The street sticker, be it ever so humble and diminutive, is profligate and sometimes even inspiring. An amalgamated scene that is anonymous, yet curiously stuck together, the organizers and sponsors of so-called sticker jams have been overwhelmed in recent years by thousands of participants.
Hand-made one-offs to slick mass-produced and custom die-cut by the hundred, these adhesive back expressions of personal branding may depict characters, slogans, witticisms, or satirical skewing of pop culture memes. Collectively these are the DNA of a global game played out in the street and in public spaces, a silent dialogue that yells quite loudly.
Artist and organizer IWILLNOT has compiled, organized, archived, and preserved this collection as a ‘field guide,’ he says, and another artist named Cheer Up has laid out page after page. It is a global cross-sample from 60 countries and a thousand artists – a treasure trove of the witty, insightful, snotty, and sometimes antisocial street bards of the moment, seizing their moment to speak and mark territory.
UNSMASHED: A Street Art Sticker Field Guide. Compiled by IWILLNOT, Designed by Cheer Up. A Collection of 1,229 full color sticker designs by 1,000 artists from more than 60 countries. Published by IWLLNOT and Cheer Up. December 2020.
The world is slowly making movements toward the door as if to go outside and begin living again in a manner to which we had been accustomed before COVID made many of us become shut-ins. Parisian street artist FKDL was no exception, afraid for his health. However, he does have a very attractively feathered nest, so he made the best of his time creating.
On the first anniversary of his 56-day confinement, we look at what art project he made for himself, using items he had collected. A serious gatherer of magazines, photographs, record albums, and objects that capture his attention, his studio is a small personal museum and archive – full of boxes and shelves and music from the era of his mid-century birth. It’s a golden age that he happily gains entrée to, especially when commanded by a global virus.
“March 17, 2020, the unprecedented experience of confinement begins in France,” writes Camille Berthelot in the introduction to Closed (in) for Inventory, “Time that usually goes so fast turns into a space of freedom, and everyone has the leisure or the obligation to devote himself to the unexpected.”
FKDL quickly began a project daily, sorting and assembling 10 items and photographing them. He posted them to his Instagram by mid-day. Eventually, he saved the photographed compositions together and created this book.
“My duty of tidying up and sorting out turned into a daily challenge. I dove like a child into the big toybox my apartment is to select and share my strange objects, my banalities, my memories, my creations, and those of others,” he writes. “I gather these treasures, valuables or not, in search of harmony of subject, forms, materials, and nuances.”
(EN)FERME POUR INVENTAIRE by Les Editions Franck Duval. Paris, France.
With precision and guile Sandra Chevrier has painted a female world that is sophisticated, unreachable and appealing, whether painted on canvas, street mural, or stuck to a wall in the margins of a city. The characters who are punching and pouncing and swooning across her faces are reflective of her own hearts’ adventures, seamlessly rolling and intermingling with those epic storylines and dust-ups with superheroes and villains of yesterday.
Perhaps it is because of this sense of inexactly placed nostalgia, in “Cages” we are aware of the ties that bind us, the roles that we hold – whether chosen or imposed – and we’re rooting for these Chevrierotic women to win – as they scream and cry and swing for the rafters, looking for the way out.
“A dance between triumph and defeat, freedom and captivity, the poison and the cure,” stands the ambivalent quote on the page facing her black and white photo by Jeremy Dionn.
A closeup of her face, her hand horizontally obscures the lower half, her index finger raised to allow Sandra to see, to study and assess. Without question this artists’ work is more than autobiographical – these expressions offer a stunned sense of mystery, an understanding at the precipice, an adventure ready to occur.
Arranged chronologically over the last decade you can witness in her works ample evidence of her refinement of technique and reverence as an artist and as an individual; struggling between revealing and hiding, adding human dimension or remaining an object. Selected swatches of superheroes form collage masks across a steady parade of beautiful female faces and forms, their drama stirred and everpresent, lying in wait until confidence takes root.
Gorgeously designed and laid out; alternating between large matt-finished plate portraits and small sketch paper inserts, the book conveys warmth and clarity even as her superheroes remain mysterious. These cages, however they present themselves, are glossy and refined. Are they empowered, or are they objectified? The lines are blurred. Her femmes are imbued as more than just the fatale who lures one into a dangerous or compromising situation, but these figures may also revel in mystery itself, just beyond your arms reach.
Inquisitive, strong, and full of imagination, Chevrier may surprise everyone when these figures eventually take off their masks. Until then, the enchanting mysteries continue.
