Untitled: 3636 Buchanan St. (at North Point)

In the past six months, a wave of San Francisco fire hydrants — particularly hydrants in the Marina District — has gone from traditional white to flamboyant red and silver. It's a nice change. It's also illegal. But the artist behind the work is spray-painting first and asking questions later. “I don't ask permission,” he says.

Indeed, he walks up to a hydrant with spray can in hand and — even in the middle of the day — transforms the water outlet. I spoke to him on a weekday at 5 p.m. near a hydrant at Bay and Franklin streets that he was just finishing. Cars in the throes of the evening commute raced by, but the artist, who says he's a professional sign-maker by trade, didn't stop. He says he's painted between 50 and 100 San Francisco hydrants, and that it's part of his “city beautification” work — that he paints over hydrants that've become rusty and unpleasant to the eye. The red and silver, he says, is a tribute to the fire department. “It's my own way to contribute to the community,” he says. “I don't want to tag buildings.”

In downtown San Francisco, he says city workers have repainted some of the hydrants that he made silver and red, but many of his hydrants in the Marina District remain as he intended. The artist, who says he's 33 and gives his first name as Cliff, says he was part of the Occupy protest movement, and that he moved to San Francisco two years ago from Chicago. He'll continue painting hydrants as long as he can, he says. And he believes the city should embrace his efforts, or, at the very least, leave his hydrants alone.

“City workers,” he says, “have other things to do.”

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