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  • Amy Young with Students of City College

Graff 101: Abe Lincoln, Jr

I've taught The Art History of Graffiti and Street Art class every other semester or so since 2011 at City College. Every semester we meet with a section of amazing artists. On July 15th we met Abe Lincoln Jr., thankfully in the cool classroom. This is an ad takeover and sticker artist I’ve admired so much, especially since the 2016 election. The self proclaimed “janitor” “grunt worker” and advocate of so many other - more timid (like me) artists told us his history, some of his secrets, and all about his projects from #resistanceisfemale to #keepfightingnyc , his avoidance of press, multiple performances, well as turning us on to a whole new passel of artists. He told us us to don an orange vest “do ad take overs during the day,” yikes! and to create an image that “softens the blow to sell the same product.” So much knowledge. This is what my students had to say about the visit.

Amy L. Young


Derek: Abe Lincoln Junior is another icon to the street art community. Like Tats Cru, Abe Lincoln Jr. was in the game for a long time. This gives off an OG respect to his name. Something about the originals give off a raw “what you see is what you get” vibe. This artist by far is not the most aesthetically driven, or displays complex a style of work, nonetheless, his content was still as influential. Throughout our talk I heard key phrase a lot of underground street artist share, “someone has to do something about it.” So, he did, and his more recent rants involve using bible scriptures and a parody of a “Jesus wasn’t a dick” theme to create a form of light bulb experience to his viewers.

Reph: I wish we had a chance to visit with Abe Lincoln Jr. in his element. He just seems like a more “let’s go do it,” guy then a talk about it guy. That being said his openness about his ad bombing experiences was surprising. The fact that Google now owns all of the phone booths in this city is probably not a good thing but I’m happy that he can take advantage of this moment in time to share these important messages. He specifically addressed my question about people being upfront with who they are during his presentation. He said he was referring to artists who are using street arts as a gimmick just to “skip the line,” and quickly commodified their work but at the same time he respects the hustle if that’s the way that people need to make money to feed their family. I’m looking forward to reaching out to him with some ad’s to add to his project, it really seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

Ruben: He says that he loves to do this type of work and that, “you do not have to quit your day job to make a difference.” This is something that I think is the biggest takeaway from this artist and his life’s work. It is possible to make changes on the world…it’s just that there has to be those people willing to actually do them.

Nicholas: His work began with faux advertisements, depicting companies that were satirical that didn’t really exist to get a laugh out of people then his work transitioned from cute and nonpolitical, to be quite direct as well as political after the election Trump. The rationale for this, was “it was not appropriate to put up goonish stuff anymore…” As a result, he created works where he uses the display boxes of telephone booths across New York City, operated by Titan. His greatest ad placement was in Times Square, with “Jesus Wasn’t a Dick” to address the religious hypocrisy in the United States but to also call attention to intentional act being crude. When going about his ad placements, as he has a key to unlock the telephone booths, and he dresses the part, appearing to be a municipal employee, wearing traditional workmen clothing. In fact, he even carries a business card of company that claims to be his employer, neat!

Badiallo: I enjoyed viewing the presentation, “You Don’t Have to Quit Your Day Job to Make a Difference.” When this artist first began his art journey, he fell in love with stickers, stating, “I love stickers, I’m totally addicted to them.” To me, the stickers that people could post up anywhere were simply an alternated version of his ad-takeovers. The only difference is that the ads are larger, are meant for a large demographic of people, and are also susceptible to being removed faster. While discussing the main content for his work, he revealed that he focuses on important content that people are facing such as racism, homophobia, misogyny, and more. He doesn't believe that it is right for people to just get into street art because it is “cool” and want to market for themselves to get their art into galleries. The artist takes a selfless approach when creating ad bombings to reach the majorities of who are suffering. Even when creating the ‘Resistance is Female’ movement, he was aware of his identity of being an older white man and felt that women should take the lead of a female movement. When it comes to his work, he is very conscious of his content and aims for more than just fame.

Sean: Having Abe Lincoln Jr. come visit our class and talk to us about his upbringing, his art, and his mission was one of my favorite experiences of this class so far. It was really great for me to hear the unfiltered opinion of a street artist with a mission to spread awareness, and rebellion. Perhaps one of the most poignant sayings I took from Abe’s presentation was “You don’t have to quit your day job to make a difference.” This was really reassuring to hear, since it quite often seems that once I’m out of school, I’ll have to make the decision between making money and making a difference. After listening to Abe explain that he was able to maintain a well-paying steady job, a family at home, and his art practice, I’ve regained hope for pursuing my artistic passion alongside a career. What I also found great about this particular lifestyle is that it allows the artist true freedom to create whatever they want, however they want. Like Abe mentioned, if you’re paying the bills with your day job, you don’t have to worry about creating a piece of art that will appeal to a potential buyer, you can just create art that has meaning, passion, and an embedded tone of rebellion.

Elias: Listening to Abe Lincoln Jr. was inspiring, him being someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a street artist that the media portrays. He had an extremely nuanced take on publicity and getting one’s messaged seen, emphasizing Time’s Square because of the concentration of tourists there. I appreciated his take on muralists and other street artists who seemingly join the scene just to get an easy step into the gallery world. It’s a cool gimmick to attach to your art, and it’s unfortunate that it’s portrayed as such, when street art used to carry an implicit message of rebellion. It’s a strange paradigm shift that’s accepting some street art as mainstream, and while it’s not a situation that should be outright disdained, it’s one that undoubtedly leads to a commodification of the street art scene and specifically why he didn’t want to gain large publicity and be equated to newer street artists that do, along with the paranoia of being recognized by police.

