A recent defacing of a Mission District mural has raised questions of art's role in gentrification, as well as questions of the vandal's motives. The mural of 10 sea turtles along the PG&E substation at 19th and San Carlos was done, with the building owner's permission, by local artist fnnch in March. It was likely within the last week that a tagger defaced the work — rather aggressively according to the artist — with the politically charged words "Latino art only."
"This photo doesn't show it but 6 of the 10 turtles were hit; I spent all morning cleaning it up," wrote fnnch in a now-deleted Instagram post. "What's weird is that none of the nearby murals are by Latino artists. And if this is anti-gentrification sentiment (not just racist sentiment), attacking artists seems like a terrible use of energy."
When one Instagram user commented that "gentrification projects do sometimes masquerade as public art projects," the artist countered that his piece was done on "a 1950's unmanned PG&E substation, not a new construction or anything."
As to why fnnch deleted what read as a very calm and reasoned Instagram post? "I pulled the post because I want my page to stay positive and uplifting," the artist explained to SFist. "Posting graffiti gives a voice to the vandals, and I don't need to be a part of that."
The defacement follows a similar incident last week wherein a recently finished mural on Mission just south of Randall Street was tagged with the words "no hipster art." Much like that mural, fnnch's turtles have already been restored by the artist, and he told SFist that he'd like to discuss the vandalization of his work with whoever the culprit is. "The only reason I posted it in the first place was to see if anyone knew [the tagger] HC and could introduce me," he explained. "We could have a much better outcome if we could discourse like adults."
The artist appears to be finding the good in the situation, observing that "[an] unexpected benefit of the post was the outpouring of support from people; it received way more comments than my average post, all of them incredibly positive." Fnnch later noted that "It's just bizarre to me that I, an artist, am seen as the enemy. I am not the enemy. If San Francisco is being 'ruined' (and I don't think it is; though we do face challenges), it is not the artists who are ruining it."
Regardless of what happens next, don't expect fnnch's art to go anywhere.
"It took a lot of hustle to get that wall, and now that I have it, I'm going to defend it," he explained. "I wish I didn't have to, but for now it comes with the territory."