Picture yourself walking down the street either to school, to meet a friend, or to get something to eat. As you stroll along, there are some obvious things you notice: the buildings around you, traffic signs, a newspaper box…but wait, what’s on that newspaper box? What’s on the flip side of that traffic sign? They’re stickers, or as those “in the know” call them, slaps.
Sticker bombing, slap tagging: Whatever you choose to call it, it’s sticker art, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Sticker art is a form of graffiti where characters or messages are drawn or printed on stickers. An observant eye can spot these pieces on a newspaper distribution box, the back of a street sign, a bridge, or anywhere else slap taggers can make their marks. Content on slaps can include anything from political statements to jokes (lookin’ at you, Curly) or, most prominently, characters.
Around the middle of September, I heard buzz about a sticker art show that Tattooed Mom, a Philly bar, was putting together. It was called Characters Welcome, and was to take place September 28th and 29th. The 28th was for ages 21+ at the bar, so that was a no-go for me. However, Saturday was all-ages at a gallery on South Street run by Cred, a Philly youth culture magazine.
So on the 29th, I headed down to the gallery. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, I found the location at 325 South Street thanks to a sandwich board outside which displayed the event flyer I’d seen online. As I walked in, I was greeted by about ten large wooden boards completely covered with slaps, collage style. Artists from Philly to Australia all sent in their work to TMom’s to be featured in the show, and here they were displayed: ten colorful melting pots of characters. Some stickers that were immediately recognizable included Bob Will Reign, Jawso, and Vedo- all using fluorescent hues to attract attention. Other notable artists included Baddogs, 100 Percent Juice, and Pnub. The boards themselves hung in patches on either side of the gallery, and there was a big piece of paper for artists to write their tag, or sort of “trademark,” on.
In the center of the gallery, there was a large table where some of them were drawing on more stickers or talking with friends. The atmosphere of the show bright and friendly, and it was plain to see the strong sense of family that tied these people together.
Street art is typically seen exactly there- the street- so going to a gallery show for it was like a breath of fresh air. Graff artists display their work in the public domain and it’s easy for one to walk on the street and glance at a sticker, passing it off as “just graffiti.” This is, of course, if one happens to notice at all. But for the people who do notice, street art adds personality to the everyday routines of walking to work or the SEPTA stop. Once you get familiar with an artist or a few, seeing their work around the city will be like a little wink or a friendly “hello!” On top of that, spotting their work in a city with which you’re not entirely familiar is like seeing an old friend; it’s comforting in a way.For the slap taggers themselves, their characters are alter egos. They’re a low-key form of expression that allows them to make their marks and speak to the public in a visual way. Characters Welcome put the spotlight on these artists and provided a space for them to show their work.
Next time you’re in Center City, take a look around. Turn over a new leaf and try to catch a glimpse of the things you’ve been missing! After all, these voices, these characters, are on a newspaper box around the corner waiting for you to acknowledge them.
Photo Credit: Danielle Kocher, Loco Mag writer