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DC's Sticker Culture

By Ellie Klausmeyer | 5/4/17 9:41pm | Updated 5/9/17 3:35pm
Lindsay Maizland / American Word Magazine

Where do artists draw inspiration from? A Picasso classic? An orchestral performance? I now want to believe that D.C. artists draw creativity from neither.

I discovered this one morning walking down Florida Avenue with my friend Jonathan Murray. As we strolled past worn, red rowhouses and abandoned lots, Murray stopped to snap photos of stickers posted on the sides of signs and trash cans. The stickers ranged from cartoon figures to political slogans. Murray explained that these art forms, though small, rooted themselves in a strong, underground punk scene.

According to Murray, a digital artist and sticker enthusiast, sticker culture branched off of a long-running punk scene in D.C.. “Stickers are used to advertise people’s different bands. From that we have grown a very healthy street art culture of stickers,” said Murray. “Unlike most cities that prefer paint tagging, D.C. seems to prefer lathering their streets in stickers that are dominated by a dozen or so big artists, and waves of other smaller sticker batches.”

Andrew Gelwick, another sticker aficionado and student at American University, thinks D.C. really lends itself to a sticker culture due to the metro system. “Graffiti is still huge but hard to do on the platforms,” said Gelwick.

Stickers range in design since they are a way of political, cultural and personal expression. “I make those yellow stickers with the alien seen around campus, they’re okay but I like the design,” Murray said.

Murray became interested in the phenomenon when he saw art plastered around the city. He also needed a new hobby, so he started creating his own stickers using eggshell tape, which makes the little buggers difficult to remove. The permanence of the art allows for a sense of place that other art forms cannot offer. The stickers are able to build on each other and create a layering history. Gelwick uses collages to create his masterpieces on the computer.

Sticker culture, like many other art forms, has created a certain community. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see a variety of stickers that can be viewed by anyone. Many artists also send their art in the mail, trading with other people in order to grow their collections. According to Gelwick, the ability to mass order custom stickers online has promoted the culture even further.

The placement of stickers around the District can gain an artist strategic fame. Artist Gare Voyeur’s stickers are a common sight around the city – his black and white markers with his name inscribed on the front appear in multiple neighborhoods. The Fridge, an art gallery near Eastern Market, has also committed itself to the art of stickers; it has included a giant installation dedicated to this medium.

Stickers have become part of the city’s identity and culture. The phenomenon has allowed any individual to make a small part of the city their own. Although the printing of stickers can be quite pricey, the spread of this art form has made way for a certain accessibility not seen with other mediums. Stickers are an art form that both the young and the old can relate to. The artistic and expression these objects convey create a silent conversation that may take place throughout Washington. Sticker culture will leave its residual glue on this city for years to come.