Girafa Arrested?

Mr Long Neck

Just learned from my friend Troy Holden that apparently San Francisco based graffiti artist Girafa has been arrested.

From the Mercury News:

“San Jose police Thursday announced the arrest of a suspect they described as one of the most prolific graffiti artists in the Bay Area.

Steven Free, 30, of San Francisco was arrested Tuesday on a $100,000 warrant, charging him in 10 felony cases in San Jose involving $40,000 in damages

Free used the tagging moniker “Girafa,” and the cartoon character of a giraffe, police said.

During a search of his San Francisco home, officers discovered thousands of pictures of graffiti with the “Girafa” moniker and cartoon characters of giraffes on several of his social Web sites.

“He was just causing a lot of vandalism around the Bay Area, anywhere he would find a spot, he would use this moniker,” said San Jose police officer Jermaine Thomas.”

This is too bad. Girafa is one of my favorite graffiti artists in San Francisco. It amazes me that someone could be charged with 10 felonies for sharing their art with the world and making the world a more beautiful place. Girafa’s work mostly ended up on abandoned and shut down businesses. It is always a treat for me when I run across one of his paintings.

Artists like Girafa don’t belong in prison. They are a part of our cultural landscape. Troy has a great collection of Girafa images that you can see here. There is a group on Flickr devoted to his work here.

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  1. Jeff Henderson says:

    “It amazes me that someone could be charged with 10 felonies for sharing their art with the world and making the world a more beautiful place.” I enjoy looking at “some” graffiti that is actually art, but the unfortunate fact is that most of it is gang tags that are painted on someone elses property. Abandoned or not someone owns the surface that the graffiti was applied to and someone ultimately has to pay to paint over it or clean it up. I pretty sure you would not be OK with someone coming over to your house and spraying graffiti on across the front or your house and on your front door. It would really be cool is someone could set up a public place for graffiti artists legally to display their work. The space could be managed so that artists would have a set amount of time for their work to be displayed and then others would have a chance to share their work. This could be publicized so that we could all visit to enjoy and photograph their work.

  2. Steve Rotman says:

    “I enjoy looking at “some” graffiti that is actually art, but the unfortunate fact is that most of it is gang tags that are painted on someone elses property.”

    That is not a fact, Jeff. It’s simply false. It’s a myth. The fact is that most graffiti (at least in the Bay Area) has absolutely nothing to do with gangs, including most tags.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jeff, I hear you, but the thing is that Girafa was not painting on my house, or your house, or anyone’s house really that I ever saw. He was largely painting in abandoned locations. Ugly blight on our landscape. The photographs of his work that I shot were on public concrete freeway pilars, inside of long abandoned factories, along railroad tracks on the backs of buildings, etc.

    Personally I think our world and artistic landscape is enhanced by work like this on our urban blight. I’d much rather have his familiar giraffe smiling up at me than simply more concrete in a vast ocean of concrete. I suppose I might agree with you if he’d been vandalizing people’s homes, but he wasn’t.

    I agree with Steve as well. While some might assume that much of urban graffiti is gang related, very little of it actually is. And I think that there is also a difference between the types of murals and paintings that artists like Girafa make vs. simply ugly tags and scrawls.

    I do wish that we had more public areas in our cities for murals and artistic expression, but when we don’t, I really don’t have a problem with artists choosing abandoned buildings, railroad cars, etc. as their new canvas.

  4. BJ says:

    “I suppose I might agree with you if he’d been vandalizing people’s homes, but he wasn’t.”
    “I really don’t have a problem with artists choosing abandoned buildings, railroad cars, etc.”

    Why does that matter, he is still vandalizing property. That owner has the right to decide what is put on his or her property.

    Just looked at the flickr set, not only does he vandalize property he also trespasses.

    It really doesn’t matter if anyone likes his art, what he does is illegal and for good reason.

  5. William Beem says:

    How does he conclude which property is OK to deface with his art? Seriously? He doesn’t know what plans the owner has for the property. They may be trying to sell it and potential buyers may be turned off by graffiti, gang related or not.

    Painting on someone else’s property without their consent is selfish and destructive. He’s 30 years old. It’s time he grew up and took responsibility for his actions. If he wants to paint a building, let him seek permission (or a paid contract) from the owner. There are better ways to be an artist than to be a vandal.

  6. torbak says:

    you play the game, you pay for a ticket when you get caught.

    i’m glad people play the game.

    it sucks when some of them get caught, but that’s okay. they deserve it.

    and it can help their reputations these days. people can blog about it.

