The difficulty with photographing sticker art or graffiti stickers is that it’s really difficult to provide context for the sticker without losing all the details that might make it interesting to begin with. This context versus context struggle exists when photographing just about any sort of street art or graffiti, but it’s especially true with stickers. They are usually so small that you have to get inches away for a good photo, but then it’s hardly clear if the sticker is on a busy street or in a leafy suburb, surrounded by other interesting things or the lone bit of culture for an entire block. This is especially important with illegal work like stickers where an artist is taking a risk to put something in a particular location of their choice (okay admittedly stickers are not all that risky). Understanding the context of the piece can really add to my appreciation for it. I don’t know if I’ve the first person or the thousandth to figure this out and I don’t consider myself a serious photographer, but I think I’ve stumbling across an interesting way to take photos of stickers that balances context and content: Panorama mode.
My iPhone has a panorama mode that I don’t think I’d ever used until earlier this summer, when I accidentally realized it could be useful for photographing stickers. I was just fooling around with my iPhone, seeing if the panorama mode could work if you had something up very close and also something far away that both needed to be in focus. So I tested it by photographing a sticker and trying to move from the sticker to some background elements across the street. I saw the resulting image and suddenly I hardly cared about my little experiment. I saw a photograph that captured the details of a sticker while still giving context to its placement, and I fell instantly in love with the technique.
Obviously taking photos with a wide angle lens or in panorama mode is nothing new, but I can’t remember ever having seen it used for this purpose before. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, please leave a comment. I’d love to see what other people have been doing with this technique.
What do you think of this technique? Does it is balance content and context well enough? These are just some early shots by me, and I’m no photographer, so if you think you can take this further and do it better, please do and let me know how it goes. I would love to see others improve upon this. For me, it’s made documenting stickers so much more fun and fulfilling. Anyone can photograph another printed André the Giant sticker, but this technique highlights how context can make even printed stickers unique so long as the placement is interesting.
ChrisRWK is an artist whose work I’ve followed pretty much since I got interested in street art. He has a strong cult following of fans who love how his work brings joy, and he’s probably one of the go-to artists that people getting started in stickers look to. Chris is the latest artist in the space across the street from Woodward Gallery and he and Veng recently painted a wall in Little Italy for The L.I.S.A. Project (for which I am a co-curator). And then I read this interview and found out that’s he and Veng are doing a print with 1xRun, whom I’ve worked with as well. Basically. All in all, seemed like a great time to ask Chris a few questions…
RJ: What do you look for when you’re thinking about collaborating with another artist?
Chris: Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Collabing with artists. I remember asking artists if they would like to collab back in the day and people had no clue what I meant. Mainly cause no one was doing it on stickers. I had collabed with artists for years on murals and artists have collabed on canvases for years. Some that always struck a chord with me was the Basquiat, Warhol and Clemente canvases. So I figured bring it to stickers. I had been making stickers for years and they’ve always been a favorite medium of mine. From collecting to making, I always loved em. So with some artists I know to just do some hand drawn ones but with other artists I do printed ones. Some artists like El Toro, Bob Will Reign, Under Water Pirates I’ve collabed with for years, since around 2004. With guys like them I always love doing hand drawn ones because of the diversity. They would always do something new. Artists like Royce, MCA/Evil Design, Flying Fortress I’ve done both hand drawn and printed. Printed because of the strength and iconographic imagery.
RJ: Why are stickers an important part of street art and graffiti?
Chris: Stickers have been in graffiti for years but people never paid attention to them. I remember seeing ones with tags on them in the early 90’s when I’d go into Manhattan. In the late 90’s stickers started gaining popularity overseas from what I saw. In 2001 when kevin and I launched robotswillkill.com, stickers were starting to catch on in the US as its own scene. I remember when PEEL magazine contacted me about doing the cover for their first issue. I was amped, a zine all about stickers?!? And I was doing the cover?!? That was in 2003. In the past few years the Graff scene has rediscovered stickers and seems like their appreciation has grown for them. For years it was like they looked down on them. The sticker scene itself has grown over the past few years which is good and bad. You have tons of “artists” who just collect them and use the ones they get to trade up. It’s the baseball card theory, well for this generation maybe the Pokemon card theory. Don’t get me wrong – collecting is cool, but to an extent.
RJ: About how many stickers do you draw or print each year?
Chris: Print I’d say 15-20 thousand. That’s mainly for trades, giveaways etc. I always liked putting up hand drawns. Printed are great for putting up because of longevity and ability to grill an area but there’s something about finding an original on the street. So hand drawn ones I’d say around 10-15 thousand. It’s tough to say cause I just sit down and throw on a movie and do em until the packs empty or the movie is over. So that could be a hundred or couple hundred in a sitting. Also depends on what style I’m doing. If they are black line ones then those I fly threw. If I’m doing color fills, shading etc it’ll be less.
RJ: A lot of your recent paintings feature your trademark characters less prominently than your work has previously. Where are they going? Where are you going?
Chris: Well I’ve always had an array of characters but the Robot always caught everyone’s attention. He became the icon for the stickers, clothes etc. I did him on paintings for years also. The boy and girl characters have gained more recognition in the past few years. Between the murals and canvases I can have them convey more emotion or tell more if a narrative. It’s funny because for years when I’d paint something everyone would say, “Are you doing the robot? I hope you do the robot!” So I did the robot. Nowadays people don’t say that because they’ve become familiar with the rest of my work. Granted when I sign black books, do stickers etc I do the robot. The newer work has subconsciously become more autobiographical. When I was talking to a friend of mine, he made that remark. So I started to think about it and he’s right on some levels. For example Veng and I did a show at Low Brow Artique called “From the Start: a collection of studies” and when I chose my 5 study subjects, they all had a deep connection to me and my life. So for the newer works, I try to tap into that more.
RJ: How was it painting your version of the Mona Lisa in Little Italy?
Chris: To be honest, tough at first. When Wayne from The L.I.S.A Project mentioned it I automatically thought ok time to paint a Mona Lisa. For some reason it didn’t dawn on me right away to do it in my style. I just figured paint Mona Lisa. So after a few sketches I did my style. Wayne showed it to the owners and they loved it. I showed it to Veng and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. This was the perfect project for him to bring back his circles. We put together the sketch fully and it was def meant for the spot. The L.I.S.A Project has a great thing going. It’s funny too because my best friends Godfather ran the restaurant where we painted for years.
RJ: You’re pretty popular on Instagram. What do you think Instagram has done for street art or stickering?
Chris: Things like Instagram have definitely brought more attention to things like street art and stickers. It’s quick and has its own scene. Once you mix things that have their own subculture it’ll only help promote each other. Blogs and stuff helped promote street art for years but were mainly constrained to desktop computers etc so with something like Instagram you have it right on your phone at any moment of the day. People love instant gratification. And to be able to post something from anywhere in the world for anyone in the world to see is amazing.
RJ: Have you got any upcoming projects that you can let us in on?
Chris: I just finished up 4 panels for the Woodward Project space across from the gallery. It’s titled “Those Summer Daze”. Veng and I have a print coming out with 1xRun soon. I’m involved in Sticky Situation NYC by Ink Monstr. I’m working on inventory pieces for Dorian Grey gallery. I’ll be painting at Jersey Fresh Jam. I also have a two man show coming up at Mighty Tanaka with Michael Banks(Sugar Fueled) this October. Oh and also finishing up issue #3 of Surface Area zine. Of course there’ll be some other outdoor art going on.