While in San Francisco for the American Society of Criminology meetings this week, my sister sent me an Instagram post by the anonymous graffiti artist BiP (“Believe in People”). It unveiled an eight story tall mural he recently completed in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of the city (Franklin and Oak Streets, just off Market if you’re looking).
The mural was so striking and provocative, I had to walk the mile from the Marriott to see it.
On Instagram, @bip_graffiti explained some of his thought process in making this mural:
and all the questions that go through my mind – do you want to be the one making split second life or death decisions? do you think you can handle that every day with never a mistake? who could? I wouldn’t choose that. I’ll be the first to say I’m thankful for the ones that would. and I believe in my heart no one wants to be the one to unjustly kill another man, I believe that. but at the end of the day…the problem exists that police brutality is out of control. I’m sick in my heart for it. some people say it’s a media thing. as if the news conspired to make it seem more frequent than it is. But I’m a public artist, I don’t make art in response to headlines. I make art about what I see. and I have seen with my own eyes undue intimidation and aggression over and over in neighborhoods I’ve spent time in. where peoples’ honest to god feeling is they are scared to call their own police…like a baby with a handgun and a toy camera…and as much as I wish it were, I don’t honestly think somehow we’re going to talk this through now and solve it just by generating awareness. I think we’re all aware enough at this point. my role in SF is much smaller – I’m just trying to put something authentic in your public art installations. like what it’s like to be us in a city. who we actually are, instead of more celebrity portraits or hopeful images of who we should be. cause for once, a nothing like me actually has the power to do it. I have the ability to show people from all walks of life their experiences are seen in the heart of their cities. I can paint for the public, and not think about making anyone else happy. that’s why I did the one at Westfield, that’s why I did the two in the TL, that’s why whatever happens to me good or bad, I won’t leave just because things don’t go my way, I will stay in this city doing my best for the public until I die. and I won’t always paint something so intense, but I also won’t back down from real issues affecting the people I love. because that’s all I can do as a public artist. that’s all I got. so with all that said, this is the mural I’ve been painting the last few months, I submit to San Francisco, “Baby with a Handgun”
Beyond the particular subject matter of this work, BiP also reflected on how he composed and executed the work as an artist. See his explanation following the picture below. (I visited the mural in the morning and the light was bad, so see @BiP_graffiti on Instagram for better pictures of it.)
@BiP_graffiti on Instagram:
my new mural for San Francisco. for the people that want the story of how this image was created—I carried this piece in the back of my head for years. I kept practicing putting an adult expression on a child not really able to nail it, until I understood the image itself was about contrast and internal disagreement. when I made that understanding, I threw my old color studies and rebuilt the painting out of direct contrasts to echo that confliction. so in this image you’ll find: sunlight vs. darkness, real vs. imaginary, infant vs. adult, confusion vs. resolve, innocence vs. guilt, feminine vs. masculine, dangerous vs. toy, fate vs. free choice. and in the handling of the painting. organic vs. inorganic textures, saturated vs. unsaturated colors, and warm vs. cool hues in extremes. and yea maybe the art critics aren’t interested in taking public work to this level, I get the feeling they aren’t prepared to classify murals that way. so if people just say “oh cool” and move on that’s awesome I’m thankful to give someone a few seconds out of their day I would never be above that. but if people want to sit there and get lost in the painting that’s where I’m at with public art