If street art is the underbelly of the highbrow art world, then hand-drawn stickers, often slapped on newspaper boxes or light poles, are so to the graffiti world.
A new exhibit in The Art Gallery, “Slap In The Face: A Tribute to Sticker and Graffiti Art,” is exploring this culture. The gallery, which is located inside the Cesar Chavez Student Center, is having its opening reception Friday.
“Stickers don’t really get the attention that other forms of graffiti do,” said Marcus Valderama, a San Francisco resident who helped set up the exhibit. “You can do so much more with a sticker than you can with a quick tag.”
Carolyn Ho, a fourth-year student majoring in creative writing and the manager of the art gallery, estimates there are more than 2,500 stickers on the wall.
“This dude came in with this book of stickers,” said Ho, who co-curates the event along with SF State students Ali Hawkes and Jessy Gaumann “It’s such a specific type of street art. It’s fabulous.”
The man she speaks of is Jordan Ayoub, a 19-year-old SF State student who plans on becoming a graphic design major. This is his first time curating a gallery, but inspiration came from pictures he saw of a New York hotel lobby. An artist had collected pieces of graffiti and photocopied them together to make the wallpaper that filled the room.
Ayoub was struck by the image and decided the same thing could be done in San Francisco. He spent more than a year adding to his personal sticker collection through “the huge networking scene” of the graffiti world. Excited contributions came in locally, and from as far away as Seattle and Chicago, though some artists were hesitant.
“When you write your name you have a reputation towards it, you hold this standard of how people perceive you. Some of these reputations are admirable, or are larger figures in the graffiti scene, and they don’t want their reputations to be tarnished by some show,” Ayoub said. “The hesitancy was understandable, but after I explained the show most people were willing.”
Collecting the stickers wasn’t the only challenge in putting the show together. Figuring out how to puzzle them together, and more importantly protect them, was also an issue. The stickers are laid onto panels, each 72 inches tall. After a week and a half of physical set up, and two full days of sticking, the end effect is a solid wall of stickers, with a skyline resting atop.
An unfortunate fact of working with a bunch of vandals is, well, they’re vandals. Many of the artists were concerned about their pieces, many of which are valuable within the community, being stolen and tagged over. To buffer that, a clear laminating film was placed over the stickers. The rest of the Student Center, Ho mentioned, might not be as safe, which is why there will be a dedicated space for crowd participation within the gallery.
Ayoub has been active in graffiti since he was 13 years old, and said stickers, which are respected as much as any other form of street art, are just another way to put yourself in the city. This event is a chance to promote and understand the adhesive art.
For Ho, it’s a chance to root for the underdog. She’s advertising the gallery, but is also advocating the art to help it gain respect.
“There’s such an art form within graffiti, and within stickers themselves. I thought it would be really rad to bring the life of stickers to a gallery and to the community,” she said. “We’re not here to change the world, but to alter it.”
The opening reception for the gallery is Friday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. on the third floor of the Student Center. There will be free beer and gourmet hot dogs.