In the Street Art continuum that presents itself to the passerby on city streets, the early practice of hand-drawn tags on stolen postal stickers eventually morphed into mass-produced slick runs of personal branding and large scale one-off hand rendered/cut paper pieces wheat-pasted with a brush. This story, ever-evolving, is more inclusive than some may think of when you talk generically about “slaps” on a door or on the base of a streetlamp in the city’s visual dialogue. For the book Stickers Vol 2, author DB Burkeman takes a wider survey of the practice, however, and in his second compendium, he goes where BSA has always followed the creative spirit; wherever it leads.
In practice, there are few strictly “sticker artists”. More often there are artists and taggers who also use stickers as part of their public practice which may include painting, aerosol tagging, freehand marker tagging, printing, wheat pasting, sculpture. By adapting the techniques and language of advertising, propaganda, and branding, artists have seized the opportunity to have a voice in the public sphere that is more often only reserved for commercial interests.
Street Artists’ practices of self-promotion are
indistinguishable from those of commercial or political interests – and why
not? The public space has always been used as a battleground for ideas, a
marketplace for attention, a proving ground of identity and power, a theater
for capturing imagination, a Socraterial classroom for presenting and probing
ideas and the examination of our assumptions about them.
In a fiercely democratic way, with a very low admission
price, all motivations are presented here, and all of them are flawed, and all
of them are perfect.
Burkeman’s sophisticated examinations of sticking practices are equally wide in his survey – his own full immersion into art, music, performance, consumer psychology, pop culture, and advertising giving him a comprehension and appreciation of its seeming seamlessness.
Burkeman’s introductory essay addresses topics ranging from billboard busting, culture jamming, market forces and Warhols’ bananas – admitting that his baseline appreciation has not waned even as his own study lead him ever deeper and deeper into an ocean he still hasn’t fully fathomed since launching his first sticker volume, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art.
“Even after ten years of having this adhesive monkey on my back, I’m surprised that I can still get a kick out of the conversation that happens on the street when someone puts up a sticker,” he says. “It’s like a radiating signal to have others put their own stickers up next to it, as if to say, ‘hey, what’s up?’ The result is a cluster of paper and vinyl personalities.”
Keeping it contemporary, he also calls in experts from this idiosyncratic world of expressions to further your appreciation for the sticking practice as a reflection of society and a catalyst for it – from the Street Artist Invader to the blue-chip curator/innovator Jeffrey Deitch to fans/visionaries like Stretch Armstrong, C.R. Stecyk III, Dante Ross, and The Super Sucklord.
Using his first book as calling card, many doors have opened to Burkeman, enabling access to collections and rarities, deep dives into the crates, selections of unknowns that you would otherwise not have access to – let alone the opportunity to appreciate. You also get a selection of stickers for your own collection by serious names, including Bast, Lister, Shepard Fairey, Skullphone, Futura, Ron English, and Neckface.
“Cheap, immediate, and unapologetically in your face, the sticker remains the go-to, lo-fi expression for many a band, brand, and fan,” says Don Letts, a founding member of Big Audio Dynamite, among other things. Clearly, the images and messages sent and received using this method have been a boon to those looking to have a voice, and the sticker practice will continue apace. Undoubtedly, DB Burkeman has it covered.
Context and placement are key to the success of Street Art. Jay Shells’s project, “The Rap Quotes” more than meets those standards. Indeed his project might be one of the most relevant examples of street art responding to a specific time and place in history that you’ll ever see.
We’ve been repping Jay Shells (Jason Shelowitz) for years since we first found his text-based signage on Brooklyn streets in the oddest of locations. Within a short time they began to make sense, and then brilliant sense – since they acted as a GPS for some of your favorite rap lyrics.
“What if somehow these lyrics existed
visually, in the exact location mentioned?” he says to illustrate his original
Since that time the artist has taken
his Rap Quotes across the country (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles),
faithfully hunting down streets and neighborhoods and corners and businesses
referenced by a host of recordings from classic rap era and a few of the new
kids on the block as well.
“I’ve always had a serious passion for
lyricism, partly because I’ve always been envious of people who are gifted with
words,” he says in his new hardcover book that documents the 5 year campaign.
It is gratifying to see him out scaling the telephone poles and climbing
ladders with drill in hand to post these signs. They are a semi-permanent claim
to public space and people’s history at the same time; a recognition of an art
form of writing that rarely gets such laudatory treatment.
See the video at the end documenting the process – which Shelowitz credits as being the force that encouraged him the most. “My friend Bucky (Turco) ran a magazine and website called Animal New York, and when I told him about the project, he wanted to be involved. He introduced me to his newly hired photographer and videographer, Aymann Ismail at a party on a Friday night in early March 2013. We hit the streets early the next morning to get the 30 signs up, with Aymann document the process. About a week later, they posted the video and photos with a short write-up, and the rest is history.”
