My obsession with stickers began the way a lot of Gen X kids’ did: with Topps Wacky Packages, packs of flavorless sticks of gum that came with sticker-based trading cards featuring satirical versions of products. My childhood bedroom had one piece of furniture dedicated to a wallpaper-like pastiche of these miniature artworks, interspersed with the occasional KBPI or KIMN bumper sticker. The lucky kids with cool parents would cover whole doors in this way (the luckiest among them also including band stickers). As we all got older, the wallpaper effect transferred to instrument cases and file cabinets.
Though the invention of stickers reportedly dates back to the Egyptians, changes in printing technology ultimately moved them from the role of advertising objects to a more personal means of expression. In punk subcultures, stickers could be handmade or printed, and were a way to communicate effectively in a pre-Internet world, by spreading your band name, ideas and artwork on street corners or by handing out stickers personally as calling cards.
That punk, wallpapered aesthetic is all over Sticker Shock, at Station 16 at the Source Hotel, 3330 Brighton Boulevard, where Reed Weily, an immigration lawyer turned artist, is having his debut art show. Weily's first love was collecting vintage T-shirts, a hobby that morphed into collecting stickers and later into making art with them.
He builds his complex “collages” from layers and layers of vintage stickers from around the world (most are between ten and thirty years old), plastering them into simple, repeated, pixelated skull shapes with heavy, textured surfaces. If not for the overlapping lines of text, the shifting patterns of darks and lights might look like paintings if you squint. Though it's easy to get lost in the details, the repetitive outer shapes create a strong impact when the works are hung in a grid, which visually connects them to the pixelated 8-bit video games that debuted around the same time that so many of these stickers did.
Gallery director and curator Christian Barreto Salgado has created a cohesive, balanced presentation with cunning details, framing the skulls with colorful, neon edge-glow plexi frames and spray-painting TV mounts with day-glo colors so that larger skulls stand out from the wall, becoming more sculptural.
Perhaps the smartest move of all, however, was installing a large safe in the center of the gallery, with thousands of vintage stickers spilling out, available for the taking. Thanks to Weily’s generosity, viewers can take home everything from 1990s Lee Jeans stickers to Haribo gummy stickers to German political party stickers. As they dig through the pile, conversations pop up between random strangers, and connections emerge. The obsession of collecting is clearly part of Weily’s process, and you can’t help but feel the same thrill as you search through his finds.
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But the genius and generosity doesn’t end there: At the closing reception from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, visitors will have a chance to crack the safe’s code and win one of the skulls on the wall, valued at $5,250. (Each person will get three minutes to guess the right three numbers.) Before that bash, Weily will offer an artist's talk at 6 p.m., explaining his sticker obsession and discussing his artwork.
Station 16, which has a partner gallery in Montreal, is a new addition to the Denver scene; it opened along with the Source Hotel at 3350 Brighton Boulevard in August. Just a block from the still-closed Rhinoceropolis, it's somewhat ironic to find a punk-influenced DIY aesthetic in such a slick new building, but Salgado comes by the DIY aesthetic honestly: He's a former partner in Dateline Gallery, one of the last vestiges of the DIY community left in RiNo. “Station 16 Gallery Denver will always focus on community," he says. "We want to become a beacon of community and showcase some of the world’s most exciting urban and street art.”
And with this show, Station 16 is off to a good start.