Last summer, the mysterious street artist named BiP approached Molly Salyer, the general manager of Hosteling International's Tenderloin building, with a tempting offer: Let him put up an original work on the back side of the seven-story structure, which commands the attention of everyone who passes Larkin Street between Ellis and Eddy.
There were two catches. First, the artist, who works anonymously and has never revealed his real name, would do the work at night to minimize attention. Second, Hosteling International would be kept in the dark (as it were) about the final painting, although if Salyer and her bosses didn't like the work, BiP, whose name stands for “Believe in People,” could paint it over.
Another consideration was BiP's reputation for mischievous art. In Connecticut, where he lived and worked before his recent move to the Bay Area, BiP frequently targeted Yale University buildings with illegal works that were quickly removed.
Salyer took a chance, and the result is Self Consuming Self – Dave, a giant painting of a naked man looking at his own heart through a microscope. To harvest the organ, the man apparently carved out his own chest, which is open and bloodied (although the heart itself remains attached by a long, wormy vein). The work is profound, funny, gross, and very BiP.
“I love it,” said Salyer, a world traveler and native San Franciscan. “It's a little dark, and a little intense. And it's a little bloody and a little dirty and all the things we like about the Tenderloin, but it's thought-provoking and respectful of the area. It does remind me of travel — there's a certain self-exploration that you go through when you're in a city that you don't know, or a part of nature that you've never been to before, and the way you think about yourself, including your heart and your love and all those things.”
For his part, BiP said the work “contemplates the nature of deep introspection.” And he plans to do a series of other works around the Bay Area, including the East Bay, where he now lives. Via email, he told SF Weekly that his Bay Area art will eschew “political correctness,” and that the feedback he gets from Self Consuming Self – Dave will determine his next street work.
“I can't say what the next legal murals will be about right now because it's not my turn to talk,” BiP wrote. “It's my turn to listen to the response on this one and hear you when you tell me what you're going through and what you need to see from your artists. Let me be that for you. Let's set fire to all bland, overly PC art and make things that are at a core level of human experience.”
BiP has said he graduated from Princeton in 2007. He supposedly worked in finance for a while, but left in disgust. At Yale, one of his funniest works emerged on a classroom wall: a stenciled figure who's drawing the repeated sentence, “I will only work finance 1 year,” followed by a single sentence, “I will only work finance 2 …”
In style and substance, that work is reminiscent of Banksy's best. Like Banksy, BiP travels around the world putting up his images, and his new San Francisco painting is an ideal match of building and artist. The first impression of whoever passes by may be that Self Consuming Self – Dave, with its macabre scene of a furrow-browed man, is a work of agitation, but the seven-story art turns out to be much more hostel than hostile.