Saving Art from the Condo Boom

Various Works: 2050 Bryant, CELLspace
SF Weekly, Know Your Street Art by Jonathan Curiel

Icy & Sot, with Regan “Ha Ha” Tamanui (Photo in situ; panel taken down prior to destruction of CELLspace.)

On a wall just inside the building formerly known as CELLspace, an artwork delivers a defiant message: “NOT for Sale!” But the message is a lie – the building, whose exterior walls once featured some of the best street art in San Francisco, was sold and is slated for development. Last summer, two volunteers – artist Russell Howze and art editor Annice Jacoby – took down much of the outside art and put it in storage for temporary safekeeping. What’s left on the walls are stickers, tagging, and remnants of art – including faces of Native American men, a monkey with a sign imagining a battle between two well-known street artists (“Hektad vs. Banksy”), and an impressive work by muralist Joel Bergner. Even in its current state, 2050 Bryant’s art potpourri inspires passers-by to take photographs for posterity.

But what about the art that was taken down? Howze, whose own CELLspace work is among the preserved art, and Jacoby are trying to find a patron who will buy the works and display them again. The art includes Bergner’s De Frontera a Frontera, a lyrical, red-splashed work about haves and have-nots in the Dominican Republic, and Icy and Sot’s collaboration with Regan “Ha Ha” Tamanui, Super Hero with Portraits, which has a caped boy standing alongside a gallery of orange-tinged smiling faces.

Though two art collectors outside of San Francisco have expressed interest in buying the works, Jacoby – the former director of performing arts public events at UC Santa Cruz, and the editor of the book Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo – says that, “Ideally, they would remain in San Francisco. They’re part of San Francisco’s fabric. We’re seeking a place where the art will be appreciated, maintained, and available to the public on a long-term basis.”

CELLspace existed from 1996 to 2012, when the art center attracted a roving band of upcoming and veteran artists from San Francisco and around the world. The space is now rented out for parties, yoga classes, art instruction, and the like. CELLspace’s demise hit a lot of people hard. By preserving the work that people once took for granted, Jacoby and Howze are trying to keep the center’s exterior – and its spirit of “anything goes” – alive, even when the red brick building completely disappears as a place of artistic pilgrimage. Jonathan Curiel

Eight-Panel Metal Mural Needs a New Home

Eight-Panel Metal Mural Needs a New Home

By Andrea Valencia, for Mission Loc@l

Stencilada freshly installed (2009)

CELLspace moved from its warehouse on Bryant Street in 2012 leaving behind a mural like no other in the Mission: a large metal structure that spans elegantly across the building’s front windows. It now needs to find a new owner.

Some half-dozen local artists carefully planned and built the copper and steel mural in 2008.

“There was an old facade here, and we wanted it to be different and nicer -unified, – said Jane Verma, one of the artists who added the spiky steel, grass-like element to the mural that was built in the warehouse space.
“There used to be ugly and unwelcoming screens here,” said Russell Howze, an artist and CELLspace volunteer for many years who organized the first art show meant to be displayed with the mural.

When the volunteer-run art collective CELLspace left the building almost three years ago, Inner Mission took up its legacy, but it is now being pushed out by the new development coming to the block bordered by Bryant and Florida between 18th and 19th Streets.

With the inevitable new development, the metal mural will have to be relocated by May.

Howze, the author of Stencil Nation, has been rescuing  the murals left behind in Cellspace that were still in good shape. With the help of Annice Jacoby, the editor of Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, he has managed to find buyers for some of them.

As for the metal mural, Verma is firm about wanting to “keep it in San Francisco. We’d like it to continue to be seen by the public, not on someone’s yard,” she said.

“The developer is interested in art,” Verma said, but the mural might not relate to use project.

Howze said that “this one is the hardest one to save, but the worthiest one.”

It’s not just one big piece of metal, but eight intricate panels. Aharon Bourland designed a bold graffiti pattern in red copper that runs throughout the panels. The copper patina gives the rusty mural a rainbow-like effect.

Tony Verma and Hikari Yoshihara worked on the dripping circles and stones that appear to build in size.  The fabrication of the mural took about a year, during which time Tom Phillips and Corey Best, CELLspace volunteers,  helped.

