I do feel rather bad about this, but I'm totally phoning it in tonight. It was just one of those trying weeks that leave you exhausted at the end. Not that I have a legitimate reason to be this tired, nothing really stressful happened or fell apart during the week. In many ways I've had a fairly pleasant week. I ended up going to the bi-weekly board game night my friend hosts on Tuesday and getting the chance to lose at one of my favorite games, which is generally a plus. I also got the chance to hang out with a different friend and play around in photoshop while watching the recent Beauty and the Beast. Tonight before I started working on the post I ended up finishing Johannes Cabal The Necromancer, one of my favorite books. So all in all a pretty decent week for me. But in the end I just feel drained physically and mentally tonight.
Tonight's stickers are intriguing ones that will definitely require a bit more research on a different night. The Show me your Mandance on the left has captivated my attention for a while now. It was one of the first ones I captured when I started the project back up again, on those early walks back from work. I did a quick search on google for the phrase and I found a band called ManDancing, which it could be. I do have my doubts about it though. Since the band is from New Jersey, I don't see this among their images on Facebook, and the high prevalence that I've seen this sticker around the city, it causes me to think that there is another mind behind this interesting little find. Although that determination is for another night, I'll just put my initial hypothesis out there for now.
The other sticker is going to be a bit of a journey. The simplistic, line drawing of a man's head is not exactly the easiest thing to search for. "Man head sticker" gets me a interesting collection of images, a lot of Iron Man unsurprisingly, but no signs of this particular image. Since coming up with the right combination of keywords was going to be too long of a challenge for the night, I thought I would give that image Google search a try using tonight's photo. I wasn't really sure it would actually come up with something, so I can't say I was terribly surprised when nothing came up. But I have to admit that I thought it was kind of funny that Google felt the closest result they could come up with was an Ipod. This sticker is one that I see all the time though and I know I've got a couple of exposures of it. That feeling of being in the shadows and the contrast of the bright lines defining the face catches my eye every time. I just need to make sure I have plenty of time to try and find something for it when I decide to feature it again.
Tonight's stickers are an interesting pair. Not that I can tie them together in any way for a cohesive thought but each definitely catches your attention. Although it was the sticker on the bottom that caused me to pause and capture it. It's not every day you find a blank nutritional facts label on the side of a guard rail. I've always found the nutritional facts on the side of anything fascinating. Not because I've ever fully understood the information they pose but seeing your food broken down into it's basic components is always interesting. There's the amount of calories that are in a serving, the percentage of your daily vitamins or minerals that have somehow made it in, and how many grams of sugar that will probably help give you diabetes in the end. And even with all of this information and the FDA guidelines looking to explain the breakdown for you, I still find this to be a fairly baffling creation. I understand that the main reason this is done is to try and help consumers get a better idea about what they are ingesting, to improve their health and ability to choose wisely, I just wonder how useful it is. It was a concept that started in the early 90s here in America and has become more widely used over the past twenty years. And while our knowledge of nutrition has increased immensely over those many years, it doesn't seem like the label has changed much in that same time. Which I guess is a big part of the battle that's out to improve our society's health, finding that method that will help give us the information we need and yet let us keep our ability to choose.
I really didn't notice the upper sticker when I was correcting this photo in photoshop, it was just an odd black and white combo for a while. I kind thought it was a face of some kind but really couldn't fully see the picture. So when I was starting to look into this, I did finally see the phrase "Whats her Face." After googling it and being mildly weirded out by the fact that there was a faceless doll at the beginning of the millennium that apparently had a little traction in the market, I found out that this is a Lancaster Band. They're an electronic band that kind of reminds me of Alt-J, a very experimental sound with some deep roots in alt-rock. Whats her Face's current sticker is also an interesting image once you fully see it. It's a face, I would assume a woman's, that is covered by some gnarly man hands. Since this phrase is generally used as a way to pause and try to come up with a missing name, I thought this was a great way to symbolize that idea. Combined with their unique sound, they are a group that is always grasping at ideas that are just out of reach and looking to give you something different int he meantime.
