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Contemporary PSA: Street Sign Art

A few days ago on our Holiday Countdown Gift Guide we featured artists' prints as our gift of the day. Although (as we hope is evident from that feature) we adore works on paper and canvas, there is something bold about art on other materials.

Today we want to feature just one alternative wall art canvas: aluminum street and traffic signs. Far too often, interior street signs elicit flashbacks to bachelor pads and dorm rooms but this does a grave disservice to the phenomenal contemporary art pieces that artists create with aluminum. Street and traffic signs feature rich saturated color and reflective glossy finishes that immediately intensify text and imagery. Signs feel unapologetically impactful, projecting the depth and authority of sculpture and transforming a flat wall with subtle 3 dimensionality and recognizable graphicness. We hope our street sign picks help dissuade you of any misconception that traffic signs aren't art!

First up, we have signs featured in Area C Projects's 'SIGN-IN' installation project. Area C Projects, the brainchild of artistic duo Erik Carlson and Erica Carpenter, installed a hugely popular street sign art piece in 2019, during Providence, Rhode Island's annual city-wide arts festival, PVD Fest. The piece was set beside the main performance stage in front of Providence City Hall, a place of prominence worthy of such a successful work.

SIGN-IN is a street-level intervention that explores issues of voice and inclusivity in the present cultural moment, while also endeavoring to challenge the kind of binary thinking that reduces complex issues into easy, empty, polarizing soundbytes. The artwork’s title plays on the concept of the sit-in—a mode of political expression that is also expressly civil—and gestures toward the kind of legwork that makes a democracy run: signing in, listening up, and carving out open spaces for dialogue, even between opposing sides. (1)

A series of sixty aluminum street signs were mounted on staggered poles creating a tangled maze of signs pointing in every direction, directing us to no where in particular. On one side of each post was text beginning with the proverbial "they" and, on the other side, text beginning with "we". The messages on the signs were taken from the two primary publications in the city, The Providence Journal and The Providence Phoenix, and were intended to provoke an "us vs them" division.

The tension of "us against them" messaging usually demands that the listener pick a side (are you one of us, or one of them?). SIGN-IN’s ad-hoc mix of disassociated “arguments” instead seeks the opposite effect: rather than attempting to be persuasive, its messages are intentionally playful and open. Likewise, rather than pointing viewers left or right in the manner of an ordinary street sign (or political harangue), SIGN-IN’s use of binary language questions the value of limiting our choices to such narrow fields. (1)

The messages are stunningly diverse, each with a unique ability to provoke conversation. Some are comedic, some are poetic, some are pleas, some are warnings but all are remarkably and authentically human. All that being said, "THEY ARE NOT QUITE SUSHI QUALITY" is our favorite!

These signs are undeniably artful and make striking wall art pieces we are proud to hang in our homes and eager to share as gifts this holiday season. Area C Projects has made a limited quantity of these signs available for purchase so grab them while you can! (you can purchase them through Paypal by following the instructions here)

Moving south a few hundred miles we find beloved Philadelphian street artist Kid Hazo. A couple of our team members spent years living in the City of Brotherly Love and can attest to how popular Hazo is—Philadelphia Magazine even included him in their 2015 'Best Philadelphians' list! A self-declared 'prop comedian', Hazo has pervasively introduced site specific art pieces to the streets of Philly. Having installed everything from an 'IT' sewer parody featuring Flyers mascot Gritty with an equally orange balloon (aptly named Gr-"IT"-ty) to perversive bus stop ads promoting 'Corny Flakes' and street artists alike, Hazo's body of work is impressively diverse and, luckily for us, it includes epic traffic signs available for purchase!

Kid Hazo (pronounced has•ohh) is a Philadelphia based street artist out to catch a few smirks and smiles by creating pieces that parody the heart of Philly culture and venues around the city. His lighthearted props and sculptures are interjected into the urban environment in attempts to brighten up someone's day and add a layer of comic relief on the streets. (2)

Hazo is famous in large part for his street signs. His (now sadly sold) street sign depicting a slipping figure graphically exclaiming censored expletives is hilarious and has a sophisticatedly balanced visual composition. We love the shark sighting 'EXIT STAGE LEFT', the lesbian 'DONT HATE APPRECIATE', and the texting lingo 'STAY IN UR LN' signs. There are also Philly-centric inside jokes like 'JIMMY JAWNS', 'LONG JAWN SILVER'S' and the 'TIME ZONE: where should you be right now? Philadelphia (EST)' clock. Hazo's signs are ingenious and playful, offering an air of enviable lightheartedness that makes them exceptional gifts. Find them here at Paradigm Gallery + Studio.

We take a jump across the pond now to Florence to find French painter and street artist Clet Abraham. It's nearly impossible to hold a discussion about contemporary traffic sign art without Abraham. Abraham is a street art visionary, bolding affixing his artistic signature to cities around the world. An extensive collection of signs featuring recognizable black figures engaging in a variety of activities, flowers and animals interacting with the signs' arrows and bars, and an assortment of other unexpected illustrations transform traffic announcements into artistic statements.

Several of Abraham's pieces are available through Artsy and Asper. Abraham's work is iconic and immediately recognizable so his contemporary traffic signs will surly bring street art clout to anyone you gift them to!

We end in Las Angeles with contemporary artist Scott Froschauer and his Word On The Street series. His small street signs are the ideal way to close this feature; with messages of positivity and love they offer a reminder of decency and self-care—something much needed during this challenging year.

Some of his work is an exploration in emotional connectedness, some work is about revolution, particularly considering that our culture considers being connected to oneself as a revolutionary act, but his primary focus is on exploring new spaces and techniques for communication. (3)

With yield signs reading 'BREATHE', no entry signs with the message that 'YOU ARE ENOUGH', and attention signs prompting viewers to 'TAKE NOTE OF WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE ALIVE RIGHT NOW', Froschauer uses the graphic recognizable platform of traffic signs to relay a message of alacrity. Available here, the signs are a welcomed gesture of goodness that make the ideal holiday gift in 2020.

Traffic sign artists embody the diversity of the street art scene so if you love the idea of an artistic sign but didn't fully connect to any we featured here, go online or wander your city and you'll certainly come across a sign you and the loved ones on your holiday gift list will adore!


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