From back alleys to Facebook walls: the street art-tech connection is heating up -- and changing SF's street scene
Contemporary SF gallerist Catharine Clark says it would be a mistake to say that street art is the only art form in which the tech community is interested. The annual Zero1 art-tech festival (www.zero1.org) explores a vast array of art forms, and few street artists are included on the program. The high-powered tech couple of Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and investor-philanthropist Zachary Bogue will chair this week's opening gala of SF's artMRKT art fair. Clark says as wealthy techies age, their taste for art will mature as it does for any collector. But she does see a logical reason behind any propensity that does exist to line programmers' offices with works once seen on the blocks of the Mission District.
"I would imagine if you're a company in the Bay Area and you're thinking about what's been endorsed on a larger level of the art world outside the Bay Area, it would be the Mission School aesthetic," she tells me in a phone interview. "That has been accepted by the art world, but still has something youthful and cool about it."
Ian Ross goes in at the AdRoll office. Guardian photo by Sixteenth & Broadway Photography
Many of the mural artists who've been closely tied to the tech community have little to do with street art's historical legacy.
Ian Ross has found major success in his fluid live paintings, landing a year-long residency at the current Facebook offices after one of his live works proved popular at the company's campus café. He's since done work for AdRoll, Lyft, Livefire, and other firms. Recently, he and wife Daniele Rocha opened a gallery in the tech-heavy neighborhood near AT&T Park where they highlight other artists' works, many of whom have found similar levels of support working for tech companies and collectors.
"People really respond and appreciate street art in the tech world," Ross says. "It's a much more unpretentious format. People don't need to know anything about art to get something out of the experience."
"Ian's work is vibrant, energetic, and his style is flexible and adaptable," writes AdRoll president Adam Berke in an email shortly after our photographer captured shots of Ross creating a looping green and black piece during an AdRoll office party. "We think these attributes match our own values as a company and are common characteristics among the people that work here."
But Ross is also quick to note that what he does is different than, say, the artists of Wild Style. "I personally don't think one should call themselves a street artist if they are producing this work completely legally," he says. "[Street artists] often work against a lot of dangerous variables to make their work viewable in public. I appreciate the risks they take to do this."
Does it still count as street art when established subway writer Lee Quiñones paints the rooms in what became Sean Parker's Greenwich Village "Bacchus House"? What about when Facebook employees are taught the fine art of stencil-making? What do you call art that looks similar to the illicit works of graffiti's past, but is done in a context completely divorced from shadowy trainyards and unguarded rooftops?
As San Francisco culture continues to form around the rise of tech, street artists and their fans are far from the only ones pondering the importance of form versus function. At the very least though, we're guaranteed some pretty walls.
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