Downtown, the core of a city, they’re everywhere you go. Every lamppost, mailbox, and dumpster. Graffiti stickers, also commonly referred to as slaps, are interesting unintentional pieces of graphic design stuck on just about anything.
There is great efficiency in having premade art that is readily adherable to almost any surface. Stickers became a turning point for the infamous vandals DJ NO and TESS, who were associated with the vandal group X-MEN. These vandals ran a rampant campaign through New York City in the early 1980s and are often credited with popularizing the use of stickers for tagging (“Stickers NYC”). Graffiti, being a mostly illegal practice, meant artists that only used slaps are not identified on public platforms. One outlier to this problem is well-known artist Shephard Fairey who became a face for the slaps scene with his Andre the Giant has a Posse campaign. To this day the movement’s iconic sticker that depicted a graphical rendition of celebrity Andre the Giant’s face accompanied by bold, red highlighted type reading “OBEY”(see fig.1) is a massive part of what sticker culture is today. The directness of the sticker offers the viewer to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings, making quite the powerful statement (Bertschmann). You can find this sticker in cities across the world, thirty years after the campaign hit the streets of Providence, Rhode Island.
Today there’s an oversaturation of random slaps, mostly anonymous, self-promos of social media or knock-off slaps of vintage favourites. Essentially anyone can make one and stick it wherever so long as they don’t get caught of course. They are a form of advertisement, considering it isn’t unlikely to find an actual business using stickers to grab second of your attention as you wait for the crosswalk signal. Common characteristics of slaps include typefaces that are bold or hand-drawn graffiti fonts like wildstyle (see fig.2). Type is then often accompanied by an illustration that might be hand-drawn or reproduced. Some stickers are printed in a large quantity while others are hand made using packaging labels or scrap sticker paper. Since there are no rules or structures of design it makes these stickers quite unique and collectable. People will go out of there way to collect from specific artists and brands and then trade with others. This collective craze is the reason an artist’s sticker might end up in a city thousands of miles away from their own. The next lamppost you pass just might have some value stuck to it.
Bertschmann, Maddie. “Obey: The Art of Phenomenology.” Stakeholders: Uncensored. November 26, 2014, https://stakeholderdoce.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/obey-the-art-of-phenomenology/. Accessed February 11, 2020.
“Stickers NYC.” Beyond the Streets. March 13, 2019, https://beyondthestreets.com/blogs/artist-spotlight/stickers-nyc. Accessed February 9, 2020.