ARTIST STATEMENT: My work deals with personal observations about the experiences of living in a small town in southeast Missouri. The often Strange and Humorous occurrences, places, and people in these towns offer a never-ending source of inspiration for my prints. I call this work “rural satire”. My work has been influenced by an array of artists, among then the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer, the etchings of Warrington Colescott, nearly all of the German Expressionists, and the late great Frank Zappa. My Chosen media is printmaking, specifically the woodcut. The combination of dark humor with the inherently expressive medium of the woodcut heightens the complexity of my images. For the past 2 years I have been engaged in the creation of a folio of prints entitled “2 Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities”. Each image depicts a single day’s occurrence, while all the images together describe a period of two weeks. The images come from either personal accounts or local folklore from my hometown of Potosi, Missouri.
The OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.” Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is right before their eyes but obscured; things that are so taken for granted that they are muted by abstract observation.
The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker. Because OBEY has no actual meaning, the various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities.
Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The PARANOID OR CONSERVATIVE VIEWER however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.
Another phenomenon the sticker has brought to light is the trendy and CONSPICUOUSLY CONSUMPTIVE nature of many members of society. For those who have been surrounded by the sticker, its familiarity and cultural resonance is comforting and owning a sticker provides a souvenir or keepsake, a memento. People have often demanded the sticker merely because they have seen it everywhere and possessing a sticker provides a sense of belonging. The Giant sticker seems mostly to be embraced by those who are (or at least want to seem to be) rebellious. Even though these people may not know the meaning of the sticker, they enjoy its slightly disruptive underground quality and wish to contribute to the furthering of its humorous and absurd presence which seems to somehow be antiestablishment/societal convention. Giant stickers are both embraced and rejected, the reason behind which, upon examination reflects the psyche of the viewer. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the stickers existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings. In the name of fun and observation.
Shepard Fairey, 1990
When I create art, I try to present it in a way that is broad, and therefore allows viewers to have a whole host of different interpretations and experience with the work. I have my experience in creating it and viewing it, and I don’t expect anyone else to have that experience. I find artist statements an interesting phenomena, because the whole idea of them is to tell viewers what they’re looking at, through the eyes of its creator, and I’m not the biggest fan of that, but I understand that impulse, and that desire we have as human beings to understand things. When we look at art, we may, on some level be content to have our own experience with it, but on some other level, we’re dying to know what the artist was thinking when they made it; what they are trying to say. Even I, who prefer to have my own experience with works, read the little plaques next to the piece, so I get the purpose of creating artist statements. I think the best artist statements are the vague ones; the ones that tell you about the process, and give you a broad idea of the artist’s intention, so as not to interfere with the viewer’s experience, but satisfy that need to understand its creation.
In the work Tom Huck is describing, the images are very specific to myths and experiences, so one might say there is less to interpret. Presented with each image in the “2 weeks in August” series, was a little explanation of the event or story, but this was part of the work and the experience itself. I enjoy his artist statement because he keeps it simple. He tells you about the process, his influences, and the origin of the concept. His descriptive words are broad and allow further interpretation, like “rural satire,” dark humor, complex. These descriptors give the viewer a taste of what his overall approach is, but doesn’t spoon-feed anything to you.
Shepard Fairey, on the other hand, I think is completely redundant. I think the only saving grace here, is that this statement came after people where able to interact with his work, but I still find it kind of laughable that he is simultaneously stating that the piece has “no meaning,” while telling us what it means. I think it is interesting, hearing all the different experiences different individuals have had with the sticker (which is what he states is the purpose of the piece), but I think that would be enough. He says the point was an experiment to see how people interacted with it, so I think it would suffice, and in fact be interesting, just to have him catalogue and share with us those experiences, without telling us that was his intention. Maybe one wouldn’t even call this an artist statement, seeing as it came after his work had been out in the world, but it’s still out there in the world, and if anyone reads this “manifesto” his whole intention of having people interpreting it on their own, is lost.
I suppose I appreciate artist statements that just give you a window into the artist’s head, and not ones that invite you inside for tea and conversation.