Devil critters, grinning skulls, psychedelic cats, and circus freaks populate the pages of Sticker Bomb XL (out Oct. 29 from Laurence King Publishing). The book comes packaged to self-destruct with more than 160 peel-off art stickers hailing from Malaysia, Romania, Brazil, Italy, and just about anywhere else that DIY street artists care to roam.
Pioneered by New York punk rockers and California skateboarders in the late '70s, alt-culture stickers share a mordant graphic vernacular that's been embraced around the world. When Sticker Bomb's London-based co-author Suridh Hassan arrived in Thailand last week to stage a pop-up gallery in Bangok, he said, "I loved seeing graf stickers on tuk-tuks and food carts."
Even in Iran, sticker art crops up on city streets thanks to a guy who calls himself Mr. Nico. In Sticker Bomb he writes, "People in Iran consider street art to be vandalism and usually tear stickers up. They don't care that they're just made by a boy who wants to express the feelings, beliefs, and paradoxes of his people's environment." But Mr. Nico has been persevering since the age of 14, when he started posting home-made Nightmare Before Christmas character Jack Skellington. These days, he notes, "I design my own stickers and don't worry about how long they last. If they express my feelings to even one person in this town, that's enough for me."
How to explain sticker art's endurance three decades after Shepard Fairey and other artists first started plastering "Andre the Giant" labels around lower Manhattan?
"It's a simplicity thing," explains Hassan, who runs the SRK arts and design studio with Sticker Bomb co-author Ryo Sanada. "They're easy to make and it's a great way to pass around artwork whether it be on the streets, on a wall or on your car. That's why the medium works."
The pieces in Sticker Bomb are die-cut to the contours of each high-res image, but anybody with a marker, a message, and a box of blanks can get in the game. Sanada says, "It's easy to make your own sticker from scratch. Get some post office label stickers and use a great hand style with a marker pen. I've seen really cheap, badly printed sticker labels with ink running in the rain where you can barely make out the design, and I've also seen detailed hand-crafted stickers by great Tokyo artists. They all have their place."
To assemble images for Sticker Bomb, SRK trawled for talent online and in person. "We used everything from Flickr to Facebook to blogs. "There's a lot of amazing work out there, whether it's by fine artists, multimedia guys, or musicians who like a doodle," says Hassan. When we get to meet artists at random exhibitions in random countries, it always leads to a beer and a realization that we live in a small world."
Check out the slide show for an international tour of hand-sized graphics that might just be popping up on a lamp post near you.