San Francisco street artist fnnch has attracted a tsunami of online anger and criticism in recent months, and even more of that exploded when he was confronted by one of his critics in a now widely seen Instagram video.
Fnnch's honey bear stencil murals may have started out as benign and goofy, but many local artists and other commentators have lately been expressing disgust at both their ubiquity and their blandness — and at the artist's ability to get them plastered in San Franciscans' windows all over town when "he's not even from here." The window bears, as KQED explains, date back to last May when fnnch launched the family-friendly Honey Bear Hunt — conceived as a way for parents with small children to have an added pandemic activity while walking neighborhood streets.
"It was a more urban take on what was happening in the suburbs during the early days of shelter in place: instead of putting actual teddy bears in windows for neighborhood children, people could display fnnch’s honey bear, and kids could follow his virtual map to find them," KQED's Rae Alexandra writes. "He sold 3,500 bear window displays in four days."
That ubiquity, and the fact that fnnch (a straight, cis, white male who was not born in SF) got commissions from queer organizations like the LGBT Center and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — among other nonprofits — to create honey bears for them, has led to a backlash.
Some of the backlash seems to be about the over-saturation of the image across the city. Some is about the bears' lack of artistic merit. And some is about the fact that fnnch is perceived as taking work away from other local artists, and seems to have been broadly embraced by newly arrived, privileged residents — and fnnch himself is a transplant.
Add to that that he made the mistake of saying, in the video below, that he was an "immigrant" from Missouri. The video was shot as fnnch and some associates were attempting to clean up graffiti that had been painted over the trio of bears on the side of the LGBT Center at Octavia and Market.
The person holding the camera says to fnnch, "You understand that these bears have become synonymous with gentrification and displacement of the artists that come from here?"
And he replies (dumbly), "I'm an immigrant here. I came from Missouri."
The mural was subsequently re-tagged with "fuck fnnch," among other things.
As of Tuesday, a new coat of primer went up over the mural at the LGBT Center.
SFist has reached out for comment about why the center decided to paint over it — assuming it was them — but we have not yet heard back.
In the video, fnnch says, "This wall has been empty for 100 years." He says that he reached out to the Center, got approval for the mural, and he said the plan was to make the wall available to other local artists on a rotating basis after that.
The person shooting the video, who goes by DoggTown Dro on Insta, says, "You don't get why people are defacing your shit?" He then says that the person who tagged the mural originally might have been an artist who would have liked to do a proper mural that wall, and there's anger that fnnch can get his art everywhere. "How come you can but we can't?" he asks.
Expressing satisfaction that the LGBT Center mural had been removed, DoggTown Dro writes on another post, "I see Honey Bears in the White transplant's windows of homes my friends, my family, and myself used to live in, play and eat in. They're all completely gone now in lieu of what feels like a neo wave of techie yupper ass colonization in which shitty clip art bears are the national flag."
He adds, "The community informed me of the individual behind the pander Bears and the community heard the war cry. And within ONE week we as #FriscoStrong had Fnnch's shit ass bears removed indefinitely. We WILL reclaim our city. We will NOT let Gentrifiers dictate our culture."
Update: The LGBT Center has posted a statement to Facebook saying, "For clarity, fnnch approached us to donate a temporary mural on the exterior of the facility and offered to donate its maintenance throughout the year. We accepted this donation knowing that it was going to be part of a larger rotating mural project that we were launching.
"As part of the rotating mural project, the mural by fnnch has been taken down. We acknowledge the fact that fnnch has engendered a host of opinions and that some of his recent comments about being an immigrant have brought pain to many members of our community. Though believe that every artist we work with is entitled to their own opinion, the Center does not agree with fnnch's recent comments, and we have shared our concerns about the impact of his comments directly with him."
The Center adds that its next set of murals are by LGBTQ+ artists who are also members of the BIPOC community.
Fnnch has also responded in a statement to KQED, saying, "I have been creating Pride art and donating to LGBT charities as long as I’ve been creating street art," and he added that last year was the 25th anniversary of the death of an uncle from AIDS. And he said he "helped fundraise over $20k for the Center through T-shirt sales, painting donations, and my partnership with Humphrey Slocombe."
He added, with regard to this recent dustup, "I am still learning from this experience. The clearest learning so far is to collaborate with artists from the communities I hope to uplift."
Photo: Joe Kukura