SMASHED: The Art of the Sticker Combo is a book by iwillnot (@iwillnotart), that features art from the DC Street Sticker EXPO, which he also curates. EXPO 4.0 featured the biggest sticker combo wall in history and also other larger artworks. The collages that were from ceiling to floor, featured approximately 200,000 stickers by over 1,000 artists from all over the world. The DC Street Sticker EXPO has inspired so many all across the country to make original stickers and create their own art shows. Sold was there this year to experience EXPO 4.0 which took place between November 9 and December 31.
Stickers are collected, traded and could just be the perfect medium for self-expression. They remind us of our childhood, where on the first day of school, our names would get written on self-adhesive tags or we'd receive gold stars on tests to recognize our achievements. Stickers are used as rewards and they bring about positive feelings. From sticker rolls, to puffy and scratch ‘n sniff, stickers have been a part of our lives since most of us could walk and talk. Remember the vending machine foil prism stickers? You’d beg for a quarter or two and run over to the machine and it would be a surprise every time it shot out still hidden between a cardboard sleeve. Stickers also help us carve out identities and make us feel part of a shared, communal experience. Before Twitter or Facebook, car bumpers helped us broadcast our thoughts while we drove along a highway or street. They would let others know what political, religious, and ideological leanings we had, or who our favorite teams or musical groups were (and still do). From companies using stickers for branding purposes, to punk rock and skateboarders, to the art world, stickers will always be a huge part of our culture. The platforms may change, but the appeal behind why we love stickers remains the same, they conjure up emotions, make us laugh, make us think, etc. For the creators, they are artistically fulfilling and they are quick, concise, yet impactful ways to express beliefs and spread messages.
SMASHED: The Art of the Sticker Combo features art from the DC Street Sticker Expo.
photo courtesy of artist, author, curator, iwillnot (@iwillnotart)
Sticker trading allows artists to get their slaps up all around the world. The point is, to trade and spread stickers within each others home cities. iwillnot thought of a way to quickly get the most amount of stickers up on the street at one time. He would join the edges together forming one gigantic sticker sheet. When he was ready to put it up in public, it was a much faster way to do it rather than standing there putting them up one by one. Pretty smart, right?
@iwillnotart wanted to bring sticker combos off the street and into a gallery, smashing the space with thousands of stickers. For EXPO 1.0, he received permission to cover one wall at the Fridge in 2013. This was the first look at thousands of combined stickers to form a collage as one unified piece of art. Covering half the gallery, EXPO 2.0 happened in 2014 and the concept was a balance between chaos, visual jamming and fine art. At this point, a real partnership emerged between the Fridge and the EXPO. In 2016, for EXPO 3.0, he was given the opportunity by Alex Goldstein, the owner of the Fridge gallery in DC, to cover the entire space with stickers, which took over 100 hours to execute. He also wanted the EXPOs to be an opportunity for sticker artists to meet up and trade in person.
"I think the best use of stickers has nothing to do with the message,
it has to do with the sticker artist." - iwillnot
Kristy C. spoke to curator/author and got a chance to ask him a few questions:
Kristy C: Please tell our fans a little bit about your background. Did you go to art school?
iwillnot: I attended a Visual and Performing Arts High School in PG County Maryland called Suitland VPA. It was one of those programs that you had to audition to get into. I worked up a student portfolio, auditioned, and I was accepted for both visual arts and TV production and I chose visual arts. The program had several hours of fine arts classes every day from drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, etc. I reached back out to my high school for this show and some of the students sent me hand drawn stickers. That was awesome. After high school I took some drawing classes at a local community college and Fine Arts was my minor in college.
KC: What is your first sticker memory?
iwn: I have a memory of peeling off “Mr. Yuk” stickers when I was really young to put on my notebook. As a teenager I was into skating and BMX and used to cover my deck and bike with stickers.
As far as street art stickers, I started about 10 years ago. I would hand draw stickers and posters and put them up outside. I liked that I could work on them at home and get them up quickly as opposed to tagging something directly on a street sign. I didn’t really think that other people were into stickers until I started posting the pictures of my stickers online. Other sticker artists found my pictures online and started contacting me to trade stickers - so long as I put some up around DC and took pictures of them. By 2010, I was sending out around 1,000 stickers per month to artists around the world.
KC: How does this year's Expo differ from past ones?
iwn: This year I wanted to push the sticker medium and present the entries in ways I had not seen before. I wanted to bring stickers “off the wall”. Three elements of this show that explored that "off the wall" concept were:
Collage Portrait -
Artist Nick Zimbro (@mr.zimbro) assembled a breathtaking collage portrait using only the stickers submitted for this year’s show. He spent over 50 hours painstakingly sorting through thousands of stickers choosing just the right sticker for each element that makes up the portrait. The completed collage is 8ft x 8ft and it prominently featured center stage.
Curved Combo Wall -
This year in order to include more artists and larger pieces, we curved the panels of the 20ft combo wall to include the ceiling. For the stickers and posters to register visually from almost 13 feet away, we hand chose pieces that were larger as the wall continued up and onto the ceiling. This false ceiling was installed over a week’s time fastening each 8ft x 4ft panel one at a time.
Exterior Mural -
Prolific street artist and educator Decoy (@decoydc) organized a mural project on the exterior of the Fridge Gallery this year. The mural incorporates sticker designs from around the globe as well as DC artists painted directly onto the Fridge Gallery exterior walls. The "Hello My Name is Jah One" was a crowd favorite as well as the "Coffee Head Duck" and "Rockin Bones".
