An extension to the last year’s successful group show of sign painting which focused on San Francisco’s New Bohemia Signs, Guerrero Gallery’s current exhibition, “An American Language” expands its reach and brings together 12 artists from all over the United States, from local artist Josh Luke, Gary Martin from Austin, Texas, and Boston-based Kenji Nakayama who have built a life and expounded upon its traditions to form a contemporary visual lexicon of sign painting. Works by these painters exemplify the core tradition of a studied practice that has had a significant impact in the history of the relationship between art and communication.
These contemporary artists push the boundaries of how the art & language of sign painting is viewed, understood, and appreciated. Straddled between fine art and craftsmanship, hand lettered signs employ a language that has since the early 20th century crossed over into the world of fine art. Any artist who has appropriated popular iconography can be said to have been influenced by sign paintings: a specific example belongs to celebrated artist Marcel Duchamp who for the painting, “Tu m’ ” asked a commercial sign painter to paint the pointing hand and sign the work, “A. Klang.” By the same token, sign painters such as those in this show have elevated their own craft to an art form by creating original, thought-provoking works. Sean Starr’s signs advertise Indian Motorcycles in the same grouping as he does Morrissey lyrics from “How Soon is Now?”. The artist’s unique personalities also shine through, with Bob Dewhurst’s poignant Biblical passage, “Oh Death, Where is thy Sting?” illustrated in contemporary colors and symbols, and Mats?! political commentary in his “Blow Out Sale!” advertised over a Middle Eastern silhouetted landscape.
“An American Language” will be on view at Guerrero Gallery until February 4, 2012.