Graffiti on City Hall

by Alison Stevens Rodrigues on September 19, 2005

What would you say to your city representatives in three or fewer sentences? Answers to this question formed the basis of Sara Thustra’s art show, held last week at Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s monthly Third Friday Art Reception. “Thanks for commin to this art show,” wrote Thustra in a booklet he had distributed to guests at the show. “What follows is small bits of things I wrote down, as I talked to people about having the chance to say something at City Hall.”

Included in the booklet, a piece of art itself, are photographs of Thustra’s works alongside people’s powerful responses, including “Put your heart over capitalism,” “I want my house back,” and “A poor person might hit you but a rich person will make you disappear.”

Thustra, who has been living in San Francisco for about nine years, took those thoughts beyond ink and paper to the paintings that adorned Mirkarimi’s walls in City Hall. Even before the artist’s mob of friends arrived to confirm their support, spectators were admiring the paintings. One observer compared Thustra with Pablo Picasso, noting Thustra’s similar talent for depicting humanity’s struggles, as well as the fact that some of his images border on cubic.

Thustra had five weeks to prepare for the City Hall show, he said, and was exhausted by last Friday evening. Perhaps even more tired, though, was his manager, Breezy Culbertson.

“I did everything for this except paint,” said Culbertson, who co-owns Needles & Pens, the art gallery/DIY goods and zine shop where Thustra’s works are featured.

For Culbertson, the sweat off her brow was worth it just so Thustra’s art got “out there,” she said.

“His work is unique because it has a point; it’s not just a pretty picture,” said Culbertson. “Sometimes it’s shoved down your throat and sometimes it’s hidden behind a poor, white horsy, but it’s all amazing.”

Thustra said his paintings are fairly clear, and that his inspiration often comes from disenfranchised San Franciscans, including himself.

“It’s about the problems with the system,” said Thustra. “But it’s also about celebrating, about waking up in the morning and being thankful for what freedoms we do have.”

One of the most popular of Thustra’s pieces was a map of San Francisco, titled, “The New, New San Francisco, More like Everywhere Else than Ever Before.” Near the South of Market area he painted, “More, More Mini Malls,” and towards the Mission District he had, “More Bigger Parking Our Favorite Corporate Flagship Stores.”

Mirkarimi pointed to that painting when he told Beyond Chron that he was considering buying one or two of Thustra’s works.
“I think this is great art, I love his pieces,” said Mirkarimi, who spoke of the drastic change between this month’s exhibit and the one in August, which had an Iranian theme.

When asked what prompted the supervisor to encourage Thustra to exhibit at City Hall, Mirkarimi said, “I saw examples of his work and just said, “Yes.””

The same reaction was had by Thustra’s friend and fellow artist Bill Daniel. The photographer, who lives in the Mission, said he first noticed Thustra’s art when it began popping up in the neighborhood. He compared it to the awareness that you get when an old neighbor moves out or a new building goes up.
“There’s just certain kind of graffiti that you notice,” said Daniel. “And what’s up here today is going to be really important to the history of our city.”

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