Hand-painted signs are seen perhaps without a second thought to their importance; not only for direction and guidance, but also bringing art into our every day lives: Super Duper Burger’s swirled ice cream cone; the shiny, gold foil addresses in the transoms of Victorian homes; the A-frames outside shops that beckon us in with curious taglines. For those signs that remain from the past, their weathered remnants are resilient, lasting testaments of our some 250 year-old American history. Including unique artwork painted in traditional sign style by some of the Bay Area’s best sign painters employed at San Francisco’s esteemed New Bohemia Signs Company: Aaron Cruse, Ashley Fundora, Heather Hardison, Damon Styer, Scott Thiessen and Pickles in “Everything Must Go!” at Compound Gallery & Studios address the genre’s issues with phrases and motifs that express a desire to move forward, look towards the future, and explore options of letting go of the past and finding new ways of doing. In this way, this group show explores how these group of working artists are keeping the tradition intact by their personalized, novel creative approaches with a deep appreciation and knowledge of this unique genre of art.
Because of the technological advances in commercial signage, including the greater availability of vinyl signs from the late sixties to the early nineties and wider, more varied channels of advertising, what was once a common job that paid a living, middle class wage has now become a highly-specialized trade with a skill set few people possess. In addition, relationships between art and commerce have continued to change, requiring sign painting to change as well. Artists like the six whose work is on view here at Compound Gallery show blend together what is familiar in the history of sign painting, a focused attention paid to its elements including typography, color, and design, with contemporary notions of artistic individualism, which will direct attention to the underlying theme that in order for a new genre of sign painting to survive, it must reach a compromise with contemporary art and its ideals. While these works incorporate an individualized sensibility, some pieces draw from universal adages aimed to provoke contemplation, such as Pickles’ sign that simply proclaims, “Now More for Less!” that excellently distills the multitude of taglines and advertising gimmicks in America from its very beginning to present day. Others engage with contemporary life via humor, such as the sign painted upon an old window promising to reduce a contemporary concern: “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) with FOMO-reducing glasses. With this creative (re)purpose the artists place themselves among the vanguards of contemporary sign painting that allow this branch of art to reach out to new audiences — including many who may not be presently engaged with contemporary fine art.
“Everything Must Go! From Grand Openings to Clearance Sales: Signs of Change” will be on view at The Compound Gallery & Studios through September 14th.