Stencil Whirlwind :: Banksy Frenzy

Whew, what a spin I’m in at the moment. Friday afternoon, after a carnival gig in the Mission, I headed over to the de Young museum to speak with Renee about my stencil bit for the Mission Muralismo event coming up Friday, May 7. The theme is “Preachers and Pranksters,” so I guess that stencils fit nicely somewhere in both of those angles. Their political bent preaches messages, and some of the more notorious street artists throw up the stencils in prankish ways.

The Mission Muralismo team has had three or four events at the de Young over just as many months. They’ve found that they book speakers for 20 minute talks and end up going over their short allotted time, much to the chagrin of the rest of the lineup. So they approached me with the idea to NOT speak about stencils. I offered to create a stencil making station, but they didn’t like the idea of putting me outside and away from all the action (Marcus Shelby will perform his jazz composition about famous preacher Martin Luther King, Jr., RIGO will introduce the speakers, including the Billboard Liberation Front). So I worked out a second idea with them: I’ll sit in a booth and cut a stencil before the speakers begin. I’ll hang samples of stencils behind me, and then photos of Mission District-based stencils will run in the auditorium. So I met with Renee from the de Young and we worked out most of the details. I love cutting stencils in public, so it’ll be a fun, quick bit.

I got home after that and got a call from Laura telling me that there was a Banksy stencil on the wall above the Amnesia Bar. What? Looked in my email after that call and found a video of a definite Banksy stencil at Commercial and Grant in Chinatown. What!? I dropped all plans, hopped on my bike, and hauled ass down to Chinatown first, thinking “this one’s on the street and will get buffed soon!” I found the location by pausing the emailed video and seeing “CIAL” on the concrete curb. Got there and found people already photographing the stencil. A huge Hummer was parked in front of it, so I began the shoot by contemplating climbing on the huge SUV.

Glad I didn’t. Maybe five minutes passed and the owner of the SUV got in and drove away. With this lucky parking space opening up, I had a great straight-on angle for snapping up pics. I chatted up some men as they snapped up pics, and one said he knew the bakery owner’s son (the Chinatown piece is on the outside wall of a bakery). The son said that Banksy paid his parents $50 to spray the stencil. A piece of paper has Chinese writing on it, with a hand-written note asking to please not paint over the Banksy art. A friend from Taiwan translated the Chinese for me, apparently written via an online English>Chinese translation tool. The sign said: “Please don’t erase this graffiti. It’s said that police are  investigating this case. You can erase by the end of next week, end of April.”


Back on the bike and straight down Market St. I was wondering where else in the City Banksy had hit. They could be anywhere! The Luggage Store Gallery door happened to be open. I have been needing to meet with Luggage Store Art Director Laurie Lazer so that I could get a copy of “Stencil Nation” to her, which I didn’t have due to running out to snap pics. I went inside anyway, to show her the flicks and to see if she had any leads on Banksy. She had none, though heard that he may have wandered into the gallery the day before. She’d just sold a Banksy panel, cut in two, to raise funds for the gallery, and said that he knew about this. After promising to meet with her next week, I went to Amnesia Bar for the second piece.

People were already snapping photos. After getting some photos, I met up with Christine Marie, and wandered in to an empty Amnesia Bar at happy hour. We both sorta knew Shawn the owner, and he sorta remembered us. I asked him for some time up on the roof, and he said he’d have to make a phone call. I told him that he’d be doing the City, and the street art world, a great service if he let me up there to snap some pics for the Stencil Archive.

Woke up Saturday morning and got an email from Shawn soon after breakfast. He was offering rooftop access for a small group of videographers and photographers, for 30 minutes only. Amnesia Bar has a testy neighbor, who had to give permission to have some people up near his windows next door, which I understand. As I prepared to hit the Mission again, word online said that there was a large rat on 9th St. at Howard in SoMa. Another spot! Where else could these pieces keep popping up? I packed my laptop for this trip, with the plan of stopping off in a cafe to quickly post the rooftop photos.

I got there early and the bar’s manager climbed up onto the roof with me. Two rickety ladders led us up there, and a French videographer was winding things up on the hot, white roof. While up there, I met Mike Cuffe from He’d broken the story on the web, and was now spending his Saturday following a list of locations to shoot. I also spoke to a nieghbor, who waved a copy of “Wall and Piece” at us and told me he was devastated that he’d missed Banksy in action right outside his own back door. Cuffe had tipped me off about a fourth piece on the side of Cafe Prague on Sycamore at Mission St., so I shared that with the grateful neighbor. After thanking the Amnesia folks downstairs, I biked over to Sycamore.

When I showed up to the Cafe Prague piece, a van blocked the art work on the brown, graffiti’d wall. Damn! Time to get creative again in order to snap the Native American sitting on the ground holding a staff with an real “No Trespassing” sign on the top. Just as I started snapping pics, a young couple came up and unlocked the van. “Are you all leaving?” I asked. “I am,” the woman said. She pulled out, and I had another magic parking space to stand in to get perfect shots of the art! Twice in under 24 hours? What luck.

A blog post had an incorrect location, so people were at Dolores Park looking for the work, but people were finding out the real location via phones with online social connections. I chatted with folks, passed out cards, and watched the frenzy. San Francisco openly loves technology. Online chatter seemed to be frantically discussing these pieces as movie promotions, and so people were tweeting, FaceBooking, and blogging away pics and text about the Banksy easter eggs across San Francisco. Being the most obsessed stencil photographer in the City, I left Sycamore and went to a cafe on Valencia to try to scoop everyone with the rooftop pics and the No Trespassing pics.

As I sipped iced tea on a sunny April day, I posted my best shots on FaceBook and Flickr. I put them in all the stencil and street art groups on Flickr, and spread them around on FaceBook. I then put them on Stencil Archive. After having scooped the first pics, I’m sure has major traffic, but it seemed that my corner of Stencil Nation was scooped by yours truly.

Ah, to be wound up in a spiral of Banksy mania, screaming like a rabid teenybopper Beatles fan. You’d think Obama was in town, speaking to the starry-eyed masses, who in turn wrote and posted every last detail of their experience on the Internet social sites. Call me a sucker, but I know that street art can quickly disapear, so snapping pics must happen asap. (Blogs are reporting that Banksy’s fresh piece in LA has already been taken down by professional art experts.)

Back on the bike to head to SoMa to snap the rat. Once I grabbed some photos (not much of a crowd there), I spoke to some of the local store employees about rooftop access. Struck out on four locations and got a nibble on a fifth. Sent emails to the manager tonight and after two bounces, found another email address for him online. Fingers crossed.

Came back tonight to see that a fifth and sixth stencil has been documented. either held back on the Erie at Mission (near 14th St.) piece or found out after I saw him at Amnesia. He has since posted flicker pics of that one, which has a bird on a tree. The other piece is the same large rat from SoMa, with a different punchline. So back down to the Mission I go tomorrow to snap up the Erie piece.

With the flights screwed up between USA and Europe, I wonder if Banksy is going to just stay in North America and tear shit up while he cools his heels during the flight ban? I also wonder if he got my email telling him that CELLspace is fair game? And finally, I wonder who he’s with and where he’s staying? I have theories, but it’s all fantastical and just plain fanboyish. When I said years ago that I as a Certified Stencil Geek, I wasn’t kidding!

Let the frenzy continue….