Ugh, ambiguity you are a fickle fickle thing. That tiny, little itch of not being one hundred percent sure, hell I'd even take an 80 percent feeling of certainty, about what I've come up with for tonight's post. Don't get me wrong, ambiguity certainly has its place in things. Like the ending of a really good suspenseful mystery that causes you to question how much you really know. Or when you're talking with someone you're not particularly fond of and you manage to pull a vague enough conversation together that the person doesn't pick up on your general disdain. Those ambiguous moments at least serve a purpose with their uncertainty and questionable interpretations. Tonight is just annoying.
I wasn't entirely sure what I expected to find with this sticker when I started to research it. Actually no, I kind of figured it would be a slim chance I'd find anything. With that vaguely familiar face, the hypnotic swirl, and this phrase "upper playground" I generally assumed it would be another interpretation tonight. So I was pleasantly surprised when Upper Playground came back with a fairly certain result. It's a store with locations in California and Oregon that was originally established back in 1999. But calling it just a store is a bit of misrepresentation. They work with artists and illustrators from around the world to create unique products, artwork, and an impressive site overall. The variety of styles that can be found on the site, in their blog, and on their Facebook page is really interesting and almost staggering to see. And while it can technically fall into that same vein as Society 6 or Threadless, somehow this store feels different. Perhaps it's the fact that there is a physical location somewhere or that while they have an impressive amount of work on their site, there is a reasonable amount to go through. I love Society 6 and Threadless but some days going through their sites is like an endless journey with the sheer amount that they have available. Upper Playground is a site and store that clearly understands what they are about.
Since there are a variety of styles and artists that work with Upper Playground to create products, I feel reasonably safe in the assumption that this sticker is one of theirs. However, I can usually find the artwork/design behind the sticker I'm looking for when I do find these kinds of sites. It may take me an hour to locate it, but with enough digging I can satisfy my need for validation. Even though I dug through Upper Playground's Facebook images and many portions of the site, I couldn't find this sticker. I even stopped twice while writing this to dig through some more of the items of the store and the artist pages, just for a little bit of proof. I will admit that I really didn't go into their blog, but that's 500 pages and I don't have that much dedication. I don't really doubt that this sticker is theirs, with the large amount of artists that I'm sure have worked with them over these many years and their interest in stickers. They sell a variety pack and will even provide you with some free stickers if you send them a self-addressed envelope. It's just second guessing it since I couldn't find the image itself. This is probably going to bug me the rest of the evening but I'm just going to have to suck it up and roll with it.
A large part of this blog is about sharing the stories of the artists who create the stickers I find. Whether that's through linking to their site, sharing a small blurb they shared with me, or with an interview, I want to make sure that credit is given where credit is due. Granted there's a lot that I haven't been able to find sites for but I always hope that things will naturally make their way to the artist, giving me the chance to get the story then. One little rule that I've kind of held over these past couple of months has been that I wanted to do my best to reach out and promote the local artists and businesses that I find. Not because I don't want a more in depth story for those stickers that have managed to make it here to Pittsburgh, but I felt like in one way it was slightly more fitting. After I started looking into tonight's sticker, I knew there was no way I could write this post without reaching out to the artist behind it.
While I'm sure I could easily go on about the "Love Me" sticker, the one I really ended up focusing on was the Robots Will Kill. As you will remember I am a super nerd with a penchant for the macabre, so of course I wanted to find out more about this sticker. Pulling up their site I have to admit that I was rather surprised by what I found. The Robots Will Kill site and Facebook page does a lot to promote their work and tag but it also does a lot to share the work of others. According to their about page, the original website was established back in 2001 with the goal to share with the world the works that people tend to miss. Over the years they have shared the graffiti and artwork of people from all over, giving them much deserved attention and allowing them the ability to share their stories. So I knew that I wanted to reach out and get a bit more from the artist. Chris from Robots Will Kill was gracious enough to answer a few questions over email. So again tonight is a little long but I'm so glad that I got a chance to share another pretty amazing story with you.
