Hello Again, Mr. Fish!

"Civic Beautification" at the Haight Street Art Center Acknowledges an S.F. Favorite

Two years ago, Jeremy Fish was San Francisco City Hall’s first Artist in Residence, brought there as part of O Glorious City, an exhibit that extolled the building’s 100th anniversary. Fish made drawings. They were good. And funny. Two years later, he did another artist-in-residency at a prominent S.F. building: Coit Tower. And the drawings that have emerged — now on exhibit at the Haight Street Art Center — are funnier. That’s what Fish says as he looks back at his City Hall tenure, during which time Mayor Ed Lee was the subject of an FBI corruption probe.  

“It’s more lighthearted,” Fish tells SF Weekly of his new exhibit, “Civic Beautification.” “To be honest, the environment at City Hall was more stressful. I’m not a very politically centered dude, which is part of the reason they asked me to do that City Hall project. But during the time I was working there, our mayor got caught red-handed being in league with organized crime. And he followed that by being re-elected. That wasn’t fun at all. That’s not funny. It’s hard to make art about. To me, that shit is deeply depressing.”

The homeless population around City Hall was also challenging, Fish says. By contrast, Coit Tower — located on Telegraph Hill, right above Fish’s home in North Beach — is in a pristine area that’s a magnet for tourists.

It’s “a much lighter environment to do work in,” he says. “I was in a better mood.”

One example of Fish’s funnier output: Neighborhood Unity, a drawing of North Beach with a dripping pizza slice as a giant flag. Get it? Another example: One Peace at a Time, which features a giant hand with one finger enveloped by Coit Tower, overlooked by a sun with an Italian-style mustache. Get it?

Also at Haight Street Art Center is the idiosyncratic artist’s vest, made by a friend who’s a tailor, that Fish wore every day he was at Coit Tower. It says “Mr. Fish” in bright orange lettering, opposite the pocket area that’s made to hold paint brushes and the like. Looking at it behind glass? That’s funny. Fish regularly encountered tourists at Coit Tower who asked him questions, including, “Where’s the bathroom?”

“My interaction with people up there while I was wearing the vest,” Fish says, “was part of the whole schtick.”

Video still from Cyndy Poon’s Silly Pink Bunny Funeral video. (Photo by Jonathan Curiel)

Still, the Haight Street exhibit’s denouement may be the two-minute video — played on a loop — that documents the 2013 destruction of Fish’s Silly Pink Bunny, the fantastical sculpture that occupied the southwest corner of Haight and Laguna streets for years. Recorded by Cyndy Poon, Silly Pink Bunny Funeral is a time-lapse of the construction excavator that, foot by foot, came out of the sky, scraped off the bunny’s left antenna ear, clamped down on the sculpture’s head, lifted the piece high into the sky, then scrunched it and dropped Silly Pink Bunny to the ground. That was the end of it, right?

Wrong. Fish made a bronze version of the piece that is now ensconced near the entrance of the Haight Street Art Center. Like its predecessor, Bronze Bunny features a bunny with a skull in its mouth. And like its predecessor, the sculpture has — in a few months — become a recognized part of the lower Haight neighborhood. People love it. They think it’s, well … funny.

“It’s fucking awesome,” Fish says. “I’ve spent a lot of time at the art center printing my own work out of there. The print studio has two windows that look right out at the statue. So I take breaks constantly throughout the day to go out and watch people taking pictures with it, and climbing on it, and hugging it, and having their dogs pee on it.”

“I’ve seen the coolest stuff,” Fish adds. “It seems to be making that block a warmer, friendlier, more fun place.”

“Civic Beautification,” through Jan. 1, 2018, at Haight Street Art Center, 215 Haight St.. Free; 415-363-6150 or haightstreetart.org.

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