Each one of the eight panels is 10 feet tall and about 3 to 4 feet wide. The central panel designed for the main entrance, which still holds the words CELLspace, is wider. There is also a narrower panel designed for a side door. Removable plywood planters were added on each of the panels.

“I’m impressed the mural stayed for as long as it did,” said Verma. The only missing part in the mural so far is the L in CELLspace.

Howze said the idea of breaking the mural into pieces and handing them out as mementos was discussed among volunteers, but Verma and Howze prefer to keep it one piece.

Unique to this mural’s structure is the space designed underneath each main panel – space designed to be a street art gallery.

“It was meant to have artwork underneath,” said Howze, who launched the first art show with the opening of the metal mural in March 2008. “We had an opening with an art show, Stencilada,” he said.

Today, stencils can still be seen throughout the metal mural. Next door, panels of murals have been taken down and put in storage because tagging took over the artwork on the warehouse walls, said Howze.

Swiss TV RTS Un takes my tour

Had a great time for a few hours with this journalist and her crew. I chose CELLspace to give a tour and film the shots. Good to see some final clips of murals that have already been taken down before the wrecking ball takes the rest. On and off camera, I spoke of my reservations with the share economy. Called it a euphemism as well as a warning about how one sees work and the ways that the share economy’s work ethic leaks into personal and private time. I also spoke on how AirBNB does NOT pay into the Hotel Tax Fund, which funds the arts here in San Francisco.

Watching this piece, with almost no French comprehension, feels fluffy. Maybe the butterfly and flower animations gave it away. Those are still beautiful shots of the art at CELLspace. And the journalist and crew were very nice, lefty Europeans.

Farewell CELLspace; Farewell Murals

I spraypainted Scot t Williams's huge gorilla on the back door of 2010. It is gone (as is the piece that replaced it) due to tagging.
I spraypainted Scott Williams’s huge gorilla on the back door of 2010. It is gone (as is the piece that replaced it) due to tagging.

Almost to the day today, I arrived in San Francisco in 1997 with two suitcases (one full of camping gear) and a vague idea of what I wanted to accomplish in the City by the Bay. The words that kept bouncing around in my head were: diversity, creativity, and adventure. I had no idea there as a dot com boom and that the vacancy rate was under 1%. I didn’t even know what a vacancy rate was! I did know that I wanted to be part of something amazing, and if possible, somehow create amazing cultural bits that others enjoyed.

In 1998, I started volunteering for CELLspace, which at the time was a funky underground artist warehouse with folks who had a similar vision that the one I was chewing on. Years later, I tried to move on and open my time and life up to other amazing projects. So CELL got put on the backburner, until 2008. That was a crucial year for CELL, now a nonprofit with paid employees. While on the road touring for the book and for the Conscious Carnival, word started getting back to me that CELL was financially imploding. I wasn’t surprised.

Then I got a call from Jane and Tony Verma, two long-time Metal Shop artists, asking me to help them curate a stencil exhibit on the facade of CELL. Things were bad at the time and CELL’s doors were shut (all the employees and most of management were very far away from the space) due to no one being there to maintain and run things. But the Metal Shop was still holding their cluster together. The Metal Shop designed and built an amazing metal window-covering mural, complete with space in the bottom for showing art. They had reached out to a few artists in Stencil Nation, but needed more. Stencilada was born, and thus began my final run of volunteering for CELL. Continue reading “Farewell CELLspace; Farewell Murals”

Nov. 5 :: Mission Muralismo de Young Finale

Hope to see you all at the last Mission Muralismo event at the de Young Friday Nights series.

This one will be special, honoring local stencilist Michael Roman, who has cut some amazing Chicano-themed stencils over the years.

::: Details :::

WHO: Cultural Encounters: Friday Nights at the de Young

WHAT: Grand Finale of Mission Muralismo’s Year-Long Series

WHEN: November 5 (plus special Bonus Sunday, November 7)

WHERE: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

COST: Programs are free of charge

INFO: and
Continue reading “Nov. 5 :: Mission Muralismo de Young Finale”

7 May: Stencil Nation Meets Mission Muralismo

Cultural Encounters: Friday Nights at the de Young presents “Mission Muralismo” in partnership with Precita Eyes Muralists

Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo series presents “Directional Signals:  Pranksters and Preachers, Paste and Stencil” featuring talks by Rigo, and John Jota Leaños.  Also, Jack Napier, BLF co-founder, and Milton Rand, Kalman BLF chief scientist, will give a presentation titled “The Art and Science of Billboard Improvement,” plus stencil cutting demonstration by Russell Howze author of Stencil Nation: Graffiti, Community and Art.