  7. brad77 says:

    Regardless of whether you feel he’s defacing or “enhancing” ugly buildings, does the punishment fit the crime here?

    Torbak, you say that you should pay the ticket when you get caught, but it looks like his punishment will be much harsher than just a ticket. If it ends up that he merely has to pay a fine, we might find some balance (depending on the severity of the fine, of course).

    California Penal Code section 594 states that each count of felony vandalism (graffiti) with damages amounting to over $400 may carry up to a year in prison, or a fine. If the sentences are served consecutively (I can’t imagine they would be, but IANAL so who knows), that’s a lot of jail time. If they add up all the damages, he could get nailed with up to $50K in fines (or possibly more) and/or incarceration!

    Seems like a hard line position to take against an artist painting abandoned buildings and storage containers. I hope for his sake that’s not how it plays out for him.

  8. BJ says:

    “Seems like a hard line position to take against an artist painting abandoned buildings and storage containers. I hope for his sake that’s not how it plays out for him.”

    Take a look at the flickr stream. He tag residential buildings, commercial buildings, box trucks, vans, rail road cars and public roadway sides – NOT just abandoned buildings.

    And once again – someone owns that property, he has no right to deface it.

    Jail time is deserved.

  9. Mike Stanley says:

    Yeah, I don’t quite get the permissive attitude towards defacing private or public property. Private owners, even of closed businesses/buildings, will have to paint over that stuff at some point. Public property has to be cleaned, and that’s a waste of tax money.

    And as others have pointed out, there is ample evidence that a decent amount of his work appeared not only on abandoned businesses, but trucks, vans, and residential buildings. It isn’t less wrong on any of those or even on public property – it is vandalism period.

    Seems strange that a die-hard advocate of photographers’ rights, someone who asserts that “photography is not a crime” would also defend something that clearly is a crime. Calling it art and saying it makes urban blight easier to handle doesn’t make it any less of a crime.

  10. Steve Rotman says:

    I’m all too aware that most people disagree, but no amount of smug, chest-thumping about property rights and “crime” can make me feel any less warmly about an artist who creatively enhances otherwise drab surfaces with those terrific whimsical giraffes.

    That’s the kind of thing that brightens my day and makes the Bay Area a better place to be.

  11. Glad says:

    Glad he was caught, looking at his Flickr work, he paints on lots of non-abandoned buildings

  12. hah! says:

    Unless you have actually traveled to the location to take the picture you can in no way judge from a photo if the place was abandoned or not. Alot of those cuts are in abandoned areas with homeless encampments. Don’t you think those people who owned those abandoned buildings have a responsibility to keep a clean living atmosphere? Of course not because private owners have the right to do what they want with their property. Graffiti in those areas is not a blight, it’s like an urban canvas. I have never seen his work on any residential building in the Bay Area. I challenge you to find one and flick it with the owner in front. AND this is not the SFPD prosecuting it’s San Jose police. So lock him up and throw away the key? You should feel proud that your tax dollars are going to lock up artists. That’s a good use of your taxpayer dollars right? Not cleaning up the freeways… not providing safe shelter for the thousands sleeping on the street in encampments. It’s illegal to sleep on the street. It’s illegal to make shanty’s and live on the private property of an abandoned building. But do those people get prosecuted? No, because it’s not profitable. It’s easier for a PD to thump their chest when they arrest someone who is in the public eye. Look what they did in LA… using federal stimulus money to clean paint instead of helping the homeless and the poor.

    Way to go society!

  13. fax says:

    BTW… more money is spent on removing TRASH from our streets than graffiti:

    — 7,622,234 square feet of graffiti were removed from along freeways in the district last year, including 4,479,674 square feet within the city.

    — Removing the graffiti cost $2.7 million.

    — 60,743 cubic yards of litter were removed from freeways in the district last year, including 14,438 cubic yards in the city of L.A. For what it’s worth, I notice that sometimes it takes a week or more for Caltrans to remove bumpers and various other car parts lodged in the guardrail of the Pasadena Freeway.

    — Removing the garbage cost $8 million.

    These are just LA County estimates, I can’t imagine any other county spending more on graf than garbage.

  14. […] arrest has prompted calls by some Bay Area bloggers to “Free Free” and has revived the old graffiti […]

  15. vandelsreignsupreme says:

    if this is first time caught hell get a plee. doubt there will be jail time just a shit load of community service.

    a lot of you dont and never will understand graffiti but keep in my we dont give a shit nor do it for those who dont.

  16. MICO says:

    GIRAFA’s work is really “cartooning.”

    Then there is “graffiti,” the type of scribbles that Cy Twombly does.

