IF YOU DON'T KNOW SKAM, YOU WILL:
The Next Artist to be a Household Name
by Jonny Boys
I have been watching Skam's work for about four and a half years. I first connected with him via MySpace, before he had fully transitioned from his full time pursuit of fine art to his street art personality. He was still formulating his first Skam character at that time while dabbling with hand cut stencils. It was his offbeat, mixed media, outsider art, that reached out and slapped me in the face and sucked me in. He was the first artist I signed to represent his work in 2008 on a consignment contract here in Oregon. While that contract only lasted two years, our professional relationship has carried on.
In those early years while I was out trying to find collectors for his outsider art, he was hard at work on his latest project, Skam.
The first leg of the journey was his effort to raise awareness to all the public and social figures he considered to be scamming us via their speech and actions. He would design the characters, then hand cut the stencils and spray them on US Postal Service Label 228's (228's as they are called on the street). He was mixing his outsider art with his street art venture for these first batches, and would lay out fifty 228's on the floor of his studio and spray paint them, put glitter and ink from a bingo dobber on them and then let them dry. Later he would go back and spray paint his stencils over top of them. They were brilliant in a sea of hand drawn stickers. He Skammed everyone, The Pope, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Annabel Chong, Jerry Falwell, William Hung, Paris Hilton, Ronald Regan and even himself. He said people would point fingers at him if he wasn't able to scrutinize his own belief system.
The second leg was the development of his signature character. His reference was a photograph of a redneck that he saw online. He drew a character of it and added the trademark arrow, representing a thought process, the other side represents the reality via imagery of exploding brains. Then there is a secondary arrow coming out of the mouth as to quote the words used by the person to spread the scam or Skam. After a little manipulation via Photoshop he hand cut his first stencils and started making custom, one of a kind stickers on 228's. What he did next was nothing short of genius, he posted his image on Flickr.com and asked for other artists to collaborate with his image. In a matter of months he had well over 200 collaborations with artists like Rob Zombie, Aaron Kraten, the Figurehead project, Biafra Inc, Bride Campaign, GFGX, Killed, Narcoze, and Full Bleed. He was backlogged because he was hand cutting the stencils, creating hand made 228's and sending out packs all over the globe.
He soon began to discover how many fans he had. Vinny Raffa, a legend in the east coast skateboard community who throws lots of parties with celebrities and musicians shared this story. The guys from Wu Tang Clan were at one of his events where he was really promoting Skam's stickers and one of the guys said, “Oh yeah, Skam, we've been following him for a while”. One of his fans in England defaced the Banksy vs. Bristol Art Museum show with multiple Skam 228's.
He began getting invitations from art shows around the world to create pieces specifically for them. He's shown in Tel Aviv, Tehran, Moscow, London, Tokyo, LA, Portland, New York City, and Cincinnati. His show in Tehran was raided and his stickers were confiscated by police because they were too controversial, earning him much street cred in the global community. His work was featured in the book, Label 228: A Street Art Project by Camden Noir in 2009. He's been interviewed by countless online magazines. Pirate Satellite TV came to Eugene, Oregon to a show I curated and interviewed him there. He has been filmed in two documentaries and his feet and his art appeared in a news story on Portland's KATU evening news. He's talked at length with Shepard Fairey about the state of sticker and poster art and he's hung out with musicians like The Flashbulb and Christopher Hall of Stabbing Westward.
I really don't think I've met an artist yet that works as hard as he does. He not only works on his own pieces but he's constantly curating shows promoting other sticker artists work. What sets him apart is he is really not in it for the money. Have I sold his work? Yes. Has he sold his work? A few large pieces, and recently he's started charging shipping and handling for his sticker packs. But on the whole he prides himself on scavenging scraps of vinyl sticker material and half used, discarded screen print ink. He continues to create and ship out stickers. In 2009 he was awarded the “Scariest Sticker of the Year” award by Bomit.com and in 2011 was voted “Sticker Artist of the Year in 2011 by fans on the same website. And last year his Flickr.com page celebrated the one million views milestone.
In January of 2010 I contacted him and asked him if he would be interested in creating an installation at my Emerge Oregon Art Series show in Salem. He told me he'd been toying with the idea of a show called “Sticker Nerds” which would entail a large sticker combo. He put out a global call to artists for posters and stickers, the response was overwhelming. It took Skam, Mr. Say and Nasty Nate 17 hours from start to finish to create this piece, part of which was done live during the show. On March 5, 2010, a small 10' x 10' room, in the warehouse space of Coffee House Cafe, was plastered with well over 3,000 stickers and posters. By the weekend several videos had been uploaded to YouTube and and Flickr was abuzz with artists from around the world who were excited to have their work in a legitimate gallery show.
He helped me curate a show called “Sticker Bomb” in a gallery in Cincinnati in June of 2010. Never one to miss an opportunity to get his message out he was interviewed by Australian based eZine, Horror, Sleaze and Trash. The interviewer asked about the “Sticker Bomb” show, and Skam unleashed his wrath on the gallery owner. After reading the article it was a sobering reminder for me to be professional with all artists. I would actually recommend all low to mid market curators read the article. Curators hurt their own credibility if they make false assumptions about a genre of art, they must really research the artists and know the works before showing them, which is the gold standard in mid market and Blue Chip galleries. It was out of this show that Skam made the decision not to work with physical art galleries anymore but instead host street art shows. The self made artist went about his way to curate some powerful shows.
Skam curated Sticker Nerds 2 with the help of Dre at Oregonized Gallery in September of 2011. The show was hosted in the basement of Tokens Smoke Shop in SE Portland. He once again called for art from around the world. It was the largest sticker art event in the US in 2011. The show was critiqued by Pete McCracken of Pacific Northwest College of Art's magazine “Untitled”. McCracken called the show a, “subversive celebration of this graphic and typographically rich art form”. And it is true, Skam has been exposed to so many great street artists from around the globe, that he has really developed a great eye for curating shows and creating large sticker combo installations.
Most recently with the help of Rx Skulls, Circle Face, the Lost Cause, Magical and Kanye PDX, under the banner head of Oregonized Gallery, Skam and his crew curated the show “Anything Will Help: A Poor Man's Art Show” at the Jack London Bar in Portland. The premise for the show was for artists to create pieces on cardboard, a reference to a panhandler's sign, and the works could be priced for no more than $50.00. They had over 300 submissions from around the world for the two month show. It was the freshest idea for a low market pop up show I've seen yet. And it all came from the mind of Skam. I attended the show to see how it turned out, because in the week prior I had several conversations with him on how to properly hang the work without the use of nails in a way that wouldn't damage the work or the walls. He and his crew did a wonderful job. And the opening was packed, not uncommon for a street art show, but there were more patrons from the public this time, not the typical hipsters trolling for free beer and maybe a photo by the local press. As his shows grow in size and gain more notoriety in the mainstream press here in the Pacific Northwest people will start to see him for the multi-talented artist that he is.
He has seen more than his share of haters and controversies as a street artist, but his resolve amazes most everyone he interacts with and his energy is an encouragement to those of us who love his work.
To support Skam's life mission to subvert the system go to: