes away. In the truly neglected areas of the city where no one walks down the sidewalks, there isn't a lot of art or graffiti or wheatpasted images, or anything.

This was surprising to me as I'd assumed that undefended areas like this would be ripe for the surreptitious artists to ply their trades. But I think that the people painting the murals and wheatpasting bizarre prints onto buildings do truly want people to appreciate their efforts. It's not like it's hanging in a prestigious gallery, but they do want their work to be seen and appreciated. These artists are presumably looking for a balance between the risk to display their art and the number of eyes that will view it.

Only now do I realize that the clandestine art follows clearly defined lines through the city, like the seaweed delineates the tidelines on the beach. As veins of gold run through the hills. The term I've coined for this phenomenon is "Graffiti Veins".

Above: Restoration of iconic mural by Belgian street artist ROA of mother rat with babies at 411 Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: Dan Plasma reclaims the space for his mural at 15th and Valencia in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: Mark Bode piece on Caledonia Street between 15th and 16th in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: A joint effort by Dan Plasma and Mike Giant on Caledonia Street between 15th and 16th in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: Caledonia Street between 15th and 16th in San Francisco's Mission District. Update: This piece in Caledonia Alley is by Irvine, CA based artist Michael Kershnar.

Above: Caledonia Street between 15th and 16th in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: Mural in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District. Update: According to Amandas Aorta, this piece is by Cuba.

Above: Mural in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District. Update: According to Amandas Aorta, this piece is a memorial mural for artist Jeff Jones, created by Mark Bode and James o'Barr.

Above: Mural in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District by Mars-1.

Above: Mural in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District.

Above: Mural in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 29, 2011 at 9:47 PM


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