Your tag is chrisrwk right?
Yes. Over the years I've had a few tags. I started with graffiti when I was around 11. But Robots Will Kill started around 2001 and is the name most people know me by.
Looking through your website and Facebook page it looks like you're located in New York City. Are you originally from there?
Yes. Born, raised and ruined here.
What were some of your early influences, in graffiti and the art world?
My brother and his friends did graffiti. That was around 1988. Before that I mainly paid attention to cartoons and comics. For me they were art. The design of the imagery and the story they could translate. Especially someone like Gary Larson. He did in 1 panel what most people couldn't do in 3. So cartoon and comics really influenced me early on then graffiti kept me interested in art then that led to fine art.
Are you a big sci-fi fan? Is that a reason for the robot?
I've always liked sci-fi. I watched all the old movies and shows with my dad. We'd watch the universal monster movies, the B movie stuff. Then I got into Star Wars etc. so that could've been a subliminal influence. The name Robots Will Kill kind of came from a different meaning though.
Why did you call your site Robots Will Kill?
For me the idea was when you do something so much it becomes robotic so it kills your drive for other things. So when you do something like work so much it'll kill your drive to do the things you love.
I saw that a big reason you started your site was a desire to share the works of artists that people tend to overlook. Do you have a favorite story you've shared?
I think my favorite thing is hearing people say how much they grew up on the site. How much time they spent on it and the influence it had. Stuff like that is insane. Especially artists that I respect.
Do you get the chance to collaborate with the artists you feature on your site?
Absolutely. That's one of my favorite things. I've been honored to collaborate with so many great artists.
When did you start to create stickers? What method do you use to create them?
Well stickers have always been a thing I collected. Going all the way back to when I was a little kid and I'd be at the grocery store with my mom and I'd ask for a quarter for the sticker machine. Didn't even matter what kind they were. So when I was doing graffiti I'd draw on any stickers I could get my hands on. When I was around 17-18 I got my first stickers printed. Once I figured out a way to do that I'd get ones printed and do hand drawn ones. The printed ones are fun to design but doing hand drawn ones will always be my favorite. Love just sitting down with a stack of stickers and some markers with music or television on in the background and just get lost in making them.
I see that you do a lot with graffiti and spray paint outside as well as the creation of stickers. Do you have a preferred medium?
Not really. I always love doing stuff with spray paint but I definitely do more stickers and drawing. Mainly because of availability. I can always sit down and draw or make stickers. Even at my 9-5.
Do you place stickers when you travel, leaving your mark in each city? Or is the placement of stickers done by your fans?
It's a mixture. Back in the day when people would trade it was more genuine. You'd send people your stickers and they'd get them up in city that you might've been been able to get to and vice Versa.
I know you get examples of graffiti from around the world that you share on your site, do you get photos of your own work sent to you?
Haha yeah. Always funny to see.
Where's the favorite place you've shown your work or found it?
I've never had a favorite place really. I think just passing stickers, murals etc that I've done makes me smile.
While I am not a huge risk taker, I do have a high tendency to do things without really thinking. Obviously this is not a unique trait, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Youtube wouldn't exist if this was the case. It's just one of those things where after I've done a rather idiotic move, I have to question what is wrong with me. There are pictures of me from my Freshman year where I climbed and stood in the middle of some support beams of a bridge, many many feet above the ground. At no point in this action did I really think about the many ways I would probably die if I happened to slip or lose my balance, I thought it was just a bit of fun. Even my friend, whom I affectionately term the crazy one, stood to the side questioning my sanity. Or there was the night photography project from my Junior year, where I wandered the streets of Oakland typically around 2 o'clock in the morning by myself with headphones in. I did try to stay pretty close to the area I knew well during the project and didn't push my luck too much during these walks. I will admit I had a couple of awkward encounters during this time though, but it was generally just people concerned by the sight of a girl crouched on the street corner in the middle of the night. I still find it rather bizarre when people get panicked by the idea of me walking home by myself at 11 o'clock at night, although clearly I do not always have a good sense of judgement. And even though I really can't say I've done anything terribly dangerous with this blog, I am still questioning my common sense.
