A large envelope arrived recently at work filled with bright, multi-colored stickers by the Vancouver-based street artist and graphic designer Kenn Sakurai, also known as esm-artificial. His are hand-silkscreened, hand-separated, machine- and hand-cut stickers of words and phrases, such as “I love that you love,” “new wave,” “I LOVE YOU MORE ESM,” “CARE BULLY,” “LITTLE HATERS,” “SALAD BAR,” “FREE EGGS,” “FLIRT MONSTER,” and “NEW ROMANTIC.” Sizes of the ones he sent to me range from about an inch to seven inches. Some stickers reference music, pop culture, films, and film stars like Planet of the Apes, Hello Kitty, and Audrey Hepburn.
Kenn told me via email that for the words and phrases stickers, he draws the text by hand, scans it, and die cuts it using a plotter. At the end, everything is pieced together letter by letter, which he said is the most time-consuming, but on a full day, he and a studio assistant can make anywhere from 30 to 50 stickers at a time. The craftsmanship is really exquisite!
“I have been involved in making prints and stickers using serigraphy, aerosol and other paint, vinyl & wood for many many years. I am fascinated by the sticker format including post office labels, pharmacy prescription labels, “hello, my name is” stickers, adhesive price tags and stickers on fruit.
Curated gallery showings are fantastic but doing work outdoors has a different kind of buzz and immediacy that motivates me to create more user-friendly, spontaneous humorous work for all ages. My dialogue is intended to be colourful, quirky, thought-provoking, flippant and reactionary that in a quick glance can resonate on a deeper level with the viewer. I hope the public placement of my stickers invites the viewer to react to it by laughing, taking a photo/sharing or stealing it for their own personal collection.
It’s hard to put into words, the odd feeling of exhilaration I get when putting up something as seemingly simple as a sticker into a public space and with the hope that it engages the viewer.
There is a kind of intrigue and new life to a sticker that develops on the street when several other collections from different artists build up in a small space over time. It is like the work morphs into a new being that is controlled only by a synthesis of many different individuals adding to the ‘sticker bombed’ sites.
It has been fascinating to see from my sticker beginnings at home as a kid to more serious sticker development in art school (1994) until now. I can stand back and not only be able to see my work from an early perspective within the movement but also be a regular public viewer in watching how much the phenomenon of stickering has grown throughout cities of the world today.
I feel as though I can put out a sort of spontaneous ‘word of the day’ or ‘phrase of the day’ sticker without any forced preconceived notion. It keeps things moving in the moment for me. I have always loved stickers such as ‘I’m with stupid’, ‘Have a Nice day’, ‘Keep on Truckin,’ etc. and noted that I have never known the originators of these types of stickers and found it refreshing that the ego, names, or tags were not attached to these works. I do have some stickers that include my name but the bulk of my work is simply about the wordplay and text that I try to create and build by hand. Artists such as On Kawara, John Baldessari, Espo, Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner & Ron Terada’s work resonate with me as well as the likes of Pee-wee Herman, MAD Magazine, SCTV and Bob Ross.
The creative element to my stickering is not random and I try to specifically design a text or type that suits the word or phrase that I tend to illustrate. The colour choice is integral to giving these works a voice in the public space.
The culmination of my hundreds & thousands of individual stickers and prints is what creates a final large colourful tree-like structure for me in my mind. But it is the ‘leaves’ which are the individual stickers that carry the messages of the day to the people.”
–Kenn Sakurai, a.k.a. esm-artificial