"Dream" -- Graffiti artist Mike Dream

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian May 2, 2007

Graffiti writer Michael Francisco, a.k.a. Mike Dream (1969-2000), was already a legend when he was murdered during a robbery. "They wouldn't have shot him if they knew who he was," his younger brother and fellow Those Damn Kids crew member Lil John says. And no doubt, this is true. Like Too Short, the Filipino American spray can artist claimed 1983 as his debut year and Oakland as his turf, and he is likewise cited as a founder, albeit visual, of Bay Area hip-hop.

The group show "Dream" highlights the artist's work alongside tributes by TDK and various other crews. Given the ephemeral, site-specific nature of graffiti, many of Dream's works are present only in photographs or re-creations by his colleagues. Yet this hardly diminishes their power. Tax Dollars Kill (1995) - designed by Dream and executed with the TDK crew - exemplifies the formal sophistication of his work: the top suggests pop art in its reproduction of the US dollar font, at once faithful and distorted, though it surrounds an image of protest quite foreign to Warhol world.

Graf writers often reserve their greatest eloquence for their signatures, and the bottom half - contributors' tags in nearly indecipherable lettering known as wildstyle - evokes abstract expressionism in a manic confusion of figure and ground. There's even a hint of surrealism in the hypnagogic face with dollar-bill eyes, seemingly emerging in the center to unite the upper and lower halves. This is art of rare complexity and outsider imagination.

DREAM Through May 15. Open during events and by appointment. Rx Gallery, 132 Eddy, SF. (415) 756-8825, www.rxgallery.com, www.dreamtdk.com

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