As regular readers probablyknow, I recently curated an exhibition about the tools and strategies of graffiti for the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College. ALL BIG LETTERS closed on Friday. The exhibition featured work from Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Before ALL BIG LETTERS fades into our rear view, I wanted to highlight two more bits of press about the show.
First, I spoke with Brooklyn Street Art’s Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington for an interview on The Huffington Post. We spoke about curating an exhibition about graffiti for a general audience (and a gallery with an educational mission), the graffiti community’s skill at hacking tools and cityscapes, graffiti as a performance, and more.
If you’re in the Philadelphia area, head out on to the burbs for ALL BIG LETTERS at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, probably my most ambitious curatorial project to date. The exhibition features specially-commissioned work from CURVE, FAUST, EKG, Egg Shell Stickers, and Evan Roth, plus contributions from dozens more artists and photographers.
ALL BIG LETTERS investigates the tools and strategies of graffiti writers. My hope is that visitors can walk into the show with next to zero knowledge of graffiti, and leave with the ability to see a tag on the street and roughly understand how it came be there and why it looks the way it does. Was it made with spray or a marker or something else? Is the style something city-specific, like a wicked? Why did the writer choose that spot? How did they get there? How long did it take to paint? Curve’s installation in particular functions as both an artwork and a teaching tool. A similar thread runs throughout the exhibit, like in Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy series, which highlights 140 S’s from each many different tags, all written with a variety of different styles and tools.
For people already immersed in the culture of writing, ALL BIG LETTERS is a different take than your typical graffiti group show. This is not tags or throw-ups on canvas. Rather, it’s a show for the graffiti nerds who understand that style is an important part of writing, but it is just one element, and it serves a particular purpose. A collection of homemade tools from MOMO, stikman, Fumakaka Crew, Biancoshock (yes, I know that a handful of the artists in the show fall more towards the street art spectrum, but I swear they fit in), plus commercial graffiti products, is paired with a series of photos by Martha Cooper of writers and street artists that highlight their tools.
From a new diagram by EKG to photos by Luna Park and Steve Weinik (among others) to an investigation into the development of BLADE’s style over time to never-before-scene work by Adam VOID, ALL BIG LETTERS covers a lot of ground that is all-too-often ignored in more commercial settings, and I would like to think that it’s a pretty unique exhibition. On opening night, a handful of Philly writers all told me a similar story: I came out to support a friend in another group exhibition, but this is unlike any graffiti show I’ve ever seen.
So, if you want to see an exhibition about graffiti that’s truly different, an exhibition where the whole of graffiti is acknowledged (the repetition, the drive for fame, the performance, the risk, the competition, the hacking…), I hope you’ll stop by ALL BIG LETTERS. It’s open through March 3rd.
ALL BIG LETTERS is open at Haverford College’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery through March 3rd. Contributors include Adam VOID, Aric Kurzman, BLADE, Biancoshock, CURVE, DB Burkeman, Egg Shell Stickers, EKG, Evan Roth, FAUST, Fumakaka Crew, Jordan Seiler, Katherine “Luna Park” Lorimer, Lee George Quinones, Loiq, Martha Cooper, MOMO, NTEL, Smart Crew, Steve Weinik, stikman, and more. Learn more, and read essays related to the exhibition by RJ Rushmore and Carlo McCormick, here.
Generally speaking, when galleries try to bring graffiti indoors, the focus is on style. Those shows portray graffiti writers as designers, illustrators, the new pop-artists and calligraphers… Headlines along the lines of “Can you believe what he does with a spray can? Now you can buy it on canvas!” still seem all too common. But style is just one component of graffiti. Or maybe the shows focus on writers who have gotten up a lot, trying to capitalize on their fame. Or, as in the case of someone like Barry McGee or Boris Tellegen, the art is (largely) removed from graffiti, a separate practice.
