SIGN PAINTINGS

2013 - ongoing

SIGN PAINTINGS explores various tensions between commercial exchange and fine art contexts by commissioning signpainters to create signs AS paintings for an fine art gallery. Sign painting is a skilled visual and material craft generally commissioned by a commercial business and executed by a single signpainter. The eventual product has commercial utility for the business interest while the sign painter works with formal aspects like shape, line, color, texture, etc. As such, it operates in two worlds often viewed as at odds with each other but which actually share many of the same concerns. SIGN PAINTINGS share the aesthetic, conceptual and market value concerns of traditional craft and contemporary art production evidenced in a simple economic exchange.

For this project, I commission local sign painters to create sign paintings for exhibition in a gallery. I provide each sign painter with the same, standard surface - a 2’ x 4’, 18 gauge, steel panel - with the simple instruction to paint the words “sign painting” on that surface. I dictate no further details but encourage each sign painter to realize the painting using their own preferred style and inherited trade vernacular. Each of the commissioned sign paintings from the expanding series are then exhibited side by side, as paintings in and of themselves, presenting the project as a whole. The final sign paintings are essentially identical and yet wildly different. They articulate the personal aesthetics of individual sign painters with particular skills, design approach, and inherent vernacular styles of a classic American craft.

Presenting these sign paintings in a white-walled gallery positions them in conversation within the larger context of philosophical, conceptual, and aesthetic concerns of the contemporary art world. The resultant sign paintings exist in a liminal space between the capitalism and concept, and even more simply, sign and painting. By commissioning the paintings from traditional commercial sign painters, I appropriate commercially available services to critique existing art world valuing functions.

My gratitude goes to the following sign painters who have contributed their skills but also allowed me to undermine their individuality in the service of this project's larger concept:
Forrest Wozniak
Dan Madsen
Phil Vandevaart

You can see Phil and Forrest discussing their trade in the 2014 documentary, Sign Painters.


Signpaintings - installation view
Singpainting #1 - 2'x4', 18 gauge steel, leaded enamel paint
Singpainting #3 - 2'x4', 18 gauge steel, leaded enamel paint
Singpainting #2 - 2'x4', 18 gauge steel, leaded enamel paint