Subway enthusiasts and typography junkies have a treat in store! MIT Press is republishing a book called Helvetica and the New York City Subway: The True (Maybe) Story. Previously only available in a limited edition of 500, the book is a study of the subway’s signage system written by historian and graphic designer Paul Shaw. Shaw’s composition spans the entire history of the subway–from the terra-cotta of the original subway lines, to the the hodgepodge of signage left by the three separate subway companies, through to the work of pioneering design firm Unimark International and finally the uniform Helvetica signage we have today.
Helvetica and the New York City Subway: The True (Maybe) Story is set for release in March. Check back here for a full review next month!
The folks over at the Wooster Collective are holding a very intriguing discussion tomorrow with Jon Naar, the photographer behind The Faith of Graffiti and Massimo Vignelli, the designer behind the signage in New York’s subway. The topic is the connection between graffiti and the internet. Hey, this sounds like it’s right up our alley!
We’ve been following Poster Boy’s work since day one. Seeing his work in the subway was a major reason we felt the need to create this blog. When we heard about his book deal we were very excited—so excited, in fact, that we unknowingly announced the book before the publisher, Mark Batty. They were kind enough to send us an advance copy to talk about on Subway Art Blog.
The War of Art begins with a quote from Enter the Dragon: “The enemy only has images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you break the enemy.”
Poster Boy wastes no time in acknowledging that the idea of a retrospective book for an artist that has been active for such a short time is absurd. He is also very forward about pointing out that this book is hypocritical because it contradicts the anti-authorship, anti-copyright, anti-consumerist ideas behind his work. He addresses all of this in the introduction: “this book is a part of the supposed medium rather than a retrospective on an artist that has been active for a meager two years.”
The book is divided into three sections; the first, called “Works on Vinyl,” is a collection of the works that made him famous: advertising alterations in the subway and beyond. It includes some work that appears on his flickr account but also a fair amount that does not. The original ads and the altered ads are juxtaposed on facing pages. This was an essential touch, because it fully illustrates the vast creativity that goes into his on-site mashup work.
A few of our favorites from this section include: a Pepsi ad that is altered to say “Corn Syrp” and a Snickers ad altered to say “Fuck the Post, Read Chompsky.” When the alterations are political, they are very strong; when they are lighthearted, they are very funny. They are also visually seamless. They remind you why he became so infamous doing this.
Just when the vinyl section gets warmed up, it seems to end. The second section of the book is “Abetments,” a portion dedicated to collaborations with and tributes to other artists. Some of the street artists Poster Boy tips his hat to include: Space Invader, Decapitator, Princess Hijab, Katsu, Booker and Keith Haring. A number of the artist’s many collaborations with Aakash Nihalani also appear in this section.
The last portion of the book is reserved for Poster Boy’s exhibition work. Large scale pieces from shows at Art Basel, the Jajo Gallery and Eastern District are featured in this section. While it is interesting to see this side of PB’s work, it seems a bit out of place. The inclusion of this work makes the book feel closer to the retrospective it says it is not.
In general, this book is an effective showcase of the ephemeral work of one of the most interesting, creative artists we have covered on Subway Art Blog. Its main downfall is not including more of his work. There is certainly troves more of it on flickr that could have been used. Alas, this must be another side effect of putting a book out so early in one’s artistic career.
The War of Art will be available in August on Amazon or a on bookshelf in a commercial space near you.
The next big subway art book is on its way out. Poster Boy: The War of Art is a collection of Poster Boy’s best works. There aren’t too many details available yet, but the following description is floating around:
His cut and slash mash-ups of subway platform billboards only exist in New York City, but Poster Boy’s artful and funny appropriations of advertising have gotten him attention the world over. The New York Times dubbed him an “anti-consumerist Zorro with a razor blade, a sense of humor and a talent for collage”; the Guardian UK said of his work, it “is witty, web-savvy and economical . . . and the only materials it requires are chutzpah, imagination and a 50 cent blade.”
Poster Boy tweaks corporate copy, replacing it with incisive and playful puns and turns of phrase rich with innuendo and political punch. Beautiful models turn ghastly and iconic spokespeople become the mouthpieces for Poster Boy’s ideas. Poster Boy: The War of Art collects his best work yet.
The book is set for release on March 2nd, 2010, but you can preorder it on Amazon. I did as soon as I found out about it. Check back in March for a review!
We’ve mentioned Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art book a number of times here on The Subway Art Blog. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the initial publication. To commemorate this, Chronicle Books is releasing a 25th Anniversary Edition of the book. The new release features 70 new photos, updated text and a larger size. We highly recommend this book for the Graffiti lover in your life.
And now for my exceedingly long-overdue, yet brief, first post.
In our research to find out if a Subway Art Blog already existed prior to creating our own, we came across the Subway Art book. The book consists of hundreds of images of colorful graffiti on New York subway trains captured by two photographers in the 1980s, accompanied by short back stories. Subway Art provides a glimpse into what is unfortunately a bygone era when the exteriors of so many subway cars became animated canvases.
A very cool virtual experience of the book can be had here.