As seen in Hayes Valley, San Francisco.
greed1 in Linden Street, Hayes Valley (part 1/4)
I’d been seeing a bunch of the greed1’s excellent wheatpaste pieces around town recently, and was struck by how cheerfully geeky they were. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I got in touch with him and he graciously allowed me to tag along for the installation of his latest work, we built this city out of old ships and shit (best title ever).
greed1, looking cheerful and inconspicuous, rocked up with a backpack with the rolled-up pieces for the wall and a tin of freshly-made wheatpaste. As he started unpacking, I asked him about the piece.
“The idea is”, he says “is that when settlers arrived in San Francisco, they came in boats and sunk them. Then they just piled up and a big chunk of San Francisco was built on that”.
“So what are the different landmarks about?”
“All the floating pieces mark out different landmarks and features in San Francisco, different styles of architecture. This here is kinda a pagoda thing from Chinatown, and the Transamerica pyramid, and look at this -“, grinning and pointing at two towers in the largest piece “- I was just sketching and I ended up with two Coit towers and I just ran with it.”
As I watch it go up, greed1 puts up wispy clouds, representing the omnipresent fog we get in San Francisco. At various points these intermittently escape the paper stack and blow away down the street.
“Man, everyone hears about how sunny and warm it’s here in Caliornia but in San Francisco it’s cold and foggy. Confuses the hell out of any visitors we get here”, he comments.
The piece is covered in awesome details - an incongrous stealth fighter flies out from behind a cloud, a bunny peers out of the basket of a hot-air balloon and tiny, hand-made paper lanterns drift up from the pagoda. Each detailed lantern has an individual kanji character drawn on it.
“I took the letters from the end credits of an anime”, he says “so this one over here probably says ‘executive producer’”.
On to part 2.
greed1 in Linden Street, Hayes Valley (part 2/4)
[back to the start]
greed1 is proud of the time and effort he puts into his pieces.
“It’s a completely organic process”, he explains “and I make as much as I can myself. I use recycled parcel paper for the base, and I make my own special paste - I even make my own ink from bong resin.”
“Must be a lot of work. I didn’t realise that even the bigger pieces are made up from smaller pieces layered together.”
“Yeah, this is made up from over 300 individual pieces. It took me over 8 hours to make them.”
“Crazy. How much planning does this take?”
“The only time you’ll see me measuring with tape is just to get me started. Other than that, I measure approximately -“, he says, stretching his arms out and sidestepping to demonstrate the technique “-and then I lay stuff out by hand. Sometimes I get it a bit wrong - the megaman I made the other day was too tall and I had to fold the top of his head over the wall here.”
On to part 3.
greed1 in Linden Street, Hayes Valley (part 3/4)
[back to the start]
As greed1 proceeds, joggers and hipsters, tourists and transplants slow down to curiously peer at this broad-daylight, anonymous installation of street art. A curly-haired hipster, coffee in hand approaches to ask a question.
“Hey, uh - how do you do this? Do you need permission to do this?”
greed1, focusing on pasting a piece, replies. “The owner of the wall knows of me - he knows I’m a local, so he’s ok with it.”
greed1 has ended up in various confrontations with the police five times. He was somewhat bemused by the aggressive San Francisco Graffiti Task Force.
“Of all the things to fix in the city”, he says “why put so much money into tackling something as minor as graffiti?”
He explains how it’s had a chilling effect on the local street art scene.
“Before 2005, the graffiti task force kept an eye on you but only came after you if they thought the cleanup cost more than $10 in a year - now the limit is $400 and it’s a class 1 felony.”
“Thing is, the way it works is that the artists that get respect are the ones who get held up like this and still keep going.”
On to part 4.
greed1 in Linden Street, Hayes Valley (part 4/4)
[back to the start]
greed1 is a rarity in San Francisco, locally born and raised. He’s lived here in Hayes Valley most of his life, and he’s really seen the neighborhood change.
“I went to a local high school, and we used to make our way down to 10th & Mission and the area round there to paint in the 80’s and 90’s. It was super sketchy, mostly full of warehouses and crackheads, but it was a playground for artists. There was so much art everywhere in that area then, but it’s all gone now.”
“Pity - that would have been awesome to see.”
“Yeah”, he says, applying some paste over a small piece to make it stick. “I was thinking about what you said about my work the other day - you said it was geeky. It’s funny, I never really thought of myself that way - I just make art about what I like, what I enjoy. Anime, or videogames, or whatever - I like playing videogames, so you know, I made a megaman piece, or I’ll make a zelda thing. Zelda was a total murdering bastard, by the way”, he says, grinning broadly.
“So what is it that motivates you? You put a lot of effort into hand-making your work, so what drives it?”
“I’ve been asked that before”, he says, pausing, paintbrush in hand “and it’s this - if you can find something life that you love, and it doesn’t harm anyone, you should do it as hard as you can. It’s important.”
He proceeds to finish, reapplying paste to help it stick.
“Funny thing though - so many people, street artists and graffiti artists - when you meet them, they’re totally shy and introverted”, he says, standing back to see the piece from across the street.
“Really? That’s not what I would have expected.”
“Yeah, its a way for them to connect, to communicate with hundreds of people without having to talk face-to-face. Sometimes after I put something up I like to just watch people interact with it, just to see.”
He packs up, I thank him for the window into this side of street art. Hoodie and headphones on, greed1 disappears and we part ways.
I met Tae one warm Saturday afternoon in Linden Alley, Hayes Valley, where I’d ridden over there to get a shot of Greed1’s sad megaman.
“I wonder why he looks so sad?”, Tae says, polishing a car he was working on while I’m snapping. “I mean, most murals here are pretty cheerful but this one is just sad. And he’s covered in blood too. What’s all that about?”
“I guess it’s just something a bit geeky and different?”
“So how often do the pieces on the wall change?”
“It’s almost every week… some are funny, some are political - it’s always good to see something new.”
“No kidding - I love the wall behind you, by the way.”
“Oh this thing? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome” as he looks over huge mural on the side of the wall of Linden alley. Tae picks at a bit of peeling paint. “Though I’m thinking of asking the artist to come back and touch this up a bit - it’s starting to dry out and peel.”
“How long have you been working here?”
“Oh, I’ve been working here 10 years. Seen this neighborhood change a lot.”
“What did it used to be like?”
“Well, when the old freeway was here there were so many shadows - shadows cast by the old freeway where homeless and druggies would hide out, the whole area was pretty sketchy. But when the freeway came down it brought in so much light, opened the place up.”
“When did all the restaurants and coffee shops move in?”
“A lot moved in recently but some have been here ages - everything is bright and busy now, it’s pretty great, lots of families and stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s a great neighborhood to visit. Thanks for your time Tae, hope you have a good one!”
“Yeah you too!”