“I don’t like looking at TVs,” says fine artist and Radical Faerie Brian Busta. “They’re so ugly.” And that, in part, is what makes his expansive, sun-dappled Castro apartment so special—its fantasy decor with nary an inkling of anything from the contemporary world.
Television sets and laptops are tucked away in favor of rustic and used objects collected over the years, which Busta has strewn about in careful, loving fashion.
For the last decade, Busta (who also goes by the name “Chickpea,” a Radical Faerie sobriquet he picked up during a stay at Oregon’s Wolfcreek commune in the ’90s) has been at the helm of designing glowing installations for Comfort and Joy, an LGBT non-profit that began as a bawdy, sexually-charged Burning Man camp.
In addition to creating works for the queer artist group, Busta has also collaborated with the City of San Francisco on the the AIDS National Memorial Grove 25th Anniversary celebration.
Outside of his work, Busta spends much time at home. And it’s easy to see why. Located in the heart of the Castro, with views overlooking the iconic Cafe Flore, his top-floor flat inside a circa 1900 Victorian features a dramatic makeshift chandelier in the entryway, a discarded theater puppet in the kitchen, and a full-scale, in-home aviary in the living room.
The floor to ceiling bird cages grace both the east and west walls of his living room, accented with fake foliage and antique auxiliary birdcages. “Since I’ve lived here, I have always had some sort of animal element." When he first moved into the space, he had a bunch of fish tanks in the living room, which were followed by a flock of parrots, then a few dogs, and then several cats.
“I was like the Saint Francis Assisi of cats,” says Busta.
His kitchen is also a showroom for his art. You won’t find a white bowl of granny smiths or a Heath Ceramics pitcher here. Instead, Busta has transformed his fridge and cabinets into a historic catalogue of San Francisco’s drag scene.
From ’90s-era shots of Juanita More and Heklina to drag parties in Dolores Park, an entire side of the cozy kitchen is saturated with print photos of the past.
Aside from the his own artwork adorning the walls, as well as the work of other local (Billy Bowers and Timothy Cummings, just to name two), much of the decor inside Busta’s home is strictly found. Literally. From the broken up kayak in the kitchen picked up at Land’s End (”I personally lugged these pieces up the cliff to get them home”) to the glass coromandel flanking the living room’s entryway, many of the design elements Busta personally picked up from corners of the Bay Area.
Most notable is the massive bellows he picked up in the East Foothills, a wooden hunker used years ago at an industrial factory in the Bay Area. The bellows is used to frame a vivd art piece Busta picked up while in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, which fit perfectly inside the old wooden tool.
He also showers with buoys he finds strewn along Bay Area coastal beaches. “Is that weird that I bathe with them? Because I do.”
Other eye-catching items are mounted antlers, which he had well before they became staples at trendy eateries, and the array of antique cuckoo clocks bunched together on the wall.
“The clocks go well with the real-life birds,” he points out.
But the most historic thing about this home is what used to happen in the windows come All Hallow’s Eve. Busta is the creator of the now famous GayGlo guerilla theater pieces he and his friends performed in the windows that face Castro Street. Gaudy and bright events set to music that were politically and sexually charged. (Full-frontal male nudity was de rigueur at each and every blessed performance.)
The GayGlo shows, which have since been banned by local authorities, started when Busta lived at 18th and Castro in 1989. It all started with a single black light.
He explains: “My friends and I were drunk one night, so we drew a colorful penis cutout, put it in the window, and turned on the black light. I told my friend to dance in front of it while I went downstairs and told everyone on the busy sidewalk there was a show going above Walgreen’s.”
The shows proved so popular that residents used to block the streets in order for people to watch the show from the middle of the busy intersection.
“We were so political back then, this was the early ‘90s mind you, so we decided to take it further and keep doing them.
After Busta moved to his current place, after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged his old apartment, he continued with the GayGlo performances, which became more elaborate with better production value.
“We would work for months on the performances.”
Today Busta saves his work for the Comfort and Joy parties. And his apartment is now used as a studio space. When he needs to work, he rearranges a wall in the living room to create a dual space where he can work and relax. But for the most part, his entire home is his canvas.
From a bedroom fit for a “Rhiannon” video shoot (bewitching with its liberal use of swaths of fabric and antique lamps) to a staircase that doubles as a museum of rusty garden tools (Busta has created floral pieces for Ixia), his home is not only an escape from the busy urban metropolis outside, but a journey to another world altogether.