Looking at Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art, a history of stickers from various subcultures, from graffiti and street art to skating and punk music, two years after its publication, the book remains significant as the first major publication on Do-It-Yourself sticker culture; yet the book has also become outdated, as the sticker scene, at least in New York, has evolved past glossy, printed stickers.
Divided into sections based on themes such as music, with examples by Black Flag and Wu-Tang, and graffiti, with stickers by Cost and Revs, Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap asserts the importance of this unlikely medium in both street culture and art.
With introductions by Paper Magazine editor Carlo McCormick and the street artist everyone loves to hate, Shepard Fairey, whose rise to prominence started with his stickers of Andre the Giant, the book consists of mostly high-quality reproductions of stickers, with little explanation of individual stickers’ histories or even much information about the artists who made them.
With the wide range of subjects presented in the book, it was hard not to pick and choose the sections that were the most personally interesting. I was drawn to the place of stickers in graffiti, particularly the importance of writers Cost and Revs in sticker culture.
Throughout the mid-1990’s, Cost and Revs plastered New York City with their homemade stickers, usually printed with not-so-subtle images such as a huge middle finger wedged between their tags. Known for their revolutionary roller tags, Cost and Revs transformed sticker graffiti, inspiring many other writers to come out with their own stickers.
Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap is undoubtedly visually interesting, with page after glossy page of stickers highlighting artists from Keith Haring, who made perhaps my favorite sticker, promoting “Debbie Dick for President: More Balls than Bush,” to a Kenny Scharf “Donut.” But I did wish there were more photographs of stickers on the streets rather than scanned images. The placement of these works in the street is both more interesting and informative of their cultural role than standalone pictures that, after a few pages, begin to resemble a teenage girl’s sticker book.
Two years after the publication of Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap, it seems already a little outdated, since sticker culture, like most street cultures, has changed quickly. Moving away from the glossier, printed stickers that fill the pages of the book, artist have returned to the simpler, postal or “Hello my name is” stickers. Less reliant on colorful, visually overwhelming design and more focused on the DIY aspect of stickering, the new pieces on the street strive to look a little worn and grimy. The stickers I continue to notice from writers like Katsu work with the simplicity and utilitarian nature of the postal sticker and include the artist’s art or tags drawn over it.
Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap isn’t the only publication on street art and graffiti I’ve encountered that’s become dated rather quickly, which raises questions for writers and publishers of these books: Can a timeless catalogue on graffiti writing, street art or street culture be published? (Though some may argue Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon’s The History of American Graffiti and Carlo McCormick, Marc & Sara Schiller and Ethel Seno’s Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art and are a good start.) Will books have to continually appear in order to keep up with the newest trends on the street? Or are these meant to simply be more expensive versions of a magazine, with the expectation that they will be out of date in a few months?