On a recent Sunday afternoon, a 53-year-old man who goes by the name of “Elvis Christ” stood at the southwest corner of Vallejo and Columbus in North Beach. He had masking tape in one hand and colorful markers in the other, and he would write odd, funny sentences on the tape (like “Soylent green is made of people”), color some of the letters, then affix the strips on the cement. Small kids strolling with their parents would wander over to read Christ's words. Adult pedestrians would also occasionally peruse the crisscrossed scribblings. The southwest corner of Vallejo and Columbus is Christ's version of London's Speakers Corner: a place to rant and rave to anyone who will listen. He's been putting his street-art strips there for about three months, and doing them for about seven years. “This,” he says, wearing a straw hat, “is my spot now.” In the art world, there's a long tradition of word-based canvases. Think of Ed Ruscha and Christopher Wool. But this is the street, so Christ has had to deal with things like dogs defecating nearby. When that happened recently, he put down new strips of tape featuring the names of “Larry Ellison” and “Bill Gates,” with arrows on the strips pointing to the feces. It was artful commentary. Some people laughed, he said. Others simply walked on by, avoiding it as best they could. “I try,” Christ says, citing Lenny Bruce as an influence, “to be poetic and communicative to as many people as possible.”
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