St. Lawrence University
PHA stickers

 

In the last twenty-five years, street art has evolved dramatically from the aerosol and painted mural graffiti that peppered subway stations, back alleys, and train yards. Today, new forms of visual communication are created in public spaces, often attracting viewers in more contemplative and/or interactive ways. Street art stickers have emerged as a provocative vehicle for self-expression and an effective way to engage passersby. As one of the most democratic art forms, stickers can be hand-drawn or printed on paper or vinyl as silkscreens, stencils, linocuts, Xeroxes, and offset lithographs, and are distributed quickly, cheaply, and widely. Some artists create homemade, do-it-yourself stickers in small numbers, while others mass-produce hundreds at a time. Measuring around 2x2 to 4x6 inches, stickers are hidden in plain sight on street signs, telephone poles, dumpsters, and windows.

Situated metaphorically at the busy intersection of imagery and content—and informed by history, commerce, and pop culture—stickers address both the personal and the political. Stickers may be used to “tag” a space, leaving behind words and images that are mysterious or mundane, and thereby making it temporarily one’s own. Shepard Fairey’s notorious “Obey Giant” stickers and Obey bootlegs now plaster the globe. Many taggers invent imaginative street names and character designs to maintain privacy, but also as a form of branding, such as Tower, Prost, and Dave the Chimp. Stickers also function to offer social commentary and critique. In urban sites dominated by commercial advertising, publicly placed stickers, by their very presence, rewrite the streets and produce what curator Nato Thompson calls elsewhere “creative disruptions of every day life.” Artists often use humor and irony to subvert corporate logos as a form of culture jamming, for example. Representing a diverse array of voices and perspectives, stickers offer a spirited ground up alternative to an often top down media-saturated environment. And although ephemeral by nature, stickers capture the creative, cultural, and political pulse of time and place.

Political stickers in the United States date back to the 1910s when the Industrial Workers of the World created the first “stickerettes” or “silent agitators” to protest poor labor conditions and to condemn capitalism. Printed by the millions, they are nearly impossible to find today. Other U.S. political stickers document World War II isolationist efforts, the 1960s-’70s civil rights movement, protests against the war in Vietnam, and various presidential elections. Early political stickers from other countries include German anti-fascist spuckies (1980s-’90s) and stickers that document the Catalan independence movement (1970s to present). More recent examples survey Occupy and 15-M protests in the U.S. and Spain, Egypt’s Arab Spring, political reforms in Indonesia, Euromaidan demonstrations in Ukraine, and student strikes in Canada.

The Street Art Graphics digital archive draws from the private international collections of Catherine Tedford, gallery director at St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY) and Oliver Baudach, founder and director of the Hatch Kingdom Sticker Museum (Berlin, Germany). Both curators have organized sticker exhibitions in Canada, Germany, and the United States, including Re-Writing the Streets: The International Language of Stickers and Paper Bullets: 100 Years of Political Stickers from Around the World.