Friday, May 7, 6–8:45 pm
Live music in Wilsey Court: Marcus Shelby Quartet featuring vocalist Faye Carol performing the MLK project, 6:30-8:30 pm

de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park

Programs are free of charge and

On Friday, May 7, the de Young Museum presents another dynamic program, luminous projections, and book signing in the ongoing series Mission Muralismo, in conjunction with the recently published book Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, edited by Annice Jacoby for Precita Eyes Muralists, foreword by Carlos Santana (Abrams, 2009).  The evening focuses on the talent and passionate work of major contributors to the book: Rigo, John Jota Leaños, Russell Howze, Jack Napier Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) co-founder, and Milton Rand Kalman BLF chief scientist.
Continue reading “7 May: Stencil Nation Meets Mission Muralismo”

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….

5 Feb. : Mission Muralismo at the de Young

Please join us for the next Mission Muralismo@deYoung celebrating the artists and themes of Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo.  FREE  Bring your posse. Great Carnaval Music and Dancing. Art. Talk.Costumes galore.
No glitter,please, otherwise come to your Carnaval fancy.


Following an extraordinary fall kickoff that honored hundreds of Mission artists,
the de Young continues the First Friday Mission Muralismo series offering an enriching schedule of themed programs that celebrate the internationally recognized Mission District arts community. An exciting array of Mission artists, writers, performers and luminaries presenting talks and performances, sharing their art, insights, musings, experiences and perspectives about the work that has put the Mission District on the global arts map.¡CARNAVAL!
Continue reading “5 Feb. : Mission Muralismo at the de Young”

6 Nov: Mission Muralismo Party at the de Young

Cultural Encounters: Friday Nights at the de Young presents Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, in partnership with Precita Eyes Muralists

5:30 PM – 8:45 PM
November 6, 2009

The HEART of the Mission, a Celebration of Art and Community, including many of the artists, photographers, and writers featured in Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo; live music by Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeno Band; poetry and performances by Lorna Dee Cervantes, Stephen Cervantes, Francisco X, Lori B (Bloustein) and Andrew Voight; talks by the book’s editor, Annice Jacoby, artist and writer Jaime Cortez; projections of thousands of archival and current Mission murals, including a ten-year span of the deAppropriation wall; art activities for people of all ages and MORE! Free for All.

The de Young Museum hosts a year-long series celebrating the just released Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo (Abrams, 2009), edited by Annice Jacoby, with a foreword by Carlos Santana, as part of the museum’s weekly program Cultural Encounters: Friday Nights at the de Young.
Continue reading “6 Nov: Mission Muralismo Party at the de Young”

Precita Eyes Benefit: 19 Sep

SOMArts (South of Market Cultural Center)
934 Brannan Street (near 8th Street)
San Francisco, CA. 94103
6:30-9:30 pm
Admission:  general $35, VIP $50

For more information please visit our website

I’ll have my autograph pen there this Saturday, along with a pile of artists, authors, and photographers in the Mission Muralismo book. Not cheap, but the money goes to a great cause: MURALS!

Mission Muralismo in SF Chronicle

Street art and artists in the Mission

go here for complete article

Clarion is an alley connecting Valencia to Mission, between a cop shop and a crack market, with murals of devils and angels and a moving stairway to heaven.


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Close by is the Women’s Building, a colorful paean to female heroes and goddesses, from Guatemalan peace activist Rigoberto Menchu to scientist Marie Curie.

A couple of blocks up is an intricate mural on the facade of a writer’s school and colony, depicting the human race’s attempts at communication.

In between and all around San Francisco’s Mission District are posters and poetry and political calls to action. There are tribal graffiti and Gothic lettering, traditional murals and lattices of tags. Now, a new book, “Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo,” has captured and honored the varied artists and activists of the street.

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