Back in 2010, Banksy promoted his documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" by painting walls across North America. He decided to visit San Francisco and started what I consider one of the first ever public Twitter frenzies: once a stencil went up, word got out, and the people amassed. I was in the middle of this fun frenzy, and made extra efforts to get up on roof tops for photos. A mutual friend, who had access to a bus, started giving tours of the Banksy pieces in the City. He contacted me after several people told him that I was the guy with the Stencil Archive site. On one of his last bus tours (the Banksy pieces eventually got destroyed; only two of about thirteen exist now), I was approached by a few people from a start up called Vayable. "Have you ever thought of giving a street art tour?" they asked. "I've given artists, journalists, and academics a few over the years. Yeah, I've thought about it."
Thus began my almost 10-year run walking the streets of SF (and Oakland) with friends, locals, strangers, journalists, minor celebrities, and artists (forever grateful to Icy and Sot and Ha Ha for taking a walk). Like many start ups, Vayable never took off and made people rich. It eventually gave the monster corporation Air BnB an idea to promote their own tours, which was probably the final nail in the small tour-based dot com's business plan. Now, many other dot coms also create frameworks for locals to give tours. The market is flooded. I never really pushed hard on capitalizing with my tours because I'm a "no one turned away" and "pay what you can" kind of guy. I didn't feel like posting the tour all over the place to maximize profits, etc.
With the demise of Vayable, the tours are once again DIY. Just like this site, and like I did before Vayable, hit me up if you want to take a tour. Donations are still appreciated, and I even have a few books left. Check it all out here. I'm not sure if I'll try to get them posted back on a supported site.
A big thanks to the folks at Vayable. Former CEO Jamie almost always replied to me if I had an issue and she sent many a journalist my way. June helped me nurture the first tour, which ended up inspiring me to make the other tours. After I got the farewell email from them, I asked Jamie if I could pull my content off the downed site. She replied, they put the site back up for a few weeks, and now I can share with you all the amazing reviews that folks left after taking my tours (read on below).
I really took these walks over and over for the people who booked with me. I love public art! I love sharing the history, techniques, stories, and opinions about it! I'll talk about it forever if you let me. Please read on and see how it got people interested in art, graffiti, stencils, politics, history, and even the complex issues that we literally walked through (capitalism, homelessness, gentrification, addiction, politics, etc.).
Finally, the artists on the walls (and sidewalks) here in the Bay Area are the best! Jet Martinez was painting on walls at the beginning and graciously shared his time and enthusiasm with the people I brought by. Xavi also allowed me to geek out with him at his wall. So did Amanda Lynn and Sirron Norris. Twisty Tie Joe was probably my number one cameo, usually pulling out one of his amazing creations to share with us. I contacted many other artists and let the know about my walks. I avoided the areas where Precita Eyes had amazing tours, and told every person on my walk to take all of their tours. I was humbled to explain to the guests why I wouldn't take them down Clarion Alley. The Bay Area has an amazing public arts community. I'm honored to have a few modest walls along with the rest of you!
ALL THE AMAZING REVIEWS
Both tours with Russell were soooo amazing. I became an avid street art lover and have found a passion that you can only gain through experience. This was my first tour of external public art, and I became emotionally abound by the consciousness, thought and imagery the art evoked in me. Russell’s knowledge and flexibility made the experience truly special. He customized the tour to the small group and offered a wealth of resources as well as made us feel comfortable by welcoming all questions and engaging us in our experience.
The tour far exceeded my expectations. It was clear to me that Russell is very passionate about public/street art, and also well-connected, so he had a lot of knowledge to share. He was able to provide history/background on the various types of street art, movements, artists, and individual pieces, and all in a way that was easy to understand. By the end of the tour, I was able to identify which artists were behind some of the pieces (although I was not very good at remembering names!), and I now find myself more aware of my surroundings as I have begun to take notice of things, art in particular, that I had overlooked before. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in getting to know this city a bit more intimately. Due to the constant evolution, it seems as though there will always be something new to explore, which is why I plan on continuing to participate every few months. Russell was kind enough to work around my schedule and willing to conduct his first night tour for us, which I really appreciated. Because it was a Friday night, we decided on a tour of the Mission instead of the Tenderloin, for obvious reasons. I brought my friend along who has lived in the city about two years, whereas I just moved to the city a few months ago. The tour had something for both of us, and we each experienced the tour and the art in a different way, which was great!
We took a tour with Russell around the Mission District in SF. Russell is an awesome tour guide! For one Russell really knows his way around the best street art in SF. Russell understands the theory and types of art and walks you through identifying these on the streets. Finally Russell loves the art around SF, knows a lot of artists personally and loves the vibrant diversity of the city and its expression! I’d go out scouting the streets of SF with Russell again!