Check out some photos of the book in
the mean time.
Anyone born after 1960, and that includes most sticker artists on the street today, has a positive association with the humble sticker. From “smiley” and “gold star” rewards stuck to the top of your grade-school class papers to scratch-n-sniff or puffy stickers to MAD magazine product parodies for Quacker Oats and Minute Lice, a lot of kids grew up with good feelings about slaps.
Over the past two decades a serious community of sticker designers, traders,
artists, exhibitors and collectors has emerged – virtually assuring that public
bathrooms in heavy metal/ punk / hip hop/ alternative music clubs will be covered
top to bottom or ‘smashed’ with stickers. Adhesive equivalents of a business
card or portfolio sample for many artists, musicians, philosophers, anarchists,
and wise guys/gals, stickers are a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get
your message out to the world.
The sticker artist and curator named “I Will Not” has rallied together
thousands, even hundreds of thousands of stickers by artists from all over the
world during the last few years to mount sticker shows inside of the gallery
space – taking the concept of a group show into near infinity. A solo practice
intended for public campaigns, the global interconnectedness of this scene is
irrefutable, enabling entire galleries to showcase a massive amount of work at
once, including these from the DC Street Sticker Expo.
Like most subcultures, this one has a semi-tight set of rules and conventions and customs. For example, it is common to share your stickers in packs with other artists, but you are expected to put theirs up in your city. As in graffiti and Street Art, it is also verboten to obscure another artists sticker with yours on the street and any violation of this rule may result in “beef”, or a street grudge and public rivalry.
A book like “Smashed” can only come about with the complete passion of an author like IWillNot, who shares his infectious enthusiasm for the sticker game in this softcover volume. Here are some images from the book, as well as a link to learn more about it.
Eloquent Vandals tells the story of how the Nuart festival has grown from a small underground festival to an Internationally acclaimed street art event. Without the usual restraints of corporate sponsorship or sales to consider, Nuart consistently brings out the best from some of the worlds leading Street Artists. This book offers an opportunity to look back over previous years and shows why Nuart is regarded as an important figure in the 21st century’s most dynamic and vital art movement. The book also tells the story of a movement that instead of fulfilling the criteria for modern art, created new arenas for art in the streets and on the Internet. The relationship between Street Art and the net is one of the things Steven Harrington and Jaime Rojo write about in ”Freed from the Wall, Street Art Travels the World”. This is one of three essays that have been written for the occasion by some of the most important and influential people in the field. Together with texts by Carlo McCormick, Tristan Manco, Martyn Reed, Logan Hicks and The Dotmasters we hope that this book can offer new reflections and perspectives on an art form that has been underestimated and under theorized for over a decade.
Anyone on the subway this morning knows what it is like to be mashed together with strangers and attitudes, a roiling mass of boobs and butts and sunglasses on the forehead, Rhiannon on the headphones next to you on the right, death metal on your left, and your upper arm is not as strong as you thought while you grab for something on the ceiling to hold onto. It’s a half sleeping mosh pit of commuters, with people who have just applied nice smelling things, but this ladies bag is still jammed into your back while you are pressing your already wrinkled summer pants against a messengers bike. Here’s an opportunity right in front of me; Might as well smash the lights and crank up the metal and have some Subwaypalooza, people! Or just go see the new Dan Witz show at Jonathan Levine Gallery tonight, that’ll be fun too.
Brooklyn based Street Artist and fine artist Dan Witz has been making art “In Plain View” as he likes to say it, for over 30 years. Throughout his prolific career he has been fearless in his exploration of art and the subjects that he likes to approach. He can paint beautiful photo-realistic canvases of still life scenes and humans in motion with the same ease as murky tormented scenes behind grimy windows and fragile and ethereal humming birds in flight or a lone tiny skate boarder gliding across a rusted metal wall. Pairing his study of light, his classically trained technique, and an enduring punk rock attitude, Witz’s body of work often takes it where you haven’t gone, and might be afraid to.
Mr. Witz’s new book, “In Plain View”, shows how in a span of 30 years he has pushed psychological limits with triggers in your periphery, a pursuit of interactive art with prickly engaging relevance in the public, if the public slows down and sees it. A storyteller out in the open, you’ll stop dead in your tracks when Witz hits you, commanding you to stay there until you can figure out what the hell that is, and ponder why is it there. What’s the story behind this faux door with two humans passionately kissing in the dark? Or this figure behind the wire crossed window; is she in pain? Is he dead? Is this real?