Natalie: Abe Lincoln Jr. is well known for his ad takeovers, a space where he can get rid of the fluff and nonsense that advertisements put out and put his own substantial work in place. He started creating these powerful pieces with messages shortly after Trump was elected into office. Working alongside other artists, he designed a piece that calls out Trump and Ivanka in a humorous way, as he said, “Humor is an opportunity.” Often times getting straight to the point doesn’t really get a reaction as opposed to a piece that makes you laugh at first but makes you think about the message. His #ResistanceisFemale campaign is something that really gained a lot of traction and attention from the press, something that he isn’t too fond of for himself. Street art isn’t about fame or recognition or him but for his Resistance is Female campaign it got to reach out to other people outside of the city. Working alongside strong and important female artists, he got to use his skills of getting into the telephone booth as a way to reach out and say an opinion to everyone in the city and using the internet to reach out to those in different states who might feel the same anger or opinions as the artists.

Mariah: When I walked into the classroom and saw Abe Lincoln Jr., I didn’t know what to expect since he tends to blend in to the environment, helpful when ad-bombing. When I learned that he grew up in the skateboarding culture in Northern California and the way he got into street art was by, obviously, graffing and stickers, the first thing I thought was SUPREME, and how they give out stickers with a purchase. I wondered what he thought of them, but either way he “saw them as a destructive device.” Once he said that, I was intrigued. I really appreciated his bluntness and nonchalant attitude about street art. His point of view is what a lot of original artists think but don’t want to say. The way he gets his art out is primarily by opening a phone booth and putting a poster up...while wearing an orange vest. When he said that, I couldn’t contain my laughter, especially since on YouTube there are a range of videos where people see how far they can get with an orange vest. (it’s quite far).

Daisy: When Abe Lincoln Jr. visited us I learned how Trump being elected as president changed his way of creating art. Instead of creating cute stuff he started to create pieces that have to do with some political issues we are going through. This shows how certain circumstances can change our way of thinking and living. I found it amazing how he as a man created a feminist movement during the women’s march called Resistance is Female in order to let the world see what’s going on. Not only did he create this movement, but he used women who are not street artists. What really amazed me is how he is so reserved if that is the correct word to use. He is very on the low with his stuff in the sense that he doesn’t like doing things with the press. Believes that doing this would be kind of a sellout. Would change your view or tweak your style in order to please the public. I found it very funny that when doing ads, he dresses up and gives people a fake company name just in case they ask him. One of his goal is to and I quote “to encourage others to do crazy shit.”

Alexis: Another artist who I did not expect to be so blunt in the way they talk. I lost count of how many times Abe said the F bomb but he was awesome. He made it seem so easy to put his designs in phone booths but as of now I'm still confused on how he makes it happen so fluidly. I love how he collaborates with other artists and isn't big on media. I find this common theme of artists not wanting to be sell outs with the presence of social media, but I personally find it to be an older generation that has this perspective. I think social media can be a great tool to help broadcast the message of artists and get peoples attention. I thought it was interesting that he formed a feminist movement with the help of other female artists because it's not common to find a white male who is as passionate about women's issues as women. I find this reaction to the Trump election very common among artists. The problem I have with this is that problems in the United States existed before the Trump election. I wish Trump didn’t have to be the reason for many artists to be angry or driven but at the same time it's great to see activism playout in the streets. I am looking forward to his political messages come 2020!

Seth: Abe Lincoln Jr. at first made me nervous, not to meet a respected figure in the world of street art, and at this point the king of New York City ad-bombing, but I was nervous he was going to be more positive about the messages of his works, if that makes any sense. I feel like his demeanor was perfectly matched for what he does; intense and focused, and I feel like that is well reflected in the biting imagery which he pastes in telephone booths around NYC. Abe Lincoln Jr.’s posters are a good example of when it makes more sense to break the traditional grid system.

Ricky: What can be said about the man who warps the visual perception of society to shake shit up by Ad-busting one payphone booth at a time? Let's start with a mantra the holds dear to his heart, and hopes it will for you too; “You don’t have to quit your day job to make a difference.” With a background in the hard-core skateboard scene, Lincoln Jr. recreates that ingratitude toward authority, and encouraging others to do the same when possible. Yet, he encourages with strong sense of cautiousness, after all, Lincoln Jr. disclaims “Nobody wants to be bagged if you don't have to.” So pick and choose how you want to approach and execute the work you want to see out on the streets. Plan, plan, plan, even if you have to create a character while on a run just to guard yourself from you're reality and the highly arrest-able act of vandalism. With Ad bombing, there's always the possibility that people will ignore your work, it may even go unnoticed till the moment it is pulldown, but for Lincoln Jr. It’s still worth the effort put in when you stand by your convictions and have something to say that needs to be heard.

Robert: Speaking of conceptual pranks, I thought that the genesis he laid out form hardcore music enthusiast to kawaii image maker to conceptual political artist was a logical progression. I thought the images of the fake Trump advertisements were a sophisticated critique of the current state of politics and the glossy sheen that somehow makes everything palatable. The use of fake advertisements critiques not just what is being sold (shady Trump apartments) but also the means by which we consume such images. If our eyes see a pretty woman dressed in business attire I think it automatically connotes real estate, or some sort of professional service. Abe Lincoln Jr.’s subversion of this expectation makes his poster all the more compelling.

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