The ever-polarizing San Francisco street artist Fnnch—he of the ubiquitous, love-them-or-love-to-hate-them honey bears—certainly keeps an eye on what’s trending. Case in point: His latest series, “Stanley,” which focuses on the insulated drink tumblers that have become the Gen Z obsession du jour.
Fnnch’s new collection is timely, to say the least. On Wednesday, the artist opened his Mission District studio for a single night of Stanley-mania, showing off the 29 pieces of art in the collection. There are five Fnnch signature honey bears ($495) clutching tumblers resembling Stanley’s popular “Quencher” cup as well as 24 one-of-a-kind canvases ($550) that feature the tumblers on their own—each in a different jewel-toned shade, with most colors based on current or past Stanley shade offerings.
But if anyone in the roughly 50-person crowd was hoping to buy something from the collection, their options were limited: While the bears will be open for preorder for a limited time, after which Fnnch will paint them to order, the individual canvases are “one of one” and sold out that morning in a little over an hour.
It seems the “gotta catch ’em all” mentality of online Quencher collectors extends to Fnnch’s art, too, with one buyer scooping up nine canvases in a single order.
“There’s something fundamental to human nature about collecting,” Fnnch said, nodding to his own collections of street art from around the world as well as rare “Magic: The Gathering” cards he coveted as a child.
While water bottles and tumblers have mostly been marketed as a way to replace single-use plastic water bottles, Fnnch recognizes that the Stanley-mania is less about being eco-friendly and more about hyperconsumption and status.
“When you have every color, obviously you’ve gone far beyond what is environmentally advantageous,” he said.
What's Up With Stanley Cups, Anyway?
In case you’ve missed the brand’s TikTok tidal wave, Stanley drinkware—specifically the 40-ounce “Quencher” tumbler, featuring a handle, a lid with a straw and a base designed to fit in a standard car cup holder—has been steadily gaining popularity on social media for over a year. The rise of Stanley-focused TikToks coincided with #watertok, a 2023 TikTok trend that saw thousands of people (mostly girls and young women) mixing together various flavor packets and powders into brand new, saccharine “water” concoctions of their own—often in Stanley tumblers.
The Stanley trend reached new heights in late 2023, when a woman shared a TikTok about her car catching on fire. In the video, she approaches her burnt-out shell of a vehicle, reaches in and pulls out a mostly unscathed orange Quencher, the only object in the car that appeared to survive the fire. “It still has ice in it,” the woman said, rattling the Quencher to prove her point.
The video went viral, with over 95 million views on TikTok as of late January. Stanley, which offers a lifetime warranty on their products, seized on the marketing opportunity and reached out to the creator to offer her more tumblers as well as a new car.
By the time the holidays rolled around, the Stanley frenzy was at a fever pitch. People started collecting Stanleys in every color they could track down. Videos of cabinets stocked with Stanleys in every shade of the rainbow surfed algorithmic waves of popularity, people lined up for hours to buy Stanleys in limited-edition colors and Stanleys appeared on so many teens’ Christmas wish lists that they earned the number one spot in venture capitalist and writer Casey Lewis’ analysis of hundreds of “What I Got for Christmas” videos.
As for those who might accuse the millennial-core Fnnch of pandering to Gen Z—an emerging group of art buyers—well, the crowd at his Mission studio was mostly 30- and 40-somethings to this reporter’s eye. There were also a handful of young children, who no doubt have become familiar with Fnnch’s work during the pandemic, when paper cutouts of the artist’s most popular work, the honey bear, appeared in apartment windows all over town.
When the show was announced on Instagram, some accused Fnnch of flaunting an undisclosed sponsorship with Stanley. But the artist pointed to the many consumer goods he’s included in his previous work in an email sent the day of the show. “These paintings are not endorsements. They are simply objects I find interesting. … Your opinion may differ. It's art.”
It’s true—from his painted renditions of La Croix cans in 2017 to Nike kicks in 2019, Fnnch has long created pop-art style work in the manner of Warhol, perhaps sans subversion. He also claims true brand loyalty to Stanley, having used their now-discontinued Clip Grip mug as his drinkware of choice at Burning Man for the past 10 years.
“I’m not being paid by Stanley. I have no affiliation with them at all,” Fnnch said in an interview prior to the show.
That said, he did reach out to the company’s marketing team ahead of the show to see if it had interest in some sort of collaboration, but he didn’t get much of a response.
“They’re probably pretty busy right now,” he said.