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Pranksters & Stencil Art History

There are so many histories of stencil and street art but they all contain gaps. I hope this entry fills in one of those gaps; the prankster element.

The Church of the SubGenius has some responsibility in the stencil art phenomena amongst the pranksters of the world. In The Book of the SubGenius (McGraw-Hill, 1983) they advocated making stencils in order to spread the image of Bob. A cartoon illustration showed how to make stencils with cardboard, a #11 X-acto knife, a wall and “pigment transported in aerosol form by gaseous agent under tremendous pressure”. I presume that SubGeniuses were doing these stencils some years before the publication of their book, making them some of the oldest street stencil artists.

I’m sure that there must have been some stencil artist working on the street with an aerosol can before the SubGeniuses. They have been forgotten because of the anonymous nature of the prank and a lack of contemporary awareness of street art.

Pranksters will do crazy things for the fun of it, to make people think, to show off, or because they are simply not permitted. The trickster is an archetypal figure, the second creator who reshapes the world into its current form. Now, in this crazy mixed-up world with its huge population there are now more pranksters than ever before and they are better organised than ever before. The Church of the SubGenius was just one of many deliberately crazy organizations that have been springing up in cities around the world since the Dadaists in Zurich.

These prankster organizations are mostly made up of artists, writers, musicians and people who are living their lives as if it were art. They are also political in an anarchic, subversive and polemic style employing pranks, like stencil art, as non-violent propaganda by the deed. This subversive content of street art cannot be authorized, as it exists in response to claims of authority, and it cannot be repressed, as the nature of Monkey is irrepressible.

“We are Making the change By our ACTS not OUR Words.” A1one Kolahstudio / Tehran, 22/1/09 

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, in AC/DC Lane, some prankster/s have thrown a large number of plastic buckets tied together over one of the lines that runs across the lane.

Buckets in AC/DC lane

Buckets in AC/DC lane

And another prankster has expressed his sardonic wit in Fitzroy roller painted the message of the media: “Wall”. Not all pranksters have as grand or expansive a vision as the SubGeniuses but the motivation is the same.

"Wall" in Fitzroy

"Wall" in Fitzroy

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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