For ALL BIG LETTERS, I took a different approach. To write graffiti is, at its most pure, the performance of an illegal act; the performance is as important as the product. The best graffiti is also strategic. It relies on a combination of repetition, longevity, visibility, degree of difficulty, novelty, and style. ALL BIG LETTERS explores all of those strategies, and the tools writers use to realize them.
Because of the show’s angle and some deep digging over the last year, it’s full of surprises. New work from FAUST, Curve, NTEL, and EKG, never-before-seen photos of two Philadelphia graffiti legends at work (you’ll have to come to the show to find out who), homemade graffiti tools dating back as early as the 1960’s, and more.
On a personal note, I worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery for just about my entire time as a student at Haverford College. It’s humbling to be invited back to exhibit at the space where I learned so much, and where we exhibited the work of so many amazing artists and curators (Hank Willis Thomas, Natasha Logan, the Dufala Brothers, Sam Durant, Pete Brook, Raymond Pettibon, Christine Sun Kim…). I can’t say thank you enough to everyone at Haverford for this opportunity.
This week, Amazon launched the Amazon Street Art Project, which features new limited edition artwork from stikman, Faith47, AIKO, Gaia, Logan Hicks, Ganzeer, and Ron English. Each piece in the project is only an edition of 50, so be sure to have a look before they’re all sold out. Since I curated the series, I thought it would be good spend some time looking at what makes each piece in the collection special.
stikman’s print based on a series from 2008 that he’s revamped to turn into his very first screenprint. What I love about Overture is the illusion of 3 layers that stikman created out of the two black and green layers, simply by printing black layer (both the musical score and the stikman figure’s shadow) on top of the green layer.
With AIKO’s Bunny, we started with a straightforward concept: A print of Aiko’s classic Bunny icon. Then, AIKO decided to go overboard in the best way possible, adding layers and layers of hand-painted customization to every print.
Gaia’s screenprint makes great use of half-tones, something I’ve often seen go poorly with other artists. Usually, you see artists using half-tones to skimp on adding what should be another layer of color to their print, but Gaia uses them masterfully for Amani, adding essential detail and depth to his work.
Logan Hicks’ Wasted Lives is the main reason I keep having to avoid calling this a print series. Wasted Lives is not a print. It’s a completely hand-painted edition. Using his pioneering stencil techniques, Hicks created an edition of 50 original works on paper.
You really have to get in close to appreciate the full beauty of Ganzeer’s After the Starstuff. Yes, the image itself, of the Earth from space and then close-ups on a pile of man-made trash, is powerful, but Ganzeer took this to another level by making this a letterpress print and using handmade hemp paper.
And finally, Ron English’s Monarch Elephant, because if I was going to be working with one of the world’s largest retailers to bring art to a huge new audience, I also needed someone to slip in a cheeky celebration of “the art of evolution.”
In December, an eclectic set of seven prints and editioned works from some of the world’s most interesting street artists will go for sale on… Amazon.com. Starting December 7th and available for one week only, Amazon.com will be offering new works by Ron English, stikman, Faith47, Gaia, AIKO, Logan Hicks, and Ganzeer. There are three screenprints, one etching, one letterpress, one done entirely with spraypaint and stencils, and one hand-finished giclée. Each artist’s piece is an edition of 50, and the prices range from $200-550. If a lot of the artists in the line up look familiar to regular readers of Vandalog, that’s because I curated the collection.
This is the first time that Amazon has worked with a curator to arrange a series of new works specifically for them. When I was brought into the mix, the idea was pretty open-ended: A series of prints by seven street artists to be released in December. With that in mind, I wanted to capture a small slice of the variety that exists within street art, to show how street art resists being defined by a single style or medium. That’s how we wound up with a collection that ranges from Ganzeer’s subtly dark letterpress print to AIKO’s bold pop art utilizing screenprinting and spaypaint.
