The first time we came across fnnch was two years ago when we found a wood plank fence on Lucky Alley in the Mission District covered with charming small birds and turtles with wonderful white flowers cascading down over the top of the fence. In 2015 we met him while he was stenciling his honey bear around the Mission. His art is always in unexpected places in cheerful colors that gives a lift of spirits. When he was stenciling the turtles recently on 20th street we had the pleasure of talking with him.
Are you originally from here or somewhere else? If you are from elsewhere, when did you come and what brought you to the Bay Area?
I came to the Bay Area for school about 11 years ago, and it was so wonderful I stayed. I’ve been living in San Francisco for over 5 years.
What got you started in street art and where did you start making it? Are you trying to convey a message?
I started following street artists like Banksy and Roadsworth in college. What thrilled me about their work is that, while clearly illegal, it is also clearly additive. You want it to stay, even though you know it could go.
When I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t much street art like this. The scene is quite small, and it was even smaller back then. My favorite artists — Jeremy Novy, Gavin Worth and Toddah — had all moved away or were inactive. I eventually decided I should be the change I wanted to see in the world and started creating street art.
My first ever piece was the poodle in Duboce Park. The city had painted a “keep your dog on leash” stencil on the sidewalk — a bathroom sign man walking a lumpy German Shepard. I painted out the German Shepard and painted in a poodle. The result was great; it was the sort of thing the city would do itself if it weren’t for politics and bureaucracy. Over the next few months I replaced the dogs from the other dog-walker stencils with a dachshund, a boxer, a doberman, a French Bulldog, a collie, a Picasso dog, and a Keith Haring dog. Excited to continue the series, I quested about for another park with these stencils, but to this day I haven’t found one. I was thus forced to do something different, and I’ve been developing my work ever since.
I’m attempting to convey a few things with my art. First and foremost I want it to bring a bit of surprise and joy to the onlooker. I want to snap people out of their usual routines, pull them away from their phones, and give them beautiful. I also hope they feel that someone cares about them. That someone took the time to conceive and execute a piece at personal risk, just to bring them a moment of serendipity. Beyond this, I hope to lead people to question the use of public space. I want them to feel cognitive dissonance as they realize that the work is illegal and will go, but they like it and want it to stay. Perhaps the art should stay, and it is the system that is wrong. Perhaps there should be a way to allocate these spaces to artists.
Do you paint by yourself or do you like to collaborate?
I typically paint by myself, though I’ve done several collaborations.
What type of art do you create on the street? Where is it found, what tools (stencil, spray, house paint, brush …) do you use and what is your subject matter? Have any colors you prefer to work with.
The art I create falls into two broad categories: nature art and pop art.
I love bringing a bit of nature into the city. We evolved surrounded by nature, and it’s only recently that we’ve displaced quite so much of it. Bringing a bit back, even in representation, livens the city and reminds people how beautiful nature is.
I love pop art because we are surrounded by beautifully designed objects but don’t often stop to look at them. It takes an artist to point at a Campbell’s Soup can or a honey bear and say “this is art”.
All of my art is created with spray paint and multi-layer stencils.
Are you also a commercial artist? Did you have formal training in art or are you self taught? If so is the art similar in style and what is the inspiration for your art?
I started creating digital art in high school. I’m almost entirely self-taught; it’s amazing how much you can learn on the internet given sufficient time and dedication. I had the good fortune to work on a cartoon video game in high school. To create the cartoon assets I had to get good at starting with a photograph or source image and reducing it down to just a few colors. Later in high school I made paint-by-numbers, which uses the same skill. It’s funny that, all these years later, it’s these same skills that let me design complicated multi-layer stencils.
I’ve always used these and related skills as a component but not the focus of my professional work.
Over the last few years I have started creating ever more fine art. Usually these pieces are adaptations of the work I do outside. I’m excited about this, and I use income from indoor art to fund my substantially unpaid outdoor art.
Is there any artist or type of art that has had a major influence on you and your style?
Definitely. Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Banksy and Roadsworth all are major influences on my style. I love big solid swaths of colors and dark lines. Stenciling ties in well with this aesthetic.
Can you tell us the challenges you face on creating street art and what they were for your most recent project on the PG&E wall? How did you overcome the challenges?
The most obvious challenge to street art (for which I favor Eddie Colla’s definition of “un-commissioned public artwork”) is that it’s illegal, and therefore has to be executed quickly and carefully. Constraints breed creativity, so in some ways this pushes the art forward, but it is much nicer to paint in the daylight than sneak around at night.
Murals pose altogether different challenges, the main one of which is getting the actual wall. You would think seeing all the murals in San Francisco that walls are abundant, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It took over a year of effort to secure this particular wall. PG&E has actually been fantastic, but they don’t have an established process for opening up their walls to murals. Thankfully I met someone high enough up in the organization to champion the idea through the red tape.
I still haven’t fully “cracked” how to get mural walls, but I’ve learned that it just takes dedication. Every construction site has a phone number you can call and ask if you can paint their panels. Some businesses will connect you to their landlord, especially if they get tagged a lot. You’re basically looking to get lucky, but the outcome of each approach is totally independent of the others, so the more approaches you make, the better your odds.
Anything else you want to share with us about any upcoming projects, shows, etc?
I just re-painted all the dogs in Duboce Park! These were the first street art pieces I ever did, but they’d faded quite a bit overtime. I repaired 3 of them and painted 5 new ones. The dogs at the major entrances (one on Duboce and one on Steiner) are two of my best stencils yet!
I’ve also secured my second mural wall, which at an awesome location just off Washington Square in North Beach. I’ll be painting that in June.
Finally I have a show of my hand-painted multiples at Feyes Video in the Mission in July. It’ll be the largest collection of honey bears I’ve assembled.
See more of fnnch art we found on the street and connect with him online.
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