Frija: Goddess of Fertility


Eight years later, the antlers, face, and written exhortation are still on the wall — still looking down on passersby, still urging them to make an offering to Mike Shine’s street art. While the work’s title blares out in colorful letters, it’s the accompanying smaller print that’s truly explicit: “Toss an undergarment up. If you ring her antlers, well good luck.”

Shine has found undergarments on the antlers, though he admits he last checked a while ago.

“I went there five years ago, and I couldn’t believe it still had underwear on the antlers,” he tells SF Weekly.

Frija is connected to a series of other artists’ work that has turned Orange Alley into one of the many worthwhile art lanes that crisscross the Mission District. Frija, which is pronounced like “Frey-ah” — and often spelled “Freyja” — is the goddess of fertility in Norse mythology. The face on Shine’s Frija is that of his ex-partner.

“I like Norse mythology,” Shine says, “and my wife at the time, she’s my ex-wife now, is Danish. That is her face. She has a classic Scandinavian face, and it was really bringing mythology to reality in a fun way.”

Shine, 53, is based in Bolinas, in an “art shack” cabin full of sculpture and other work. He had a successful career in advertising before becoming a professional artist in his 40s. Each year, he travels outside the United States to do weeks-long mural projects in Nicaragua, Ireland, and Israel-Palestine. For years, he did “Flotsam’s Wonder World” performance art-stage shows at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, playing the part of a derby-wearing clown/carnival character named Dr. Flotsam who he has also painted on walls.

Shine has done street art around San Francisco, including Olive Street — the three-block stretch near the Great American Music Hall — that is another regular showcase of notable street art. For years on Olive Street, the most prominent work was Shine’s painted musicians, including early blues performer Robert Johnson. All of Shine’s art has a measure of quirkiness and visual splendor. His character of Dr. Flotsam is a deliberate homage to the type of material that Shine uses.

“A lot of the stuff that I paint on is found wood,” he says. “A lot of it is from the beach. The character [of Dr. Flotsam] has a band of carnies and has traveled for centuries — he basically works for the Devil, collecting souls. Carnivals have a big history of that in mythology and stories. I combine that in there.

“At Outside Lands, the performance would begin with us marching through the park in a funeral procession,” he adds. “I’m in a wooden coffin with Russian letters on it. At the very front are these six-foot-tall blondes — between four and eight of them. They’re all giant, beautiful women carrying elk skulls and wearing these white goddess outfits, in white face makeup, with antler wreaths in their hair. They’re Valkyries.”

Valkyries are female spirits that also derive from Norse mythology. They’re associated with life and death. But at Orange Alley, Shine’s goddess is all about life and starting fresh.

Jonathan Curiel

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Jonathan Curiel
Tags: #Spirituality carnivals Dr. Flotsam Flotsam's Wonder World Friija graffiti mike shine Mission Mission alleys Norse mythology Outside Lands paganism street art

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