Interview with DB Burkeman

Shepard Fairey. Photo by RJ Rushmore

In 2010, Rizzoli published the definitive book on stickers and sticker art. That book is Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art by DB Burkeman and Monica LoCascio. DB seems to be the ultimate sticker fanatic, and his book tells the history of stickers in a way that only someone completely obsessed could possibly pull off. If you don’t know anything about stickers, you can skim through and get an introduction. If you’re already interested, Stuck-Up Piece of Crap gives a behind-the-scenes look at everything from early graffiti stickers to stickers in the music world to the homes and minds of sticker collectors. Of course, DB has quite a sticker collection himself. A small chunk of DB’s collection will be on display starting tomorrow at Maxwell Colette Gallery in Chicago, alongside a few other sticker-related events (and he and Martha Cooper will be signing books at the gallery on Saturday from 1-3pm). I spoke with DB last week…

RJ: Why do you think you are drawn to stickers?

DB Burkeman: It’s changed over the years for me, but now the simple answer is they are simply tiny portable works of art. That may have a different answer for each person.

RJ: In your collecting habits, do you differentiate between “art stickers” or “graffiti stickers” and stickers intended as advertisements?

DB: Never really thought about that, but I’m less drawn to stickers that are obviously advertisements. I’ve also become more picky since overdoing on the damn things : )

Poke and Gee. Photo by RJ Rushmore

RJ: How many stickers do you have in your collection?

DB: Somewhere between 4000-6000 & growing, much to my family & friends annoyance. It can take a long time to get down the street with me, I keep stopping to check out lampposts etc.

RJ: Have you ever ruined any particularly good stickers while trying to take them off the street for you collection?

DB: I dont think so. If it looks like a sticker may tear while taking off something, I make do with a photo of it & leave it in place. I only became became a collector of street stickers about 5 years ago when starting to work on the book. There was a postal NeckFace that I tried to remove & I could see it would tear, so I just shot it, called Martha & she ran downtown with her magic spray & got it for her collection.

I’ve had one or two haters get at me for “stealing” stickers from the streets. But I’ve always believed that creators would probable be cool with me talking them, if they knew they would be included in the book, or exhibition. And we have always said, we will return any sticker peeled from the street, if asked. Shepard Fairey defended me to a hater, saying I was documenting history & important. That really made me feel good about it.

Neckface. Photo by RJ Rushmore

RJ: How did you decide what to include in the Stuck Up show?

DB: It’s been very hard to pick actually. I wish we had unlimited space & budget to show it all. The current exhibition is a very tightly curated collection. It’s dope. My hope is that as the exhibition goes around the county, museums will learn of it & we might one get to show it all.

Aiko, Faust and others. Photo by Caroline Caldwell

RJ: What is Slap Happy and how can people support the project?

DB: Slap Happy debuted in Dec in Miami at the Wynwood Walls during Art Basel. It is a charity sticker invitational curated by Paul Weston and myself. The project includes designs from 75 of our visual communicators from around the globe who have each created an intimate, same size, black and white sticker. We still have a few of the sets & black books for the show on Friday. Proceeds from the project will go to Acceptance House, a drug rehab facility in Miami.

Just a few of the really great contributors are Aiko, Bigfoot, Dave Denis, Stanley Donwood, Shepard Fairey, Grotesk, Cody Hudson, Paul Insect, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson, Mel Kadel, Anthony Lister, Travis Millard, Kenzo Minami, Kenny Scharf, Stikman, Shane Swank, The Designers Republic, The London Police, James Victore, Tim Noble / Sue Webster, Paul Weston,  Wolfy and Zevs.

RJ: What was the most surprising thing you came across while researching for Stuck Up Piece of Crap?

DB: The most surprising thing, was definitely how many incredible famous people, just said “Yes” when I got to the to ask if I could include them.

Swampy, Bird or Prey, and other. Photo by RJ Rushmore

RJ: Why do you think people are driven put up stickers for other people or brands?

DB: I think its a just way of showing love or support for a band, brand or artist. Unless of course, they are putting them up as a paid street team.

RJ: What makes a successful sticker or stickering campaign?

DB: I like the ones where I cant tell what the hell it means : )

Shepard Fairey. Photo by RJ Rushmore

RJ: What’s the best placement of a sticker that you have seen?

DB: My friend Romeo Alaeff just had one of his slapped up in front of a kind of famous house. The other has to be mine, put up on a tank turret by a fan who was soldier in Afghanistan.

Romeo Alaeff. Photo courtesy of DB Burkeman
DB Burkeman. Photo courtesy of DB Burkeman

RJ: Do you have any tips for young sticker artists?

DB: Be creative, give them away & get up!

Artist unknown. Photo by RJ Rushmore

DB Burkeman’s show, “Stuck-Up: A Selected History of Alternative and Popular Culture Told Though Stickers” opens on Friday at Maxwell Colette Gallery in Chicago and runs through March 3rd.

Photos by RJ Rushmore and Caroline Caldwell and courtesy of DB Burkeman