At 10:30 a.m., the seals were clean, by 11 a.m. - after being told they were much loved by the community - artists from Wallspace had covered them with red paint.

Two sea lions, majestic in their size and simplicity, reign over Bartlett between 21st and 22nd streets. Today, at 10:30 a.m., artists from the collective Wallspace prepared to cover them up.

The mural by the Belgian street artist ROA had only been tagged along the bottom, but Chris from Wallspace said the sea lions had to come down — that this sort of street art could only be up for a year.

It’s not clear why the sea lions were chosen to be painted over when all along the block the walls are filled with tagging that could be cleaned up. If the sea lions are only allowed to survive a year, their time was not yet up, because they were painted in May of last year.

The reporter who happened to walk by told Chris that a year had not yet passed, and added that the sea lions are much loved by the community. If they have been able to survive tagging, why did they have to be erased?

Chris, who asked that his last name not be used, had no answers. His insistence on covering them made it feel like impending death on Bartlett, a street that has been plagued by litter and tagging.

Recently, local muralist Jet Martinez painted “Amate,” a colorful mural of birds, nearby on Bartlett Street. For the most part, taggers have left “Amate,” an adjacent restored mural and the sea lions alone.

But elsewhere along Bartlett tagging is rampant.

By 11:30 a.m., when another reporter returned to the site, the artists Geso and Nemel had covered the sea lions with a red film of paint, but had held off covering then completely. They said they had decided instead to focus on finishing the wall across the parking lot. The sea lions will come down sometime in the next month or two, they said.

The sea lions at 10:30 this morning. By 11 a.m., the Wallspace artists had covered them with a red film of paint.

ROA, a well-known street artist, created the murals when he was in San Francisco last year. Perhaps because of their height, they have gone relatively tag-free compared to everything else along Bartlett.

The artists said ROA will paint something new where the sea lions were, but we have not been able to get in touch with him. It’s not clear whether he’s been told about his sea lions being covered.

Abduzeedo, the design blog, wrote of ROA’s animals: “Roa is probably one of the most notorious street artists nowadays. Illustrating buildings, walls and everything paintable with his animals in many cities around the globe. I was not a huge fan of spray paintings, I always found that this technique was mostly related to the hip hop culture, but Roa artworks show how intense, curious and beautiful can be images done just with a spray can.”

When ROA was asked in an interview on why he didn’t paint humans or landscapes, he said, “I am obsessed by animals! For me they tell so much more about this world than any other creature, but maybe in a year I’ll only paint landscapes….”

On the wall opposite the sea lions the Wallspace artists have already created this mural.

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born...

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  1. There were three sea lions — the two young ones were on the back of the mother, i.e., the horizontal sea lion that got tagged immediately.

  2. I’ve been photographing/documenting street art/graffiti and to a lesser degree some writing for many years, but I’m not buying the story these guys are laying out about time limitation.
    If the people want a piece to remain, touching up blighted areas is totally possible.
    Think back to the pie-fight that ensued when some guys decided that Carmen Banana’s time was up in Lower Haight. There are plenty of people who grew up in that area who have never known anything but Carmen on that corner. So I’m not buying their story.

  3. WHY?! This is beautiful art. Who is this Wallspace and why do they get to make this decision? I, for one, will be spreading this news around and asking people to contact them.

  4. The “artist” NEMEL is an asshole. Sad to see him actually being put up for walls by anyone. This guy, named Jesse Geller, has been destroying other people’s murals all over the city…. most recently a popular piece in Clarion Alley that had been there for over 15 years. He deserves no love, and it sucks to see Wallspace, which has been doing some great work around town, link up with this worthless fool. And, the piece sucks.

  5. How can we stop them from being covered up. I was just commenting on Sunday how much I love them. Who should we contact??

    1. I wrote to Supervisor Campos office. Here is their response.

      “Thank you for your email. Supervisor Campos shared your concerns with the consultant to the building owner. He said he would look into the (sic)why they are painting over the mural and see if they can prevent it.”

  6. I messaged them via the wallspace facebook too. I walked down Bartlett Street last night and the sea lions are still there. It was dark so I couldn’t see the red paint shown in the pic above. Does anyone have an update?

  7. Often when someone sets out to destroy something beautiful, it is for one of the following reasons: 1. Power. 2. Spite 3. Ignorance. — anything they say is just a cover story.

  8. It might be worth noting that a proposal to build 100+ market rate units,in that location, is under review by SF Planning. In my opinion,the site developers did not want the mural to become one more neighborhood issue to be addressed that is related to the construciton of the large building.

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