I think I've mentioned in a previous post that since the stickers I find tend to be on signs, they are more often than not close to the street. So while I do try to not do too many stupid things, I will step out into the street when I'm trying to find a decent angle to photograph the stickers I find. Tonight's stickers were definitely in that vein of a moment of not thinking. I had decided to try and capture some photos from Station Square to expand the areas I present on here, which meant that I ended up grabbing a few more photos downtown. I was crossing Fort Pitt Blvd to get onto the Smithfield Bridge, when I happened to notice the stickers on the barrier. So I stopped to focus my camera and take a photo, even though I was still in the process of crossing the street. While I was working on getting the image in focus and adjust the angle I was taking, the crossing signal had changed. Luckily I think it was just flashing but there was definitely a short moment of panic. I quickly snapped the photo and then made sure I was on the sidewalk. Happily, despite the fact that I got a little distracted by the soon to be oncoming traffic, I did manage to get a pretty clear photo in the end. The furthest sticker you can make out is clearly a bumper sticker for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, our local soccer team. And the closest sticker is an Obey the Giant, which I again will not be fully presenting tonight. Unfortunately the one in the middle is at just the wrong spot that the combination of the darkness and the curve of the barrier makes it really hard to figure out what it is exactly. In the end, while I think that my pausing in the middle of a crosswalk was more than a little stupid the end result was a fun image...so I can guarantee I'm probably going to keep doing these types of things.
A big part of any type of graffiti is the fact that the city landscape is constantly changing. New construction removing the previous canvases, the weather wearing away the paint or glue, other artists taking over the space to express themselves, and many other elements. But one big thing that affects graffiti and the stickers around the city is actually the city's government. Graffiti has always been on that border of being artistic expression and public defacement, causing a mixed bag of illegality and beauty. One common solution to remove graffiti is painting over it. And while this does generally remove it from sight, I can't say it's the most effective method. Like putting a layer of foundation over a bad breakout, they may be less visible but there is certainly enough of a remnant to make you stare. The lines of the different stickers creating a topography that causes one to wonder what exactly is beneath the paint. There are also the cleaning attempts that clearly don't hide things quite as well as they would like.
It was the stickers on the other side of this box that originally caught my eye, I have to admit I'm not that good to spot this one immediately just wandering the streets. I'm assuming this one is more a child's sticker than an artistic statement. The design is just a little too simple and cute to seem like the typical sticker I find. What really caught my attention with this sticker though was what it reminded me of. I'm not sure how many of you were fans of Aeropostale but I really thought that this sticker was their monkey design from the early 2000s. On closer inspection it doesn't look to be it, the mouths are lifted in the opposite directions and the ears here have a bit more of a circular squiggle on the inside than the Aeropostale one. I was probably a little more than obsessed with the Aeropostale cartoons they used to have, I can't remember how many shirts and sweatshirts I had from there. I will fully admit that my fashion sense was fairly abysmal in High school, if it wasn't a mouthy t-shirt or one with some cartoon on it I was in a tee from a sporting invite. Not that my fashion sense has really gotten much better over the years, I've just reduced the amount of t-shirts with logos on them. Anyway it doesn't look like Aeropostale kept with the monkey, seems like they have geared themselves toward more grown-up feeling. Just another one of those small reminders of one's past in the end.
