This is the second part of a great conversation I had with Fnnch, a street artist out of San Francisco. Read Part 1 here.
GQ: I know your work has been defaced and also removed, given its outdoor nature and where it’s placed. Does it bother you that it’s something temporary?
Fnnch: Well, I think of it like this: if a dog lives 10 years, we think it had a good life. For a human it’s, what, 75 years? For a honey bear, if it lives two weeks on a mailbox, that’s a good life. If it goes away in a day, I’m a bit disappointed.
Now if I get a legal wall and I paint on it and a 12 year old kid decides to tag it, that’s a first amendment issue. That work is completely legal, I’m expressing free speech and someone else is committing a very serious crime against my work. They’re also violating property rights as well as VARA, which protects the rights of artists and keeps their work from being defaced. So, in that case my work shouldn’t be fucked with.
Also most people get into graffiti at the ages of 10-12 and most people get out at 18 when the charge is a felony and it goes on their permanent record. Probably the people tagging my work are around 16-years-old and they don’t like what’s different. In their eyes, I’m the enemy, something to push against. It’s misdirected and immature but every muralist deals with it. I don’t take it personally and I don’t think it represents a wide spread sentiment. The work of every street artist, even the most legit, gets tagged. And the bigger I get, the more my work will be tagged. Shepard Fairey, for instance, all of his pieces in town were messed up.
GQ: Shepard Fairey’s stuff just disappears! I’ve gone looking for pieces that aren’t even a year old and they’re already gone. Peeled off? Painted over? I don’t even know what.
Fnnch: I think part of that, here at least, is because he’s not from San Francisco. So he’s coming here and doing street art in someone else’s territory. Now I think it’s cool because there aren’t many other people out there doing work like his. And he got spots I didn’t even think about getting. I was like “Holy shit! You can see that from the highway! Why didn’t I get that spot?” But in the graffiti culture, you don’t come to someone else’s town and not play by their rules. Fortunately, I don’t have to play by the graffiti rules because I’m not part of their culture.
GQ: You’re in kind of an in between space.
Fnnch: Yes. Street art is it’s own thing wholly independent of graffiti and murals. I think it overlaps more with murals than it does with the graffiti scene.
GQ: I have a few questions about the artistic effects of the election, which is going to be a bit different for you since there’s not a big community of street artists in your area, but have you noticed any changes in your artistic community? In the type of art of that’s being created or even in the ways that people are treating their artistic careers?
Fnnch: So, the first thing is that if you walk through Clarion Alley, it was already pretty political but now it’s almost every mural. And even I decided to use the pussy hat so I put my toe into the political waters. Also, the naked Trump statue went up here during the election and that was cool. But again, from my perspective this is preaching to the choir. If I wanted to make a political difference, I’d go to Florida and put up art since they’re actually voting for the president, unlike us.
GQ: Except that with social media, art isn’t isolated to area where it’s put up. For instance, you have a zillion followers on Instagram so if you post something, it’s worldwide dissemination instantly.
Fnnch: Yes, that’s true. And I’ve gotten flack from friends who tell me that I have a platform and I should use it more. But I’m trying to direct it towards certain goals. I think there’s a rich tradition of artists being active in politics and certainly murals fall under that category.
GQ: Along with that, there’s an idea swirling and bubbling right now, that art can make a difference. During the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, artists were very prominently involved in the change that happened. There were musicians writing protest songs and people whose artwork we can now see made a huge impact. Is the same thing true now? Do we have that same power now?
Fnnch: Ok, so one of the things I think about, and let me choose my words very carefully, is that Trump is not the Vietnam War. I don’t put those two things on even remotely equal footing. And Trump is not lynching black people in the South. We live an incredibly privileged life that we can focus on this clown.
I think part of the reason for Millennial apathy is that our current problems aren’t on the scale of the problems of the 1960s when people were being drafted and sent into battle to be mowed down. I think if we had something on the scale of the Vietnam War, we’d have a lot more people out in the streets. This is not an endorsement of Trump, this is me trying to rank evil.
But I do think that my peers from school and in San Francisco have become a lot more politically active. And we’re excited about it. It’s like we finally get a chance to sink our teeth into something. We’ve been in a long peacetime and we don’t have the issues they had in 1942. Or in the 1960’s.