Apologies that this particular link-o-rama is full of self-promotion and conflicts of interesting, but I do think these are all interesting projects and I hope you do too:
It takes a lot to get my excited about a mural festival, but this year’s Wall\Therapy in Rochester, NY looks great. It’s difficult to put on a mural festival. One short cut is to work with obvious artists. Your festival will look like 50 other festivals, but the walls will probably seem impressive. Wall\Therapy has not gone that route. This year in particular, they put together a surprising and diverse line up to create an arguably cohesive body of new work, and the quality of the murals is still strong pretty much across the board. Check out Brooklyn Street Art’s photos and review for the full story.
From the selections I’ve read, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? by Dumar Novy, but a philosophy book centered on the work of a prolific graffiti writer seems like something that should at least catch the interest of Vandalog readers.
Shepard Fairey’s latest print about corporate greed and campaign finance reform is about to drop. It’s a nice print, and I’m always glad to see Shepard tackling this important but not particularly sexy topic. Plus, the profits from this print go to two great organizations fighting for campaign finance reform. I’ll just note that Shepard is working on a couple of projects right now for my employer, but campaign finance reform and political corruption really are topics that I care a lot about.
Speaking of my employer, I recently got to work on a really fun project with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Ben Eine. Back in June, Eine came to Philly for a few days and painted almost 40 of his classic shutter letters. Philly now has a complete Eine alphabet, and then some. Eine’s work can be found throughout the city, but the shutters are definitely clustered in South Philly around Southeast by Southeast, a community center and art space for the neighborhood’s large Southeast Asian refugee community. Brooklyn Street Art has more on this project.
And one more Mural Arts project to mention: JR recently installed a huge mural right in the heart of Philadelphia as part of Open Source, our public art exhibition curated by Pedro Alonzo. The mural is a portrait of Ibrahim Shah, a local food truck chef who came to Philadelphia from Pakistan about a year ago. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a great profile on Ibrahim. I love how this mural looms large on the side of one of the biggest buildings right in the center of Philly, but isn’t actually that visible from the ground except from a few choice locations. Sounds like that could be a problem, I know, but the mural actually pops out from behind buildings in the most surprising places, and catching a glimpse of it winds up being a thrill, a bit of hide and seek. Plus, that game plays into the meaning of the mural, which is about how immigrants are a big part of our cities, but aren’t always celebrated or allowed to be made visible.
Okay, actually, Mural Arts has something coming up with Steve Powers too, but hopefully it will last longer than these signs in NYC! No surprise, a great series of street signs by Powers, installed legally as part of a project with the NYC Department of Transportation, seem to be being ripped down and stolen by greedy collectors or maybe thieves hoping to make a buck. It’s no surprise, but it is still disappointing.
If you’re in New York City, do not miss Faile’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s on now, and visiting is a really exciting experience. Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell currently works as an assistant at Faile’s studio, but even hearing bits and pieces from her as things were coming together did not prepare me for the awesomeness that is Savage/Sacred Young Minds. Without a doubt, the highlight of the exhibition is the latest and (I think) largest iteration of Faile and Bast’s Deluxx Fluxx Arcade, with custom foosball, pinball, and of course video games. It’s just an unabashedly fun experience. Arrested Motion has photos of much of the exhibition.
Today I’m very pleased to announce Common Thread, a solo show from stikman. It opens March 6th at Philadelphia’s LMNL Gallery, where I’ve been curating shows for the last six months or so.
I love working with stikman because his work just brings people so much damn joy. If you’ve been in Philadelphia long enough, or Boston, or New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Toronto, or any of a hundred small towns across the United States and Canada, you might know stikman. You just might not know that you know him. One of the most elusive and prolific street artists in America, one of the last truly anonymous street artists, stikman has been putting a smile on people’s faces with his street art for over 20 years.
The late DJ John Peel’s favorite band was The Fall, and he once described them by saying, “They are always different, they are always the same,” and I cannot think of a better way to describe stikman or the works in Common Thread.