I am currently out of town this weekend, deciding to go on a trip to visit a couple of friends over in Philly and in Jersey, but wanted to keep the usual post times going. I had hoped to start working on my post last night, to avoid issues, but of course I did not. So tonight's going to be a little short and might not be as in depth but should be a little bit of cheer for you.
One thing that I've come to notice about the stickers I find is that there really aren't a lot of cute or cheerful ones out there. For the most part a lot of them are looking to make a big statement or to create a unique image to share with the community. Obviously nothing wrong with that, graffiti in general has the lofty goal of expressing the rebellious ideas of the outsider. But it does always surprise me when I come across stickers that are, well happy. A recent example I shared was obviously the owl from a couple of posts ago. With it's simple design and it's cheerful disposition, it was certainly a pleasant find and interesting to analyze. Tonight's sticker is another one that may have deeper meaning for the artist but comes across as a happy image.
I can't say I've really put much thought into the symbolism of birds, other than the obvious ones. They are either a scary annoyance, I'm looking at you pigeons, or a happy signal to me that spring is finally making an appearance. But birds have played a significant role in cultures around the world and the bluebird certainly has an interesting role. While tonight's sticker really isn't of a specific bird, more just the general idea of what birds look like, I decided to focus on the bluebird since it's coloring is a large part of this image. For many Native American tribes the bluebird was an important spirit of nature, often symbolizing the arrival of spring or driving darker spirits away with their songs. In Russian folklore the bluebird was generally a sign of hope and in Lorraine folklore it was a bird of happiness. This final idea has managed to stick with the bluebird over the many years. There was a play called The Blue Bird from the beginning of the 20th century where two children go on a journey to find the blue bird of happiness. Then there is a song from the 30s called the "Bluebird of Happiness". This idiom and association with happiness can also be found in the Wizard of Oz, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Daa", Sesame Street, and apparently even the Beatle's Yellow Submarine movie. (Granted this list comes from the Wikipedia article so it may be a stretch.) And I think tonight's sticker continues to provide that outlook of happiness.
When I started this blog back in September, I mentioned that it actually began as a project I did while I was still in college. We were given the assignment to create a series surrounding a particular idea, so I decided to capture the stickers I kept running across on my many walks across campus. Now admittedly this decision was a mix of being fascinated with this particular subject and my typical waiting till the last minute to actually start working on it. Luckily for me the project ended up being well received and I think got me one of my better grades in that class. As I continued to collect photos for this blog, I had a couple of stickers from that original project that managed to remain staples in the collection. The artist 9 continues to be a decently sized portion of the stickers I find and the tattoo parlor Jester's Court could probably have an entire blog dedicated just to that particular sticker. Tonight's sticker is another of my original finds that manages to keep catching my eye.
I have to admit that tonight's research has definitely been one of my more interesting journeys. Since it was an image that I've seen for years, I thought that starting off with SARS the chicken was a safe bet. Unfortunately that search ended up just yielding photos of chickens and links to sites dealing with the disease SARS. I vaguely remember when SARS was the "it" disease on the media networks back in the early 2000s, but I was also in Junior High at the time so definitely not something I would have paid much attention to. I decided to change tactics and looked up the whole phrase of "SARS the chicken has a posse." This time the results were slightly more intriguing. Because I've been collecting these photos for a while I knew that Shepard Fairey, the man behind the Obey stickers and the Obama Hope posters, had a version of this phrase out there. He obviously used Andre the Giant, the 80's wrestler and Fezzik from the Princess Bride, as his base since this is the face of the Obey stickers. (I know, I really need to feature this sticker on here soon since I end up mentioning it every couple of months.) What I found interesting about this is the fact that while he encourages artists and individuals to put up street art responsibly, he keeps track of all of the people who have copied his work in some way. He actually has a portion of his site that is devoted to collecting these images that were inspired by or "bootlegged" copies of his ideas. It's a pretty impressive collection but our SARS sticker is not among it.
