Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Decoding a Slap Happy Street Artist's Work

Last week I was running across a bridge over Four Mile Run when I noticed a sticker. And then another. And then another. It so grabbed my attention that I ran back to the start of the bridge and captured this wobbly video:

Here's a few stills of the sticker:

I couldn't help but wonder, what was I looking at? Did this image mean something? Was it an ad? Was this done by a board high schooler?

I figured a tineye search would put the matter to bed quickly. But no, the image wasn't found anywhere on the web. I found a list of 40 common stickers in DC and it's not listed among them.

As I dug around for evidence of the sticker, I began to read up on sticker street art (aka sticker slaps, sticker tagging and sticker bombing) and came to appreciate that it's a respected art form. It's sort of like graffiti's faster, more nimble cousin. There's no doubt it's a clever hack for getting your message seen by the masses, and for those in the know, it's a chance to experience art in unexpected places. It's also vandalism and can mar public spaces. If I take the optimistic view and choose to look at the stickers on the bridge as art and not noise, I can begin to see meaning.

The image calls to mind Sherlock Holmes, the detective known for his next-level observational skills. Isn't it deliciously ironic then, that most of the users of the bridge will pass without noticing the dozens of likenesses of Mr. Holmes. What else do we pass by in life because we miss the clues?

And while it's possible (and probably likely) that my lofty explanation is giving this collection of stickers too much credit, I think it's worth noting that the stickers appear to be hand cut. To me, that implies someone put in a fair bit of effort into to placing these stickers. Mainly, this isn't merely the work of a 7 year old haphazardly emptying a book of stickers he found on the nearest convenient surface.

So that was supposed to be the end of the post. I saw an interesting sticker, got an appreciation for a new genre of art, and practiced my art appreciation skills. Last night on my run through DC, I figured I'd take some pics of the stickers I encountered to use in future posts. What I found blew my mind.

First, I saw almost no stickers. The blank canvas that is the back of most signs were pristine. I was running in a touristy part of DC, so perhaps this isn't surprising. But it wasn't a complete bust. As I ran over the 14th Street Bridge into DC I saw one particular sign that was stickered up:

Zooming in on one of the stickers I saw:

Whoa! The border of the sticker matches the Holmes one from above. Here are the two stickers overlaid:

That's got to be the same artist, right? And what are the odds that I'd run by another example of his or her work at just the right moment?

All this raises more questions. But one thing is for sure, the declaration the second sticker makes, Art Is Dead, is greatly exaggerated. Apparently it's alive and well, and being slapped on signs and bridges all over the area.

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