Exploring pop culture’s subversive sticker art culture

The thing I love most about stickers it is how they show that a simple graphic or design can get into the sub-conscience of society and become part of the visual zeitgeist for the next ten or twenty years.

-DB Burkman, Co-author (with Monica LoCascio) of Stickers: Stuck Up Piece of Crap – From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art

This gluey favorite has furtively made it’s way into pop culture. And like that sticky, filmy substance left behind when you try to remove it — sticker art has left marks all over different transgressive subsets of our culture.

It’s not easy to find a detailed history of the medium so endlessly embedded into our lives, but it’s safe to say that for years it started out as a simple and practical tool — often in branding. Slather a little glue on the back of your logo, and you can post it up just about anywhere. And that’s where a lot of the new stickering culture came from – social commentary playing on existing logos.

But there’s also increasingly an art to this option, cheap enough to be available as an option for pretty much anyone to put their own spin on.

Sticker bombers and culture confrontation

Sticker art is the wildly successful yet still sometimes frowned-upon component of street art. Some graffiti artists say that it’s too easy a way of making your mark, and others have parlayed it into fame and fortune. It’s just so easy, printable at home for a more impermanent effect or on increasingly wear-resistant vinyl for staying power.

Sticker Art: Obey

One of the most recognizable street art stickers is the work by Shepherd Fairey, derived from an image of André the Giant. Now internationally known, the street artist actually first gained notice through the use of his OBEY graphic in the early ’90s, often in sticker form.

Fairey writes about the surprising significance that stickers took in building his career, in an essay called “Sticker Art,” originally published in Graphotism Magazine.

Katsu
Faust
Barry McGee
ten

As the art of the sticker started with brands, it became an accessible way for artists to critique society. It’s commonly called subvertising, an amalgamation of the words “subversive” and “advertising” to make fun of corporate and political slogans.

In the case of the image above, “Chetrooper,” created by Derek Fridman and Heather Alexander and Urban Medium, the commentary was on the iconic art image of Che Guevara, which the artists found frustratingly ubiquitous on the clothes and bags of people who had no idea of the original historical figure’s ethos.

Streetwear sticker art

Supreme
The Hundreds
Stussy
Undefeated
Vans

Intricately tied with the history and culture of graffiti, streetwear brands have taken this trend and run with it. Or rather, skated off with it. It’s the perfect form of advertising, artistic renditions of your brand name that can be plastered directly onto a skateboard, snowboard, or surfboard. It’s like a bunch of tiny billboards walking around for you.

And as you can see above, a simple logo can be done in a whole variety of styles, sometimes even redesigned by famous artists and designers, to create an in-demand limited edition product to be desired in-and-of itself.

Music

STICERS_WSSY

Stickers also have a long history with music. How many band-based stickers have you seen decorating someone’s bumper alongside a blue-and-red political statement? It doesn’t matter which music world you were involved in. From the Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, to The Sex Pistols, Sonic Youth or Wu-Tang Clan. Each one of these groups has very memorable visual merchandise.

In the art world, with Andy Warhol… of course

It’s impossible to keep any medium outside of the high-brow context, no matter how low-brow it started. So even sticker art, cheap and multitudinal, has made its way into the minds of more famous designers.

Sticker Art by Andy Warhol

In one of the most famous album covers of all time, Andy Warhol stickered a banana on the front of the Velvet Underground’s album, which you could peel off to reveal a vaguely skin-colored banana underneath.

Sticker art by Yayoi Kusama

And who said all sticker art had to be an illustrative experience to critique? Yayoi Kusama’s interactive Obliteration Room started out completely white, a commentary on the nondescript suburban household. And throughout the exhibition, viewers were welcomed to cover the space entirely in colored stickers, rapidly obscuring the entire space in a burst of colorful fun. See the time lapse of the exhibition at the Tate for a glimpse of the effect.

Liked this article? Read more about how sticker art can inspire your next design.

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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