Dan’s solo show “Mosh Pits, Human and Otherwise” is opening tonight at the Jonathan Levine Gallery.
Author Joseph J. Depre has been traveling around the world to photograph and write about Street Art for the last few years and and when he returned to his hometown of Chicago he rediscovered his love and appreciation for the art in the streets of his city. The images in his first book just released give a very good documentation of the current scene while his essays are personal, poetic and passionate.
Opening tomorrow at the Chicago Urban Art Society is a retrospective of work by many of the artists on that scene today. With brand new works curated in this not-for-profit gallery environment developed by Lauren Pacheco and Peter Kepha, visitors will have the chance to see the Street Art talent that is growing in their community, including pieces by Artillary, Bonus Saves, Brooks Golden, Chris Silva, CLS, Senor Codo, Cody Hudson, CRO, Cyro, Chris Diers, Don’t Fret, Emen, 80 Legs, Tom Fennell IV, “It’s Yours, Take It”, Goons, The Grocer, Juan Angel Chavez, Kepto Salem, Melt, Nick Adam, Oscar Arriola, Poor Kid, Safety First, Saro, Sighn, Solve, Tiptoe, The Viking, You are Beautiful, among others. More information about the show at the end of the post.
Debuting his book “Chicago Street Art” for the first time at the opening, Mr. Dupre is very excited to see the show come to fruition after nearly a year of planning. Brooklyn Street Art asked him about the Chicago scene today and his new book and he gives us some insights here. We also had an opportunity to shoot some art on the streets of Chicago last month – see photos by Jaime Rojo after the interview.
Brooklyn Street Art: How long have you been preparing this book “Chicago Street Art”?
Joseph Depre: I originally had the idea for a book on Chicago Street Art when I started to integrate into the Chicago Street Art community in 2004. I think that is about the time I started writing. I was fascinated by these unique artists and was lucky enough to be able to talk openly with a good number of them, bounce ideas off the artists and they helped me refine my thoughts. As I traveled I was able to get together with Street Artists in cities like New York, Berlin, Barcelona, and Sao Paulo. After experiencing the Street Art in these cities and got back to the States my thoughts reflected back to Chicago and the incredible history of Street Art we have here and I thought it was important to give Chicago the recognition it deserves. So I’ve sent the last 9 months talking to all of the Artists and putting this all together.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you introduce us to the Chicago Street Art scene at this moment from an artist and creative perspective? Joseph Depre: I won’t be so forward to say I can tell you anything from an artist perspective, but as a conscious observer I can say there are a lot of good things happening in Chicago at the moment. Nice-One seems have refined his characters with an air-brush technique that looks really nice. Don’t Fret has really been putting in his time and effort. His characters are always fun and expressive. He’s turning into to a great storyteller. Mental 312 has been hitting the streets hard and doing some really beautiful work. He’s one of my favorite artists right now.
TipToe (photo courtesy of the author) from “Chicago Street Art”
Brooklyn Street Art: Chicago has a very active anti-graffiti program, which cleans or “buffs” pieces, good and not so good, quickly with brown paint. Can you talk about how Street Artists have responded to the efficient and rapacious pace of buffing?
Joseph Depre: Most of the Street Artist I know really hate the buff and attribute the fact that Chicago has so little international Street Art respect to “the buff.” But all of these Artists just work harder in spite of the Buff. In New York one piece can stay up for years, in the Chicago the Street Artist has to do 20 pieces just to stay up through the season.
Brooklyn Street Art: Street Artists like Chris Silva and Cody Hudson have gone beyond two-dimensional painted works to create sometimes expansive sculptural set installations. Do you see more stuff like this around Chicago these days?
Joseph Depre: Oh Yeah. The first artist that comes to mind is CLS. It is really amazing what he has been able with scraps of wood and branches he finds on the street.
Brooklyn Street Art: Borrowing a tenet from the flash mob street manifestations of the last decade, Street Artists like BonusSaves devised something called “It’s Yours, Take It”. Can you talk about this practice of giving art to the public and how it has become an international programmatic approach to engaging communities? Joseph Depre: The Internet has really helped out with this. Through sites like Flickr, BonusSaves is able to organize and direct hundreds of people from all over the place. All with the same state of mind and love of giving art to people and bringing communities together through gifting creativity. But it is not solely his doing… All the artists really believe in the idea and have been running installations in cities all over the world all by themselves. It really is a testament to the power of people to come together and do something really good just for the sake of doing something good.
