The Orlando nightclub massacre on June 12, 2016, that killed dozens of people — and the bevy of mass shootings before and after that day — prompted a national debate about the availability of weapons, and the reasons for so many shootings. They also prompted San Francisco artist Erin Feller to make a mural in Clarion Alley that is her take on one part of the problem: unhinged men who have guns.
Women weren’t behind the spate of 2016 shootings. It was men — including Omar Mateen in Orlando; Cedric Larry Ford, who murdered three people in Kansas; and Arcan Cetin, who killed five in Burlington, Wash. In fact, men have perpetuated the vast majority of the United States’ deadliest mass shootings. And the debate over why was funneled into Clarion Alley in July 2016, when Feller put up her mural and interacted with passers-by. Many male pedestrians told Feller exactly what they thought of Men! All of You: Put Your Guns Down!.
“I was surprised by the amount of men who walked by and were almost offended by it,” Feller tells SF Weekly. “Some would say, ‘Why does it have to be just men? Women shoot guns, too.’ Other men would walk by and say, ‘Well, I know women who want to shoot guns.’ They were defending themselves. And arguing. But all they have to do is look at the broader picture. Of course, there have been women in history who’ve used guns to kill people. But it’s such a small number. And I don’t see this particular message [of my mural] out there. And I felt like I needed to make it specific.”
Not every man was defensive. Some praised Feller’s art. And some who questioned Feller could see her point after talking to her and considering her message.
“They’d say, ‘Oh, I guess you’re right,’ ” Feller says. “And there were a few who said, ‘Right on.’ ”
Feller, who says her art “usually doesn’t discuss social issues,” knows her blunt, typographical mural is not a panacea to the debate over gender and weapons — and that it reduces the debate to a simplistic message. But Feller echoes what a lot of academics and analysts say when she tells SF Weekly that, “There are structures and systems and cultural norms in place related to gender that have embedded psychological and emotional effects that men are dealing with. It’s a larger question. And that’s what I wanted to say. It’s a plea. It’s an exhausted, disgusted, outraged demand. It’s just that — to ‘Stop!’ and ‘Put it down!’ It might be a simplified thing. And of course it’s more complicated than [gender]. But it’s a, ‘Please! Just stop!’ And it goes across race — and it goes across everything. It’s mass shootings in schools, and extremists and fundamentalists in the military, and domestic things, and street weapons.
“And it’s not just the United States,” she adds. “It’s the world. It feels like this patriarchal umbrella that’s hanging over the world, that’s affecting the way people act and what they need to do, and how they’re treated. Men aren’t supported. I’m calling attention on how to resolve things — and that might be a simplified way to say it, too. Nothing is simple.”
Feller, who lives in the Mission, carefully chose her mural’s colors, leading, and typography. The red she used for “Men! All of You:” is the red of a stop sign. The orange has a way of standing out from the wall’s blue background. And the somewhat oddly shaped lettering — where, as one example, the ‘E’ in ‘Men’ is imperfect — serves to give the mural an additional kind of spark. The past two years also gave the mural an ironically surreal dimension: bullet piercings from a violent incident in Clarion Alley.
“It got hit by stray bullets,” says Feller of the 2017 incident. “There was a shooting in the alley, and the mural catty-corner to mine had a number of gunshots. And, right now, I’m painting another mural at the other end of the alley. It’s my masterpiece mural that I’m spending a lot of time on. I’ve been painting for two months. About a month ago, I was up on my ladder working, and it was a Saturday afternoon, and I heard gunshots. And I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ What do you do when you hear them? There’s nothing you can do. It came from Mission Street, down at the end of the alley, and I found out later that someone had been killed and two people were injured. The weapon was a gun. One of [the victims] was a guy I’d seen the day before.
“This statement continues to be relevant,” she adds. “It’s heartbreaking.”