One of my favorite art pieces was when John Lennon bought all the billboards in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York and covered them with text that said “War is Over! If you want it.” He paid for these out of pocket, as a person with a platform deciding to be active. Shepard Fairey is very politically active, and certainly Banksy probably does the best of anyone. I mean, look at the Walled Off Hotel in Israel and Palestine.
Banksy takes a very global view and what’s going on in America doesn’t even register on his radar as being one of the worst crises of our time.
GQ: No, obviously not. But you could argue that the populist revolution is worldwide and Trump’s election is definitely a part of that.
Fnnch: Yes, I’m disturbed by the amount of nationalism that’s starting to rear it’s ugly head. But ultimately, who are John Lennon and Bob Dylan except people with platforms? Anyone with a platform can make a difference. And art certainly has a more visceral appeal to it than just words.
GQ: I find that as I interview street artists, one of the things that everybody says is that they want to create pieces of art that cause a reaction and a discussion. Something that changes the viewer. Banksy’s art is directly political with a definite point of view but he has a really light touch.
Fnnch: Yes, he’s also very funny. Which helps. Stand up comedians can talk about anything. They’re the only people in society who can talk about issues of race and gender in a completely open way. It’s the same for Banksy with politics.
GQ: I think that’s true. Who else would paint the walls of a hotel on the border of Israel and Palestine? That kind of work is not for the faint of heart.
Fnnch: I think his goal is to get 100,000 people to go into Palestine to see his hotel.
GQ: Which would change everything about the economics and visibility of the region. Perhaps even the politics.
Fnnch: Right? I mean how many street vendors there are going to get a lot more money? How many restaurants? How many more hotels? It raises the whole community. If I were in Israel, I’d want to cross the wall to see his hotel. I respect his work immensely.
GQ: As do I. And we’ve come full circle so I only have one more question for you. What’s next? What are you working on?
Fnnch: A lot of things, actually. My most immediate project is that I’m going to repaint the wall where I have the turtle mural.
It’s gotten tagged on and off and I used to defend it but at some point I got exhausted, mainly because I made a mistake where I tried to put up an anti-graffiti coating but I did it wrong. And so when I would paint roll the wall to buff out graffiti, that part would look different. And I like my pieces to look really nice and crisp and clean. Eventually it just disheartened me to the point where I didn’t see any option but to repaint the whole thing. This time I’ll protect it in a fashion that’s more effective. I’m also going to do it as a collaboration with an artist who was born and raised in the Mission.
It’s only been since 2015 that I’ve done this seriously and tried to make a real go of it. And only in the last 6 months have I thought I could make a living at making art. It’s very project based. I try to pick the project that’s most impactful and execute it. I’ve got a couple exciting things in the works but I try not to talk about things too far out because for every 10 things that seem really exciting, maybe only one happens. People reach out to me, it seems like a done deal but then for whatever reason it falls through. But I’m playing around with different ways to do fine art and different ways to stencil and trying to have fun with it. Just trying to make people’s lives better.
GQ: And trying to change the law. Seriously, I wish you all the luck with that.
Fnnch: Yeah, if the culture goes first, the law will follow. It’s ridiculous to me that graffiti with damages over $400 should be considered on par with rape or murder. It’s a three strike offense just like those crimes. And that’s just wrong. I honestly don’t think I’ll change the law. But maybe we can reach a point where the courts won’t enforce the law.
I mean I don’t like graffiti and I don’t want it in my city. Bombing in particular. I think people wantonly destroying private property and causing a large financial burden on store owners is wrong.
But the way you address the graffiti problem is not with a big stick, putting people in jail for 30 years. Instead go the opposite way, encourage people to make art and give them a space to do it. Make it more legal, not less legal.
GQ: I agree. And maybe you’ll get private funding. It would help to have a big company in your corner. Zappos helped change downtown Las Vegas and Dr. Ian Wilson and Wall/Therapy changed Rochester. It changes the nature of the conversation to have a big public figure support you.
GQ: Thank you so much for talking to me!
Fnnch: Yes, of course.
All the pictures of Fnnch’s art reproduced in this piece were taken from his website and Instagram account with his permission. Check out Fnnch’s work here and follow him on Instagram.