For months, stikman has been experimenting with the latest evolution to his character, and he has developed what he calls “thread paintings” for the way the paint looks like masses of thread thrown on the ground or stretched out like webbing. Already, there’s variation among the pieces, as the technique is used on different surfaces and in different ways. With Common Thread, stikman will be showing this new body of work for the first time.
The show also will also feature a digital installation: A new series of stikman’s spy-cam-like photographs. The installation will also highlight how street art, and stikman’s work in particular, is simultaneously always different and always the same. One of the highlights of …in the house…, the last show I worked on with stikman, was a photo installation. It was definitely the most commented-on piece. I suspect this digital photo installation will be similarly popular and surprising, but that’s all I’ll say about it for now. If you’re curious, you’ll just have to come to the show to see it for yourself.
stikman, one of the most elusive and fascinating street artists active today, has given us 10 of his 2015 stikman calendars to give away. These things are great to put on the fridge.
We’re making the rules for this giveaway pretty simply. To enter, just make sure you’re following @vandalog on Instagram, and like this photo. On Monday evening, I’ll randomly select 10 winners out of that pool. Each winner will be mailed one calendar.
Just in time for the holidays, I am thrilled to announce the release of the first book from the elusive artist stikman, entitled SIGNS, published by my new art book project Dirt Worship Publishing. For over two decades, the anonymous artist stikman has plastered his character on the pavements and walls of major cities and small towns across the US. Finally, there’s a book celebrating a selection of this elective artist’s work.
SIGNS documents a collection of stikman’s art on street signs across the United States, highlighting the huge variety in stikman’s work like his innovative methods and materials, clever placement, and diverse references from folk art to fine art. “stikman has retained his freshness by constantly reinventing his iconic character, unafraid to experiment with new mediums and configurations,” says graffiti photographer and blogger Luna Park.
He has gained something of a cult following among street art enthusiasts and pedestrians alike. “When I stumble across a stikman, I feel as if I’ve found a treasure,” says legendary street art and graffiti photographer Martha Cooper.
Typically, finding a stikman in the wild is a feat of chance. A few eagle-eyed photographers have made his image accessible to the masses. And now, for the first time ever, stikman and Dirt Worship Publishing have compiled a selection of his work in an official book.
You can get your copy of SIGNS in time for Christmas by placing your order through The Vandalog Shop anytime before December 18th (for domestic orders only). The standard edition is available for $30, plus shipping and handling. A limited edition deluxe version of SIGNS, limited to just 75 hand-embellished copies and featuring an exclusive inkjet print on archival paper (6.5” x 8”), is also available for $50 plus shipping and handling.
Note from the editor: Today we have a guest post from Damon Landry, a photographer and urbanite who has been documenting street art in Philadelphia for many years. It’s warming up in Philadelphia, which means there are new stikman pieces to be found, and Damon is on the lookout. Damon has contributed to Vandalog a coupleof timesbefore, and I hope he’ll continue to update us on what’s going on in Philadelphia. – RJ
stikman often shows up around my house on the edge of Fishtown in some form or another over the years. This week a few installs popped up after I noticed new work in center city, oddly enough both are pink!
I work as a photographer for a company in an office overlooking Mid-town Village aka The Gayborhood so am in and out of this area on a daily basis. It has not been a normal area where stikman installs anything over the past 5-6 years or so. So it was a surprise to find a fresh install of maybe 6-7 pieces up last week. I quickly walked around for a bit covering quite a few streets but it seemed as though this was pretty much it. stikman seems over the years to come to Philly to install new works often based on major shows at the PMA so I ? have been keeping an eye out for something Korean inspired but nothing to date. (Come to think of it no Flower Show inspired works this year either) This latest batch all appear to be inspired by old electrical circuits and/or diagrams. Very cool. After 21+ years on the streets stikman still keeps it fresh and he never seems to have gone away which is pretty amazing when you think about it.