DECOY, is an army brat, born in Belguim, raised in Germany and is influenced by German folk art. She studied art history in Georgia, moved to DC in 2002 and fell in love with the city and the people. From running summer camps to teaching mural making in jails and youth detention centers to after school art programs, she works heavily with the people and children of DC. She always tries to find ways to get the community involved in the creative process and they are a huge inspiration and the subject of many of her paintings. DECOY, who has had four solo shows at the Fridge, worked on an exterior painted mural at the gallery which incorporated sticker art. She asked iwillnot, to pick out a few of his favorite stickers and he sent her one like Sleep is famous. She also picked some of her favorites like JAWSO's tv-headed Sasquatch and Pamtalk. It was a collaborative effort because she invited others to come paint like Coffeehead Duck, Rockin Bones and JAH. If you're out walking around DC, you are sure to see something by DECOY, like murals, wood cutouts and of course, stickers.
(Back to inside the gallery and EXPO 4.0)
KC: When assembling the stickers, is there a method to the madness?
iwn: Yes. When I did the first gallery show in 2013 we had many more rules than we do now, but there still are rules. You used to really piss people off if they could not prominently see their sticker on the wall, or if someone else’s sticker covered it. Some of that has loosened up a bit over time, but I still work slowly and methodically to install the stickers in a thoughtful way and display as many artists as possible per square foot. For example, if someone sends me only a single sticker, I wait until 2 hours before the opening to put it up, so it doesn’t get covered.
“I still get a thrill every time I get a sticker pack. I’m very lucky to have hundreds of talented artists send me their work.” i will not said, “Hell, I’m lucky that anyone comes to see a show about stickers at all.”
KC: Do you turn away submissions? Are there rules to images or words that are acceptable to be part of the show (i.e. no nudity or curse words?)
iwn: Occasionally, I’ll receive white power stickers and other racist stickers and they get trashed. Most nudity is okay. There have been penises in every show, sometimes hidden in plain sight. (see page 26 of my book Smashed: The Art of the Sticker Combo). Curse words are fine as long as it’s not racist or homophobic.
KC: What is the best use of stickers? Is it to get messages out there, to make people more socially aware about certain issues, to conjure up memories or feelings? Make people laugh? etc...
iwn: I think the best use of stickers has nothing to do with the message it has to do with the sticker artist. The best use of stickers is an outlet for someone that needs one. That outlet could include spreading any of the messages you mention above…or it could just be to show you that “johnny longnuts” can put a sticker on every stop sign in the entire city. And, as a bonus there’s a weird, crazy, active and accepting sticker community you can plug into.
KC: How has the response been from fans?
iwn: It’s been great! The response from supporters for both the EXPO and the book has been amazing!
KC: Will there be another book?
iwn: I’m compiling and writing my second book now. In preparation, I had the entire show professionally lit and photographed. We really sat with the space and took time to take incredible shots. It is completely documented and I’m excited. I’m especially excited because this year I did some risky things and I’m glad to have it all catalogued.
KC: Will there be a 5.0?
iwn: Of course!
To avoid a "sticky situation" within the sticker artist community, follow these three rules that you can find in the book: Smashed: The Art of the Sticker Combo.
The first rule of Sticker Club is:
You do not talk about Sticker Club...
(sorry, wrong set of rules...)
Ok...First Rule: If you asked someone to trade stickers, you sent your sticker
Second Rule: When you put your sticker pack together, you included other artist's stickers as well and include a few blank postal labels in your pack (228s).
Third Rule: When you received the pack, in return you must put up at least one sticker outside, take a picture showing that you did, and post the picture online...
(This is to make sure people weren't just collecting the stickers and actually getting them up in the streets.)
Mr. Zimbro, a life-long Washingtonian is an artist and builder. It runs in his family. His grandmother was a portrait painter and his great grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a brick mason who helped build the cinder block armature for the Lincoln memorial. Mr. Zimbro studied in Philadelphia at the oldest museum in the country Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). He also paints murals, most recently in Wynwood and has painted in Philly and Virginia. Although classically trained, he makes creations from all kinds of mediums, in this case a handmade collage portrait made of 100’s of stickers. He reached out to iwillnot and offered him access to a high tech printer. At the time he was putting up massive wall exhibits, also using stickers, in the Pentagon, and he thought he would want something intricate printed. iwillnot was more interested in creating a mosaic, which Mr. Zimbro knew would take more time, but it seemed like a lot of fun so he was game! Mr Zimbro assembled this sticker portrait on site over 50 hours during which he painstakingly sifted through thousands of stickers and picking the perfect one for each pixel. It stands 8ft x 8 ft and he made iwillnot's idea a reality that was the focal point of the exhibit. There are signed and numbered prints of Mr. Zimbro's collage portrait available here. Get one before they're all sold out! Mr. Zimbro is going on a bit of a mural tour this Spring and Summer. He has walls lined up in DC, NYC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Austin, Jacksonville, Miami and hopes to make it to LA too. Mr. Zimbro is definitely one to watch!
(@mr.zimbro) explaining how he assembled his sticker mosaic portrait
The peel, the stick, the art, the messages, stickers are multi-faceted, semi-permanent, compact ways to spread ideas in the street, in a gallery, on your car, really anywhere. The combinations and possibilities are endless.
Sold was excited to experience EXPO 4.0 and if you weren't able to, pick up the book! Click here or here to get your own copy: Smashed: The Art of the Sticker Combo. It includes the entire story and a great photo timeline from receiving the sticker packs in the mail, to seeing the execution of them appearing onto the gallery walls. It's a great book to add to your collection. We look forward to the next DC Street Sticker EXPO 5.0!