billboard liberation

The billboard liberation movement. Taking back public space, one board at a time. …

Art Chantry (

There was an epidemic of altered billboards in the Seattle area back in the early 1980′s. It happened about the time our brain dead president Ronald ‘ronnie’ Reagan eagerly grabbed the oval office, we went into full ‘war scare’ mode (to tackle that evil empire of the soviets, ya know). Star Wars, Granada, Nicaragua, threats and counter threats. Big big boom bombs hanging in the air everywhere. Seems a lot of social malcontents were unhappy with the new normal world. I suppose ‘cuz we were just a bunch of sissy whiners, etc.

Now, people in Seattle back then didn’t have any clout or money (microsoft was still in a small garage loft somewhere) and we relied upon the war contracts that Boeing could land for our employment (before they up and moved away with about 15 minutes notice. that’s not an exaggeration. it was 15 minutes.) We had no decent ‘art’ or music scene or a recognizable cultural identity outside of the local region. We were terribly isolated and the long old bohemian culture that migrated up this way to hide in the corner pocket sort of festered in their own juices a lot.

AC:altered billboards have a long history. i imagine the very first billboard ever made got graffittied. in san francisco during the classic punk years 75-80, mark pauline did a mess of really shocking and brilliant alterations. he did it in ...broad daylight, too. he wore a jumpsuit an carried a clipboard and worked on it with a truck and the whole works. people even stopped and watched him and showed their kids. he was turning a big picture of telly savalas into a mashed pile of raw meat and the words were something like, "feel the pain, baby!" mark pauline later went on to become the founding genius behind survival research laboratories. just goes to show ya - people who alter billboards have spectacular later careers. no doubt. it must enhance the brain. click for more...

But, one thing we did have up here was a total lack of restraint and common sense. We’ve always been a bit dented up in the northwest. We’ve come up with so many great stupid ideas that the world has adopted as “vernacular” (i hate that word) that the Northwest is sort of the center of the unknown universe. Go research it. It’ll blow you away if you make the effort (not that anybody ever does). This place is downright strange. ‘Twin Peaks’ felt nostalgic immediately – it was just like home.

So, it’s the early 1980′s and Ronnie is in office and everybody in town is freaking out at the prospect. I know folks who actually split and left the country for good at that point. The only outlet the weirdos had for their frustrations were odd magazines that nobody read (like the rocket) or art work that nobody looked at (duh) or music nobody listened to (like ‘because the whole world stinks’ by the fartz) or the messy street posters that were soon to be banned by the very tidy city business creeps.

AC:the configuration of soldiers looks strangely like a military cemetary, with it's rows of headstones, doesn't it? i think the original photographer may have sneaked in a little editorializing of his own... click on photo for more...

But people in Seattle had ‘chutzpah’ back then. They had xerox machines and they had paint and they had working arms and legs. They also had brains – you know, those things that are connected to those hand you use to punch those keyboards? They are actually connected to your brain! Did you know that? It’s a shocker, all right!

The billboards in question were sexist adverts and pro-smoking (so dangerous, ya know? we liberals don’t like cigarettes. WE think YOU should do as we say! think of the children!). There were also a flurry of Army recruiting billboard ads because back then the military wasn’t ‘cool’ like it is now. So, they actually were advertising like mad to get enough cannon fodder in the ranks. they made terrific targets. So “ironic’, ya know.

So, some enterprisin

ung arty-farty weirdos attacked one night. I know a couple of the names involved, but only a couple. One of them went on to become a famous art director in New York and married a very famous godhead artist. The other name I know stayed in Seattle and became a legendary local creative artistic driving force in the city – before finally giving up on it and moving away (maybe the last of the old scene to finally escape).

AC:notice the cute little spermies?...yeah, it got pretty good there for a while. i wish there was some decent documentation on this stuff. these images i post are all clipped form local papers back i the day. i guess these alterations also got written up in the los angeles and ny times, too. world class vandalism! click on image for more....

This image is one of their creations – a cigarette ad turned into a Ronnie advert for the neutron bomb. Remember those? They were so cool. Whatever happened to all those billions dumped into that? Do we actually have neutron bombs now? Who knows, eh?

The city was appalled. They offending billboards were quickly replaced by standard ad fare. Warrants were presumably issued, but no one was caught. A week or so later, they attacked again. (see the next image- which is [sadly] above…)

And then a few weeks later, again…

Soon, there were copycats. You could always tell those, because they weren’t as clever or smart or knowledgeable about the altering process. The copy cats were just smearing paint. Still looked great and were very effective, but they were sloppy. These examples done by the original crew were instant classics. Seattle was treated to a small orgy of altered billboards. It finally died away with added police protection, and utter boredom. The whole city went back to sleep.

My point here is that these anonymous people created a media storm of attention to the political viewpoints and even entertained the populace with their sneaky efforts. They became folk heroes. It’s was brilliant and so easy. Why aren’t we as creative today? Are we so spoon-fed and brain-dead that we only turn to downloads for creative insight?

Thank god we have geniuses like Lady Gaga to lead the way. (man! can you believe it? 8 MOONMEN! she’s MUST be a genius, right?)

Lady Gag

Art Chantry: perfect targets. if you drive around today, there are still a lot of great targets out there. sadly, people these days will just make a little fake in photoshop and post it on FB™ or something. not quite the same, ya know?

truth is, they don’t know how to use brushes and paint and glue and photocopiers to do this sort of thing any more. it’s strangely like a forgotten art or lost technology at this point.

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