Know Your Street Art: Untitled 2185 Mission St. (near 18th)

(Photo by Jonathan Curiel)

It’s a simple artwork of a single pill bottle on a single wall in San Francisco, but its appearance several weeks ago was notable since it marked a re-emergence of a Bay Area artist with an unforgettable name: Dirt Cobain.

Get it? He melded Kurt Cobain’s last name with a reference to grime, and he plastered a Mission District wall with an object that represents drug overdose and death. But Dirt Cobain says passers-by should avoid a literal interpretation of his new street art.

“It’s a subtle reference to drugs and pills, but it’s supposed to represent whatever your drug is,” he tells SF Weekly. “For me, art is like my drug. That’s my rush.”

“Part of my style, with ‘Dirt Cobain,’ and ‘dirty,’ I like to keep it kind of street and grimy,” Cobain adds. “So when I saw that there was already graffiti there, I thought it was perfect. I want it to blend in with other street art.”

Cobain, who was born in San Jose, has spent much of the past seven years living in Los Angeles. Growing up, he loved coming to San Francisco and says the street-art scene — with its neighborhoods of graffiti and wild lettering — helped inspire him to become an artist. But he didn’t venture into the street for real until around 2013, when he “fell into it” after deciding he should do something radical with his life instead of, well, keeping his art to himself, in his room. The first art he put up in L.A. was a literal canvas.

“I was sitting in my apartment, broke at the time, barely getting by, and me and my friend were there — and I had all this art that I didn’t know what to do with — and we lived in this part of town where there was a lot of street art, and I would always drive by and look at it and say, ‘My art is better than this,’ ” Cobain says. “I told my friend, ‘What if I took one of my paintings and just glued it to the wall?’ He turned and looked at me and said, ‘Dude, that’s a fucking great idea. I’ll drive you right now.’ ”

Cobain moved to San Francisco a few months ago, though he still spends almost every other weekend in Los Angeles. The pill-bottle work he pasted at 2185 Mission St. is an original painting. He does all his throw-ups by hand. This one has his name on it. What Cobain won’t say is how he put up the work. The adhesive he uses, he says, is a trade secret. At age 35, with a few years of street-art experience, he’s learned he can’t announce everything about his work.

“I do use a form of adhesive, and it’s a form of wheat paste, but I don’t ever like to confirm what that is, because there are other street artists who might want to do the same thing I do, and I want to keep my bag of tricks to myself,” says Cobain, who is also known for street art that features the singer Sade. “If I tell every street artist what I use, the next thing you know there will be a bunch of Dirt Cobains running around.”

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