The sticker has long been a preferred medium for both advertisers as well as (street) artists. In fact, sticker art is without doubt the most common and democratic technique in street art; you would have to try very hard not to encounter any adhesive labels on the streets. And considering how little effort it takes to create or obtain stickers, and how simple it is to put them up (handling a spray can is considerably more difficult), there is barely any hurdle for anyone who is keen to give it a go themselves.
Some stickers are hand-drawn or handwritten, but most of them are conceived digitally. This offers far more possibilities in terms of design, and as printing costs are low, they can easily be produced in large numbers. Subsequently, finding suitable spots for them in public space is a pretty hazardless excersise; there is a low chance of getting caught as stickers can be slapped up discretely in a matter of seconds.
Many artists use stickers to show they’ve been to some particular place. This is a common practice also for those whose work is primarily based on other techniques. This sticker by Ella & Pitr on a pole in Stavanger, which shows a work of their own in Ostend, is a good example.
By the way, this is a habit also of ultras who travel (abroad) to away games of the football club they support – their stickers always pop up alongside those made by more regular artists. This ‘Alpaca’s on tour’ specimen is a clear allusion to this.
Stickers are continuously swapped among artists, and as a result, they end up in streets in countries their creators themselves have never been to. It is in this way that the ‘Andre the Giant has a posse’ sticker by Shepard Fairey and its countless parodies have appeared all over the world. The same principle probably applies to the stickers created by Thierry Jaspart, which can be found everywhere in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany among other countries (‘Je suis partout’), and I suspect he hasn’t pulled that off all single-handedly (but would gladly be proven wrong).
If stickers are distributed on a large scale, the power lies primarily in the repetition of the image or message, which oftentimes is so abstruse that people don’t know whether there is any true underlying significance to it, and if there is, what to make of such propaganda. A lot of artists aim to come up with stickers that get seen by many and cause a sense of bewilderment or even frustration among viewers because they can’t work out what they’re about. The otherwise completely unknown John Hamon from Paris has become world famous, or rather, a world famous mystery, for doing nothing the past two decades but putting up his name together with a photo of himself as a nineteen-year-old in cities in France and far beyond (albeit on large paste ups, not on stickers). His staunch belief that it’s promotion that makes the artist (‘c’est la promotion qui fait l'artiste’), has for him rightfully turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The very wide range of themes that stickers deal with naturally matter, but where and when a sticker appears in public space is equally important. Are they situated at our eye line in prominent locations, or are they rather hidden from the view of the average passer-by, for example high up on a bridge, or half-concealed behind a waste container in a back passage? In the latter case especially, artists carefully choose their spots in the built environment, as they play with surface, scale, distance and visibility. Stickers like these are there not to attract as much attention as possible, but rather to confront the occasional viewer with something unexpected and to evoke a certain emotion in that very person, however briefly they stare at the artwork. Putting up stickers in such a way that they either do or do not demand direct attention, are two different tactics street artists apply in order to communicate with people going about, and potentially let them experience their surroundings in a somewhat unconventional way.
Most of the time stickers are so small, you have to move up close in order to see them properly. Walk away from them just a few steps and they quickly become objects ‘in the distance’ (see the first picture). Therefore, logic dictates that if you want to capture them well on camera, you have to do that from close range too. Regrettably, however, this implies that in photographs, the urban context discussed above, is usually absent. Thematically, this visual essay sprawls in all sorts of imaginative directions. Use your own imagination to envision what the surroundings of the stickers could look like.