Brooklyn Street Art:You dedicate a few pages of your book to the occurrence of a piece attributed to London Street Artist Banksy on a wall in Chicago, and the response of the city and other street artists to it. Is there such a thing as a “Banksy Revolution”? Joseph Depre: I cannot say what Banksy’s actual intent is – only he knows what that is. For my part, I hope he’s attempting a revolution. If not then we are all the butt of a pretty sick joke. I also hope that he doesn’t get discouraged, I think people are just starting to listen. Maybe not the people who were introduced to Street Art through “Exit, Through the Gift Shop” but others.
Brooklyn Street Art: What do you think distinguishes the Chicago scene and why do you feel an affinity for it?
Joseph Depre: Other than Chicago being my home and my introduction to Street Art, I think there are quite a few things that distinguish it from the rest of the world. The sculptural history exemplified by the likes of Juan “Angel” Chavez, Cody Hudson, and Chris Silva would be a good place to start. The other thing is that all of the artists are personally close here. Everyone knows everyone. They don’t just meet up at shows and events but talk on a regular basis and are invested in each others’ lives and success.
Brooklyn Street Art had the fortune to be in Chicago for a day recently where photographer Jaime Rojo got an afternoon to run around shooting as much as he could find. Brooklyn artist Gaia had recently been in the city and he left some nice gifts for the Chicago art lovers to enjoy. The images below are from that visit to Chicago and are not a part of the book “Chicago Street Art”
Street Artist Josh MacPhee is also an author, cultural reviewer, activist, and about 27 other things. He recently reviewed a new book on street art from San Francisco and shared it with us.
In Josh’s writing you can always get a sense for the historical underpinnings of the street art and public art movement that arose apart from the graffiti scene, as well as the deep connections between social justice, education, and the mural as message. Rather than being a derisive self-satisfied critic, one can appreciate Josh’s opinion because he takes the time to educate himself, consequently educating us in the process.
Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo by Annice Jacoby and Carlos Santana, Abrams, 2009
Josh’s review of
Street Art San Francisco
I gotta say, at the first crack of the spine of this book I was immediately nostalgic for San Francisco, strangely enough a city I’ve never even lived in! There was something extremely powerful about the streets of SF between 1997-2004, even for a visitor and outsider like me. Coming to the city, and the Mission District in particular, was like walking into a giant, explosive, exciting car crash of ideas, experiences, ideologies and people. The walls literally dripped with the shrapnel, covered with the remnants of 1970s & 80s murals, anti-gentrification screenprinted posters, art student graffiti, Latino gang markings, weirdo street artists, anarchist slogans, and billboards triumphantly announcing the dot-com and real estate booms. And for the most part this book does a great job of capturing that energy and feeling, carrying us through the blur.
Although Street Art SF is broken into sections, they are fairly hard to distinguish, which in many ways is a good thing, allowing the reader to flow from one style to another, fade between histories, jump between artists, just like a pedestrian on Valencia, Bryant or Mission streets would. Don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t just another edition pulled of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of dull “Street Art” book cash-ins. Likely a smart marketing move to put street art first in the title, this is really a mural book that understands and values the contributions that street art and graffiti have added to the brew of public expression.
Images from Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo
From an outsider’s perspective the book is quite exhaustive, from the origins of the SF mural scene in Diego Rivera’s 1930s/40s trips to the Bay Area to the Billboard Liberation Front and everything in between. So many of the diverse artists that have added to the walls of SF are in here that it makes the head spin (including Rivera, Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Juana Alicia, Susan Kelk Cervantes, TWIST/Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Susan Greene, Ester Hernandez, Michael Roman, ESPO, Mona Caron, Scott Williams, SF Print Collective, Chris Ware, Rigo, Swoon, Cuba, Andrew Schoultz, Ray Patlan, Aaron Noble, Ivy Jeanne, Heart 101, Aaron Noble, and hundreds of others). By carrying us back and forth through all these artists and history, the book helps express the larger birds eye view of the Mission scene, something that is different and more than just a sum of its parts. But don’t worry, most of those parts are here, too, and many of them not just captured in images, but also in the words and ideas of the artists. The pictures tell a million stories, but thankfully we’re given some written history and stories too. Each page answers questions I’ve always had, including the origin of the thumb-sucking Wolverine painting in Clarion Alley, how the Balmy Alley murals came to be, and the names and pieces of stories of dozens of artists whose work I’ve admired on the street for years but I knew little or nothing about.
Images from Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo
Although I first started visiting SF in the mid-90s, it wasn’t until 2001-2003 that I started spending significant time in the city, or adding to the messages on the walls (full disclosure: one of the quick and dirty murals I designed with friends is featured in the book).