According to the artist, he and the restaurant owner planned the lips motif, but "as with many projects, however, this one was not without drama." Here's his account:
Once we agreed on a painting date, I spent a dozen or more hours cutting and assembling stencils, purchased hundreds of dollars of spray paint, recruited helpers, and prepared to paint. And then disaster struck. Not 24 hours before I'd arranged to paint, the property manager stopped by the business and asked what she intended with the wall. When he learned that she was putting up art, not advertisement, he freaked out. What if the inhabitants didn't like it? What if the neighbors didn't like it? He wanted her to get permission from the landlords, who'd long ago retired to Florida and were hardly, if ever, in contact.
This is an issue I've seen many times in San Francisco. People are afraid of offending with art. I find this argument lacking because San Francisco is packed full of advertisements, and we as citizens have effectively zero control over the content of these ads ... As there is way more real estate dedicated to advertisement than art, I don't hold those worries in high regard.
The issue I faced was what to do next. I'd invested a significant amount of my own time, energy and money into this project. I felt as if I'd come too far. After moping around for a few hours I finally resolved to just paint the mural anyway ... Truth be told, I'd paint over the mural if the landlords seriously objected. But of course they didn't. The inhabitants of the building loved it, and they thanked me for putting up something better than the sad cherubim. The restaurant owner loved it. And everyone in the neighborhood is taking photos in front of it. Just stand on the corner for five minutes and you'll see what I mean.
The artist, whose recent work has included a whimsical alteration to Duboce Park's asphalt dog stencils, bug-themed art in Alamo Square, and the idiosyncratic honey bear, says he struggled with the implications of his decision, but notes that the story represents a "terrible cultural issue" in San Francisco:
I used to have a clear line in the sand: I only painted on public property without permission. I have a healthy respect for private property rights. But this is the second time I've crossed that line. Both times were with full permission of the inhabitants. Both times were on walls that could be easily painted with a paint roller. And both times were high traffic walls that I selfishly wanted to paint. I struggle with the moral implications of this decision, but it feels like the right outcome.
This story is a manifestation of a terrible cultural issue we have in San Francisco, which is the disinterest from landlords in permitting public art on their buildings. I've cold-approached many dozens of businesses and offered to paint their walls for free, and I've received all sorts of denials. I was recently even denied permission to paint on temporary plywood construction panels! Construction panels!
What shocked me about visiting Wynwood in Miami or Bushwick in Brooklyn was they have a culture of participation. It wasn't just the trendy restaurants that had murals, but the banks, and the storage facilities, and the museums. Almost every single building had one, and it was awesome.
I've come to believe that street art and murals are going to play a crucial role in the art world going forward. This is the art for the 19 million of the 20 million people who visit San Francisco every year who do not visit the MoMA. I love the MoMA, but this is not an "either-or" but an "and." We can have curated art experiences, and we can have lighter more populist art experiences. Art is not for some select elite, art is for everyone. I'm trying my best to bring art to everyone, but it's hard when saying "no" is so much easier than saying "yes."
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