Russell is an excellent guide with a wealth of information about street art, its creators, and its intricate history. He actually wrote a book about it! Russell gracefully navigates through SF’s Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods and points out the beauty sprouting out from the darkest corners, streets, and alleys. I personally have been looking forward to taking this trip for several years, but have never gotten around to taking it. Russell and the art he showcased definitely did not disappoint. I took a private trip, and it was wonderful. He gives you a new, beautiful perspective to the city. With so much going on, it’s easy to miss many of the artistic wonders that are right in front of your eyes. Russell points them out for you. I took a two-hour tour, which I thought would be more than enough. It barely skimmed the surface! I could have easily continued happily for an additional two hours! Russell knows such intricate detail and history about the artwork and the artists behind them, that with all the information he shares, you almost want to take out a notebook and take notes to reference later! However, there’s no need to take the trouble to do so! Why? Russell provides you with a link to a map of the places visited during the tour, as well as an email list of all the artists, and additional galleries and websites of interest. I really considered that above and beyond! I highly recommend this tour!
My best friend’s parents were in town from Charleston SC and we had an amazing time going on Russell’s street tour (btw Russell is a South Carolinian too: a wonderful bonding point for our group!) We covered an incredible amount of ground (physically and metaphorically) in 3 hours and Russell is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the changing street art scene in this city. Off-the-beaten path is thrown around a lot, and my first instinct is to say, don’t believe it, especially if it’s used to refer to the Mission. Well, I stand corrected. Russell took us off-the-beaten path in the most trodden, buzzed, blogged about, instagrammed neighborhood of SF. This is an amazing experience for a visitor or native San Franciscan--Russell will open your eyes to a whole new world within our 7x7 mile town. Be prepared to have your mind blown.
What is so special about Russell’s tour is that, afterwards, you are so much more aware of what is around you on the streets of San Francisco - you just see more! His stories about the artists and the scene are fascinating and involve you in a world that is new and hip and compelling. I can’t wait to do the tour again; he has so much knowledge to share. Thanks, Russell!
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed yesterday and how enlightening the walk was. I was a fish out of water when it came to street graffiti, stickers and stencils. I have a new appreciation, eye and lingo. I don’t think I would ever have done that tour if it weren’t for you and, since public art it is overtaking the Mission; I have come to realize it has a place in our culture. It is truly a growing art form and I thank you for introducing it to us.
INCREDIBLE TOUR, AWESOME GUIDE! But first, a little background: As an old-skool raver (think flyer art), and for other reasons, I have always loved graffiti & murals, with a large collection of photos I have taken all over the world. I knew next to nothing about the artists, history, inside meanings, etc. and only recognized one of the artist names rattled off by Russell throughout the tour (guess who... it starts with a B) However, I had my mind blown by the beauty and humor of most of the pieces we saw! San Francisco is probably home to the coolest, most mind-bending street art in the world, and I have lived here for 2.5 years, but I was still gasping with awe every 15 minutes or so at a hidden gem, or one I just never walked by. And our guide was PERFECT. A true veteran of the scene and artist himself, he was clear and detailed, incredibly knowledgeable (yet never making shit up the 2 occasions he didn’t know something), warm and humorous, and sharing the same contagious passion about street art as me. We could have talked for 3 more hours after the 3 hour tour but, unfortunately, he had another one lined up at 4pm. He left us with lots of great resources (of all different kinds of media) to continue our own research and urban art-hunting. Opened up a really sweet Pandora ’s Box of brain candy that I look forward to exploring. Worth every dollar. 5 stars out of 5 : )
Russell’s tour was interesting and engaging and I learned a lot. The 3 hours we spent walking the Mission flew by as we saw wall after wall of amazing street art. Russell is very knowledgeable about SF street art as well as the street art scene in general. I would highly recommend taking his tour and seeing all that the Mission has to offer!
I didn’t participate in Russell’s tour myself as it was a wedding gift for my little brother. Russell was very nice to communicate with. Fast replies with good information. And he kept the gift a secret until the wedding :) From my little brother’s feedback, the tour was very interesting and took them interesting places in the city they wouldn’t have found themselves. Can definitely recommend him.
Amazing experience! Russell was engaging and informative and tailored the experience to our small group. Will absolutely be recommending to everyone!
I highly recommend this tour! My 17 year old niece was visiting from overseas and selected this tour. We both enjoyed it tremendously. Russell really knows his stuff, and is friendly and easygoing to boot. I am a lifelong SF resident and I learned so much about my own city and the rich artistic history of street art in the Mission. 5 stars for sure!
Hi, I wanted to highly recommend the tour with Russell for anyone who is interested in Street Art in San Francisco. My wife and I found the tour to be extremely informative, interesting, fun and unique as it brought all of the urban surroundings to life with Russell’s amazing stories and interesting context as to every piece of art he showed us. Russell is a great guide/story teller, and customized the tour so it would fit our personal preferences. I understand he has several different tours in SF so we will definitely go on additional ones with Russell.
We had 3 great hours with Russell in the Mission District. Russell is friendly, kind, with a great sense of humor and he knows EVERYTHING about street art. He went straight to our heart and mind! Thank you, Russell!!!