I ended up stumbling around Google for a bit, trying to come up with something that would pull a relevant site up, when I managed to get a minor win. I don't quite remember what prompted the final combination of keywords but I apparently was looking for chickenkid graffiti. While this didn't end up giving me an actual site for the artist behind this idea, it did bring up a Flickr Hive Mine result. I think I've linked to a Hive Mine result before, since it's really just a different way to search Flickr for images. So this ended up just being a collection of the different iterations of chickenkid, captured by a range of photographers. It seems to be a fairly widespread tag and uses a combination of stickers, spray paint, and maybe even chalk to create it's image. I've seen a couple of these versions here in Pittsburgh and I'm sure I'll end up featuring them later on the blog. One interesting little side note to my discovery would be the fact that some of the images in the collection make it seem like there is a site for this tag. There's at least one photo that puts "the chickenkid dot com" together on a collection of stickers. Seemed like a reasonable and logical site for something like this so I put it in. Somehow I ended up getting redirected to floweringpearpoultry.com, which seems to be a business in New Jersey that raises chickens. I won't even attempt to guess if these sites/ideas are even related, well beyond the chicken thing. I'm just going to assume it's another oddity of the internet.
Sorry that this is so late tonight, it's just been one of those days where I can't quite get the right momentum to stay focused. I will admit that tonight's stickers have certainly come up with some interesting ideas, although not really a story behind them. If you look up in the upper left corner of the sign you'll find a Hot Rod Sticker. They're a local piercing parlor that I actually interviewed for the blog earlier in the year that I highly suggest checking out. Then there's a couple of faded and small stickers that I can't really make out. So I ended up focusing most of my research on the blue and black sticker on the right. Granted I didn't come up with a site or artist behind it but the symbols and phrase certainly are an interesting combination.
Obviously a large portion of the sticker is dedicated to a demon or a devil, depending on your preferred nomenclature. I think I've mentioned it before but I've always been fascinated with folklore, mythology, and fairy tales. I ended up taking a couple of classes in college which only deepened my interest in the subject. I'm also a non-practicing Catholic so I've also had a little exposure to the Christian ideas of demons. What I find interesting about demonology, and demons in general, is how it occurs in cultures around the world. There's the Christian devil Satan, the Ifrits and Iblis from Islam, the idea of the Mara in Buddhism, the Kelpie from Scotland, and numerous demons in Japanese and Chinese folklore. While every culture has their unique demons, there are some shared similarities in every story. Whether it's a fallen angel, an unclean spirit, or a mischievous creature they are often associated with leading men astray (either to their death or towards evil). They will also often possess people, causing them to become ill and change their personality to something darker and problematic. And while people will often work to avoid association with the evils they see, there are some that seek to control the demons for their own benefit. I can't say that I really read through the full occultopedia entry on demonology, but this site from 1997 was too priceless not to share.
But along with the demon there are a couple of items that don't quite mesh with the demonic image. The lantern he is holding is generally seen to be a beacon of hope, a way to light your way and disrupt the darkness. It can be a representation of God, a pathway through death, and even the warmth of love. The demon even has a heart on his chest, semi- reminiscent of the sacred heart. And then there is the phrase, "In a world made of steel, made of stone." Clearly this was the first thing I tried to research, since it was one of the bigger and unique aspects of the sticker. I was definitely surprised when my top result actually turned out to be the song "What a feeling," from the movie Flashdance. This phrase is actually the end of the second set of lyrics at the beginning of the song, before we hit the refrain. Again this is a bit of a hopeful message, looking to get you to keep on moving and not to let life pull you down. So these ideas seem to be rather conflicting with the typical image of demons. Although it could be drawing more on the idea of the Greek daimon, which was more of a powerful being than sinister entity. Or it could be that idea of redemption. Or I could simply be reading far too much into this image, which is the most likely scenario.
Sorry but my computer refuses to link correctly, so here's the sites I was using.