Featured collector: Chuck Keppler

A U.S. collector named Chuck Keppler contacted me recently in conjunction with the exhibition of screen prints and stickers by Shepard Fairey at St. Lawrence University, Inspiring | Controversial | OBEY! Chuck has compiled an amazing collection of Obey stickers and an Obey sticker database that numbers over 1,400 and is grouped by themes: OGs, icons, star icons, Obey/Giant, propaganda, circles, banners, commercial identity, etc.

I asked for an interview, and here are Chuck’s responses.

Can you describe how and when you got started with the Shepard Fairey Obey sticker database project? What piqued your interest? Do you collect the actual stickers, too? (I ask that last question b/c I see on your FAQs that you also accept high-res scans for the database.)

I started the database in 2019. I made it mainly to help keep track of all the stickers in my collection, with all the size and color variations listed so that I would have a quick reference to compare stickers that pop up on eBay or people email me about. If something fairly rare pops up, it helps me figure out if I have it already without having to dig through all my binders.

All of the stickers listed in the database are in my personal collection. No one’s sent me any pictures yet. I’ve kind of gone back and forth about adding other people’s pics to the database. At this point I think I’ll probably just keep it as what’s in my physical collection.

The cool thing about all of this is that now people are using it as a reference site for their own collections. Checking to see if a particular sticker they have (or are going to purchase) is legit or not, etc.

Anyways, my ultimate goal would be to produce a sticker book with all of the known stickers (with sizes listed and pics of all the color variations). I’ve reached out to the Obey team about it but haven’t ever heard back from them. If that were to proceed, I would definitely be interested in getting pics of stickers from other people’s collections. There’s a lot of stickers out there that I know about but don’t have….I’ve got a folder on my phone of at least another 150 stickers that I’m missing.

Do you have a background in the visual arts? I’m wondering because you’ve grouped some of the stickers by content and some by appearance (circles, banners).

I don’t have a formal background in visual arts, but I’ve done a good bit of art in the past. In the mid-2000s, I designed and screen printed gig posters for bands all over the country. From there I branched out a bit and did art screen prints, acrylic gel transfer pieces (like the one I sent you), spray paint stencils on canvas, black and white photography, and I started experimenting with large scale CMYK panels. I’ve been in a number of shows around Charleston and South Carolina.

I’ve gone back and forth over how to group the stickers in the database. I wanted to make it as easy for me to track down a sticker as possible, since a rare sticker may be sold on eBay within a few minutes. Some of the grouping is super easy, for example, shapes (circles, banners, etc.). It gets a little tougher with other images, since I may not remember exactly what criteria I used to sort a specific sticker two years ago. That’s why I tried to add in a lot of keywords to help search out a particular image. For example, there’s not a lot of blue stickers, so I’ve tagged all of the those with blue in them so I can just search for “blue,” and if I’ve got it, it should be in the search results.

What was/were your criteria for including stickers in the propaganda section? I see some of the Russian Constructivist images, but there are others that I’m unsure about, and I’m curious what your thinking has been.

This is where my sorting criteria gets a hazy. I usually put stickers that specifically say “obey propaganda” into this section, but sometimes I don’t. If they only say “obey” or “giant” they usually go into “obey/Giant” section. But not always. When I started the database, I only had about 600 stickers so it was a little easier to sort them. Now that I’m at over 1,400 it’s gotten a little tougher. I try to use a bit of a quick hierarchy to initially sort them (circles and banners are a quick and easy decision, regardless of the design). Advertising and band stickers are another quick and easy sorting choice, as are the old posse stickers. Designs that don’t fit into those easy criteria can be a little tougher to sort. If I could go back, I would probably sort them a little differently, but getting the time to redesign and resort the site is tough these days.

You have some really rare stickers! I have learned so much about Shepard’s stickers from what you’ve posted about his commercial identity (advertising, bands, etc.). What is/was the While You Were Sleeping campaign, for example?

Yeah, I think most people don’t have a clue about the amount of ad work he did in the late 90s! It’s very cool that he seemed to always produce some kind of sticker in the campaign. While You Were Sleeping was a graffiti/underground culture magazine that was published from 1997 to 2002 or so. Shepard had a couple of spreads in it during that time and did a bunch of stickers and a few prints for them as well.

I am most impressed by how prolific Shepard Fairey is as a sticker artist. I had no idea he had designed over 1,400 images! How have you tracked down so much of his work?

Yeah, I had no idea how prolific his sticker designs were when I started out! It’s crazy! I’ve picked up a lot of my collection on eBay, but a lot of has been from just sending out a lot of emails. Hundreds of emails. Also, I know a lot of collectors, so when they sell parts (or all) of their collection they let me know. We also keep an eye out for each other since we kind of know what the others are looking for. If something comes up, I’ll grab it and shoot them a message letting them know I picked up something for them. They’ll do the same for me. It’s kind of nice like that.

What is your own attraction to stickers and to the work of Shepard Fairey?

I’ve always been a big fan of stickers in general. As a kid in the ’70s I collected the Wacky Packages stickers, then skateboard stickers in the ’80s. They’re just fun, small pieces of art. Plus, I’ve always been a collector at heart.

My interest in Shepard Fairey stickers came in the ’90s when I would see the posse stickers stuck up all over Charleston. I eventually found out that he would send you a handful of stickers if you sent him any newspaper articles about his campaign. I did that a few times and that’s how my collection started. From there it was just a love of the designs and the fun of tracking an old sticker down that’s kept me in the game. Plus, it’s a whole lot cheaper than collecting prints from that era!

You had asked what else I collect to pass along to Oli Baudach at Hatch Kingdom…. I’ve been mainly focusing on Shepard’s work (stickers), but I also collect his showcards and other odds and ends (press mailers from the ’90s, postcard sets, etc.). And his prints. Other than that, I’ve started collecting Dave Kinsey stickers (who also has a pretty prolific sticker output), Faile stickers, graffiti stickers, old skateboard stickers, etc.

My other sticker collection on instagram: @the_sticker_drawer.

Photos in notebooks courtesy of Chuck Keppler.