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Stencil Art: A Revolutionary Meme

This essay was originally written for Josh MacPhee's Stencil Pirates book. Parts of the text were used in the book's final run, but here it is in its entirety. Note: this is in no way a comprehensive history of stencil art. Hopefully it is the beginning of the artform's history.

"We need to learn how to spread the vision of liberation and life everywhere in humble, small, invisible ways. Like grass slowly growing up through the cracks in the concrete, perhaps our counterinformation can eventually sneak up on the mighty machine and topple it."
- PB Floyd, Slingshot, Summer 2003

The Materials

Another classic by Stencil Pirates author Josh MacPhee

INTRODUCTION

Stenciling is the poor persons' printmaking. It is the easiest and cheapest way to print the same image over and over on different surfaces and in different places. To start off, the three most important things for making a stencil are an idea, something to cut with, and something to cut the stencil out of. I can't help with the idea part, but you shouldn't feel like you have to be an artist to do this. One of the great things about stencils is that since each print looks the same and consists of only a positive and negative, it makes almost all designs look really sharp and good.

Interview with Lord Hao

Due to a language barrier (Hao speaks broken English and I don't speak any French), StencilArchive.org wrote out a list of questions that a friend of Hao's interpreted into French. His friend then interpreted Hao's answers into English. I have made the best possible effort to clean up the English, but some things would be best left to Hao's own words. In an ideal situation, I'd get to ask him to clarify his phrasing, but it didn't go down that way.

SA: How long have you made stencils?

LH: I started to paint with stencils in 1985.

A Chat with Peat Wollaeger

When Peat Wollaeger sent in his first submission to StencilArchive, I was instantly impressed with his mastery of creating stencils. His colors made the images jump off of the page. His cutting style had its own unique characteristics, and his love for the artform was easily apparant. When I mentioned having an online chat, he got really excited about talking stencils. He even mailed me some pix of the separate color stencils for his newest image, Myrna the SK8 dog, for visual reference. Here's what we discussed early on Super Bowl Sunday.

A Chat with ECCE

One of the earliest and most regular contributors to StencilArchive's photo cache just happens to be the farthest away. ECCE (Latin for behold and pronounced A-che) lives in Australia, where stencil art is apparantly beginning to really take off. After doing some research online, and figuring out that we're 17 hours apart, we then coordinated a couple of online chats. Here's what we discussed.

A Talk with Chris Stain

"I cut stencils as a way of documenting life; as a proof of my own existence and how I deal with that existence." - from Stencil Graffiti by Tristan Manco

SA: How did you get into stencil art?