When the San Francisco Arts Commission tapped Jeremy Fish to ink 100 drawings in roughly 100 days to commemorate the 100th anniversary of City Hall, the unconventional choice raised some eyebrows.
Fish, a fine-art painter who has shown internationally, is celebrated locally for his animal-inspired skateboard designs and streetwear brand SuperFishal, with trademark skulls and bunnies on T-shirts, caps and prints. He’s created album art and starred in videos for hip-hop artist Aesop Rock. And his eight-foot, 600-pound sculpture Silly Punk Bunny was an icon of the Lower Haight before it was destroyed by a tractor in a mock funeral in 2013.
So why was a three-month residency at City Hall intriguing for the self-described “apolitical artist”? For starters, Fish tells KQED Arts, gaining a larger, more mainstream audience. But he also saw it as an opportunity to raise awareness for what he considers an underappreciated 100-year-old local landmark and the fifth-largest dome structure in the world.
“The conversation I’m wanting to generate with my artwork isn’t really with the gallerist, collector or museum curator,” says Fish. “I’m much more attracted to a T-shirt on a guy on a street that causes a conversation. And this is that tenfold.”
Fish’s body of work in O Glorious City, on view at City Hall until March 25, 2016, includes playful illustrations of California’s state bird, former mayor Willie Brown and the hall’s architect Arthur Brown Jr., all wearing the iconic dome on their heads.
A series of San Francisco “unofficial mayor” drawings pays homage to “Mayor of Smiles” Robin Williams; “Mayor of Rock” Bill Graham; beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist and “Mayor of Local Culture” Herb Caen; “Mayor of Freedom” Jose Sarria, the first openly gay candidate in San Francisco; and Fausto Vitello, co-founder of Thrasher and Juxtapoz magazines, as “Mayor of Skateboarding.”
A New York State native, Fish moved to the Bay Area in the 1990s to attend the San Francisco Arts Institute but stayed for its skateboarding culture, reflected in magazines like Thrasher and Juxtapoz. Over 20 years later, he sees O Glorious City as an artistic welcoming committee for the city’s influx of new resdients.
“As a dude who has lived here for a long time,” Fish says, “I feel like it’s my obligation to engage the new San Franciscan and give people a reason to give a sh*t about the things that were here before.”
In honor of San Francisco City Hall’s centennial, KQED will broadcast the half-hour documentary People’s Palace: San Francisco City Hall 100 Years on Channel 9, Nov. 24, 2015, 7:30pm.