    And then there is “Writin’ ” or “writing” one’s name, what we invented during the Original School of Writin’ in NYC in 1970.

    ya dig?

  17. John says:

    “Unless you have actually traveled to the location to take the picture you can in no way judge from a photo if the place was abandoned or not. ”

    I agree. My family owns a business and one of Free’s pieces were on one of the large vehicles that was being used for deliveries. The vehicle was clearly marked..

  18. FREE GIRAFA! says:

    […] arrest has prompted calls by some Bay Area bloggers to “Free Free” and has revived the old graffiti […]

  19. One of our best Graffiti artists we see here in the Bay Area. ” GIRAFA” We loved the giraffe head the best. We would see how many times we would see it though out the Bay Area. True it’s illegal to draw on cars and stuff. But his work was good.
    And we didn’t see that much harm as you see others. It’s also illegal to come to America without the proper papers. But you don’t see the police trying to stop them? Plese go to and click on the Girafa picture and let us know how we can get some shirts made. I would love to have a t-shirt of this Giraffe.

  20. FREE GIRAFA says:

    What seperates Steven Free’s “vanadlism” as some would call it, is his imaginative character: the Giraffe; done in a cartoon like fashion. His tags and throwies are seldom seen compared to his myriad of Giraffes, in all phases, with different moods. It truly is ART in its purest form, it’s a Giraffe for crying out loud. It’s not chicken scratch like you see everyday while traveling down the freeway, it’s not the crossed out names, it’s not the graff thats non-legible, it’s not like he WANTS to destroy the property (owned or not). In an interview with “I hate graffiti” magazine, Steven Free said, and I quote, ”I paint giraffes to bring awareness that wild animals don’t belong in…zoos. Just like a painted giraffe doesn’t belong on a rooftop, a city wall, or a delivery truck, right?” he told the magazine. In the article, Girafa goes on to explain his connection to San Jose, saying he was raised there.
    “I was a deformed baby and placed for sale because the San Francisco Zoo had no place for half-breeds,” he said. “My owners from San Jose purchased me and I grew up away from my giraffe mother and zookeeper father.” On another point, as stated in a couple posts above, someone said that cleaning up graffiti is costly at the taxpayers expense. That is true in some sense, but have you even considered how easy it is to take a brush and paint over something? How CHEAP paint is, thus having more vandals because of the cheap paint. You can literally purchase 10 gallons of white paint at home depot for no more than $25. If it takes about a gallon on average to paint a normal sized bedroom, how much would 10 gallons cover? A LOT. So why is it then that money is used on the graffiti removal. Why not fix the freakin cracks in the freeway? Oh wait, because we have earthquakes? And they would just come back? Well, same scenario with graff. You paint over it, it will be bombed again. Why not use it to house homelesses like another man said. Living on the street is illegal! Yet they don’t prosecute them because it’s too expensive. Eh?! And another person said, money is being used to clean the streets of san jose. You’re kidding right? I rarely see city workers out on duty picking up trash, or even clearing out weeds. Guess who mainly gets rid of the trash? The people. You see those elderly distressed men and women pushing food carts full of bottles, cans, plastics, cardboard…any that can be recycled. San jose is one of the cleanest cities in the country. But back to Giraffa and his amazing art. Some say its vandalism, and I agree to some extent. Some say its art, and I agree completely. So what do I think? Lets just put it this way…I’d rather go about driving catching a few realisticly painted giraffes than passing by something that says “fuck ‘this’ crew” or “can’t be stopped.” His art is non-verbal and yet it carries out an array of messages. Just set his free, let the Giraffe out of his cage. It’s inhumane. =P

  21. baybbaybay says:

    Some trouble with the law wont stop Girafa,trust me. 😛

  22. Carlos Gomez says:

    You guys are all idiots if you think posting these comments are going to stop graffiti, graffiti is a form of art and it gives cities like San Fransisco its urban vibe, and for some taggers the thrill of it being illegal is why they do it. The point is that wheter you like it or no graffiti will continue to happen and you are going to have to deal with it. And you should support art wheter its on paper or on walls.

  23. Ed says:

    the punishment does not fit the crime. and by the way you guys acting hard about property rights…the places he tagged were not storefronts or houses…they were not of consequence. still you say the property owner has a right as to what goes on it. well if they didnt leave it in such a state of disrepair maybe he wouldnt have deemed it usable. graff artists only tag places they think their work will stay up, not well maintained areas. and when it comes down to it we just dont give a shit about your property rights on those buildings. got a problem? try catching us.

    also freeway pillars, public bullshit like that should be freegame