Stikman - Life in the Concrete Jungle
Written & Photos by Ana Candelaria
Anytime I spot a stikman on the street, it’s a good day in my book! I have been a fan of this tiny wooden robotic stick character since the first time I saw one five years ago on the Lower East Side in New York City. It was on Rivington Street to be exact. I had just started to get familiar with street art in my neighborhood and was new to the scene. To this day, I can still remember the excitement I felt and how happy I was to spot my first stikman.
So many questions came to mind as I photographed this little street art treasure. The placement was clever! It was glued to a piece of metal hiding in plain sight behind a gate. I thought to myself how many people have seen this? Who is this artist? It wasn’t signed. Are there any more out there? Intrigued by the mystery it didn’t take long before I started to find others and immediately became fixated on trying to find them all.
My craving to find more stikmen grew ever greater when I realized stikman appeared in a variety of materials aside from wooden stick figures and styles such as wheatpastes and stickers. And, it doesn’t stop there! stikman also has a presence in art galleries such as Walker Fine Art in Denver, Woodward Gallery in NYC, as well as Works on Paper in Philadelphia .
Who is stikman’s incognito creator? Fans and collectors have wondered for decades. Very little is known. UP Magazine has some answers for you in case you’ve been wondering about the artist yourself!
I had the honor of interviewing the artist behind stikman (via email of course) to find out more about this adorable genderless robot-like figure. Before we get into the interview there are some things you need to know about how it all began.
An online source from a previous interview states the artist is a Philadelphia native who began doing street art at the early age of 14. The first stikman was created in the early 90s. Now there are probably thousands scattered all throughout New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit, and other cities. Keep your eyes peeled! Also, the idea behind the creation of stikman was inspired by a piece of art found at a flea market in Philadelphia, PA. (and in case you have been wondering about the name, the s is never capitalized and the c was intentionally dropped.)
Candelaria – An online source states that your first stikman installation was in 1992 in the East Village. Why the East Village?
stikman – The first stikman appeared at random near Thompson Square park in the East Village, NYC. I remember it well because I wasI kind of nervous installing it. It just
happened to be where I started walking that day. I walked around for a couple of hours with a pocket full of stikmen gluing them to spots I thought looked interesting.
Candelaria – How often do you hit the streets to install your work? Has it changed over the past 30 years?
stikman – Currently, I am out in the street a couple of times a week. It has changed over time. There have been many years when I would install something almost every day. Weather is alway an issue. Wet weather is a no go! The winter can be hard because glue does not set well in freezing temps.
Candelaria – When did you start to realize that your fan base was growing?
stikman – The first time I noticed that people were paying attention would be in the early 2000s. Wooster Collective and the Streetsy website were posting photos of my work. I was surprised that people were finding the little 5 inch tall figures as that was mostly what I was doing then.
Candelaria – How much of your time is dedicated to creating Stikman?
stikman – I spend many hours each week working in the studio. My general rule of thumb is that it takes 10 hours in the studio to make enough to work for one hour on the street.
Candelaria – What materials do you enjoy working with the most?
stikman – I’m not sure I have a favorite material. I am always looking for new material to work with. That is sort of a driving force for me. But I guess making pieces in wood is really where my heart is. It’s fun and interesting to play with.
Candelaria – How do you select your placement? Do you have a favorite spot?
stikman – I see the installations as an improvisational act. I’m a very visual person and I scan the environment I’m walking in looking for spots that are pleasing and inspiring to me. I don’t make pieces for any specific locations. Many times a place just calls out to me.
Candelaria – Where do you get most of the inspirations behind your designs?
stikman – That’s a hard one. A lot of it is just serendipity. I come across something and it hits me ” oh, I can use that this way”. I find inspiration in lots of random printed matter but also in art that I see around me and photos. I like playing with images as well from the basic form of the stikman, trying to reveal his many natures. In my paintings I like playing with a whole lot of colors and seeing how they interact with each other.
Candelaria – What is your biggest Stikman highlight moment?
stikman – That’s another hard one. The whole journey has been very uplifting and satisfying. I was very humbled and honored when Steve McCurry chose to photograph a stikman when he shot the last roll of Kodachrome. Another highlight was when Martha Cooper uploaded a stikman as her first instagram post!
Candelaria – How many Stikman in total do you think you have installed by now?
stikman – I have never kept a log of what I’ve done. I know I’ve done thousands of stars and playing cards. Many thousand tarmac figures. Many thousands of wooden figures. Untold number of stickers and paste-ups. I work on my own for the most part so there is not a lot of time for keeping good records.
Candelaria – Philly vs NY Which state has the most Stikman pieces?
stikman – New York has seen more stikman.
Candelaria – What is the tiniest Stikman you’ve ever done?
stikman – There are some wooden ones that are 1 1/2 inch tall. The smallest stickers are about an inch. The largest one was in Los Angeles in 2008. I used tarmac figures to map out a stikman on Hollywood streets in a connect the dots style. The figure spanned 1 mile tall and I installed dozens of artworks within the figures zone. I installed it all during a lunar eclipse. I had noticed on a map that there was a perfect stikman head where 2 streets joined.
Candelaria – Any chance of a Stikman book in the future?
stikman – Are you volunteering? That would be great but that is beyond my abilities at this time. I did some small self printed books many years ago and I published a book based on my work on signs 10 years ago.
Candelaria – What series of Stikman are you currently working on?
stikman – One of this year’s projects has been what I refer to as ameebahs. They are distortions of stikman images that appear to be floating and pulsating. Many of them have my paintings as their source material. It has been interesting to explore.
Candelaria – Any future projects in the pipeline?
stikman – I am sure there will be new projects coming up but I don’t know what they are. I don’t tend to have long term plans.
Clever hiding spots make it more fun to spot one. The amazing designs and patterns allow stikman to camouflage perfectly within our concrete jungle. I love the feeling I still get when I find a new one and I also love how stikman trains your eyes to pay more attention to detail while walking down the street. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled next time you take a stroll around downtown Manhattan. You never know where the next one will pop up.
On Saturday, November 18th – stikman is having a pop-up show at Skewville in Bushwick, Brooklyn
And on Sunday Novmeber 19th, there will be a stikman Scavenger hunt, hosted by Shooters Street Art!
Ana Candelaria is a Lower East Side based photographer. She is currently an active contributor for Street Art NYC and a member of Shooter Street Art. Ana’s work has been featured in YV Magazine, displayed in MIKEY Likes It Ice Cream Shop, Unbound: Authentic Visions and Voices as part of a series, as well as Home Grown, a group show that featured Lower East Side natives. Ana has also collaborated with artist My Life In Yellow on a limited edition run of prints. Within the past three years she has established herself as a self taught street art photographer, writer and artist and has received recognition for her photos from street artists from all over the world. She enjoys traveling and nature.