The Block

Insights — 9 months ago

The Populist Canvas: How The Sticker Changed Art

Recent CSM graduate, resident printmaker and self-confessed sticker fanatic Indiana Lawrence talks us through how the sticker changed art. 

 

We didnt know it at the time, but lots of us got our intro to the art world through the stickers we loved as kids. They got traded like currency in the playground shinies were like gold dust they were hoarded away in shoe boxes until the moment came for their debut when they’d be displayed proudly across notebooks, lunch boxes and lockers.

 

The appeal of the sticker has never been limited to the schoolyard, though. For such a tiny little thing, stickers have had a pretty active life since they began as a labelling concept decades ago. They’ve been used as a tool by everyone, from surf and skate fans to political parties to football fanatics, as a way to share a message with the world.

Words
Indiana Lawrence
Photography
Cory Edwards
Share
Indiana Lawrence photographed by Cory Edwards

Walk down the street in Shoreditch on any given day and youll see them plastered over every available surface. Even on tiny Caribbean islands, youll find dancehall enthusiasts making their passions clear via their car bumper.

Versatility has been key to the stickers long life, and its constant reinvention stands to proves there is little it cant do or be. Not only that, but stickers are incredibly accessible; almost anyone can use them as a canvas. As such an adaptable and readily available medium, it makes sense that artists have adopted stickers as a means to share their work with the world.

Stickers by Indiana Lawrence
From the sticker collection of Indiana Lawrence

For the late artist Keith Haring, stickers were a solution to his moral dilemmas of working in the art world. Having spent his career working publicly (and illegally) across sidewalks and subways, Haring found himself in a predicament when he rose to prominence in the mid-‘80s.

Keith Haring Pop Shop
Keith Haring Pop Shop

In high demand in the New York gallery scene, and with requests flooding in from high-profile institutions and individuals, Haring sought a way to keep his connection to the streets, believing art should be for everyone. From this pressure emerged an incredible and revolutionary way of producing artwork. Haring took already popular forms of merchandise — key rings, T-shirts and, of course, stickers — and turned them into art, founding Pop Shop in 1986.

Indiana Lawrence sticker collection photographed by Cory Edwards
Indiana Lawrence sticker collection photographed by Cory Edwards

It’s clear that the humble sticker is already moving with the times

The conceptual space took the city by storm and had people from all over queueing for the chance to own Harings artwork. Yet despite this positivity, the art world remained sceptical; many saw it as disrespect for art and a cheapening of it. But Haring’s selling outwas in many ways an incredible comment on elitism in the industry. John Gruen, in his biography of Haring, described Pop Shop as a place where, “not only collectors could come, but also kids from the Bronx”.

Keith Haring photographed by Tseng Kwong Chi
Keith Haring photographed by Tseng Kwong Chi

By offering cheap alternatives to his expensive works, Haring ensured that his art was accessible. Those with a lot of money bought the canvases, those with a little bought the T-shirts, and those with less still bought the stickers: Haring managed to bridge the gap in the art world by functioning across all levels.

Keith Haring Original 1982 Green Square Face Sticker
Keith Haring Original 1982 Green Square Face Sticker

Haring’s values are echoed in the work of many artists operating today, particularly within street art. Unwilling to compromise in making work for everyone, many bypass institutions and take their art outside for all to see. But with this methodology comes inevitable risks. For a long time, many street artists have used stickers as their medium of choice when producing work, and for good reason.

Stickers by Indiana Lawrence
From the sticker collection of Indiana Lawrence

Not only does the speed of application massively decrease the danger of being caught putting up art, but the abundance in which stickers can be produced (and for minimal cost) means that one design can be put up in hundreds of places around a city. Street artist Shepard Fairey used this way of working to great effect when putting out his OBEY campaign. He put his art up around New York City at such a rate, that soon everyone was questioning the meaning behind the suddenly ubiquitous black and white face of Andre the Giant.

Shepard Fairey OBEY sticker
Shepard Fairey OBEY sticker

With close links to street art, the skate scene has been pioneering insane sticker designs for years. More and more, you see brands collaborating with huge artists on collections, creating a space where high art meets street culture. In doing so, the work of the artist becomes accessible on a whole new platform and to a brand new audience.

Stickers by Indiana Lawrence
From the sticker collection of Indiana Lawrence

Supremes collaboration with Damien Hirst in 2009 saw them produce not only skate decks and T-shirts bearing the artwork but a whole load of stickers. Given some of Hirsts works sell for millions at auction, its incredible that teenagers can now own their own for a fiver instead.

Supreme x Damien Hurst stickers
Supreme x Damien Hurst stickers

Obviously, a sticker and an original artwork are incomparable in many ways, but what the sticker embodies is the chance for a new audience to not only experience the art but have a version of it for themselves. No longer is art restricted to the gilded frames of West London townhouses, now it can be found on the underside of a scratched up skateboard in Brixton.

Indiana Lawrence sticker collection photographed by Cory Edwards
Indiana Lawrence sticker collection photographed by Cory Edwards

Its clear that the humble sticker is already moving with the times. There have even been efforts to branch out towards a more sustainable future through material innovations which go way beyond the classic vinyl adhesive. From the way things are looking, soon well all be able to expand our art collection to Koons and Kahlos with the odd shiny thrown in. It’s probably about time to dig out that old shoebox again.

Courtesy of Fiorucci
Courtesy of Fiorucci

Continue the nostalgia trip and read about the complex history of the hoodie here.

 

Cory Edwards
Posted by
Cory Edwards
Tags
Share