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Barry Snyder's tribute to Frank Zappa.
Barry Snyder's tribute to Frank Zappa.

Stuck on Art

Sometime after 1 p.m. on Sunday, Barry "Wildman" Snyder expects to paste a few final decals -- including a red-with-blue-striped Dole label and a classic Chiquita blue oval -- on "My Sticka Zappa," a thirty-by-forty-inch interpretation of the late rocker Frank sitting on a toilet. To create this masterpiece, the 47-year-old handyman spent nearly a year collecting 3,000 stickers, then cutting and pasting them onto artboard with Titebond glue.

Why stickers?

"I guess it was availability," he says. "There's something about all this stuff that's produced and marketed as superfluous, then thrown away."

Not only was Snyder consumed by his subject, but he and his wife consumed so that he could realize his artistic vision.

"When I need a certain color sticker, we alter our diets," he offers.

The couple ate green peppers when Snyder found that their labels filled a critical space in some of his collages. They've also gone through cycles of devouring avocados, peaches and grapefruits. Different brands yield different hues, and Snyder's managed to capture just about every color of the rainbow, even if a few glowing organic symbols have eluded him. But he's never paid for his passion: All of his stickers were either plucked from foods or sent to him.

Snyder didn't always rely on stickers as his artistic medium. In the early 1970s, the then-Wisconsin resident experimented with sculptures made from discarded incense sticks and pop-top rings. But soon he migrated to the two-dimensional art form of stickers -- inspired, he suggests, when he was munching an apple one day.

It has taken him a while to get the hang of the medium. Snyder's first sticker-art attempts were abstract. One from 1974, titled "What Was I Thinking?" is a whirl of blue-and-white Chiquita stickers balanced against the Del Monte green-and-reds and an invasion of rosy Dole stickers. The title gives a clue as to his artistic motivation: "I just sort of stuck them on as I got them," Snyder says.

Eventually, he moved to a more realistic phase. Like Jackson Pollock, he really has no other artist with whom to share his experiences as he blazes, and chews, ahead. "There's nobody else I know of doing this," he says. "Of course, I've never done a search."

But that doesn't mean he hasn't made creative progress. His Zappa work began with the squatting songwriter's figure in the foreground, and then the background was painstakingly laid in. Intricate wallpaper patterns were trimmed and placed to give the illusion of depth.

"Wildman" -- so named not because of his creative urges, but because he rides a high-wheel bicycle in parades along the main street of Erie, his adopted hometown -- doesn't plan to stop creating once this latest piece is completed at the world premiere of his sticker works at the Erie Inn on Sunday. He wants to begin assembling a portrait of a 1951 Studebaker Bulletnose at that opening.

To help spread the appeal of his chosen medium, he's asking visitors to the show to bring three stickers of any kind as the price of admission. He promises to give prizes for the most unusual decals, which in turn may be used in future masterpieces.

"I don't care where they get them: fruit, off packages, or those kids' collections. I'm not a sticker snob," he says, pointing to his motto: "A stranger with stickers is no stranger to me."

So if you can't lick him, join him.


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