Austin has many street artists, but few of them are as ubiquitous as “Sleep.”
Sleep, also known as Sleep is Famous, appears everywhere you look on our streets. His iconic image, an old-fashioned TV with rabbit-ear antenna and tiny stick figure feet, clings onto road signs, subverts fossil fuel advertising, and escapes from fires on Walmart emergency exits. I discovered one of my favorite juxtapositions near St. Edwards University on a crosswalk :
The artist behind Sleep is Famous remains mysterious and anonymous by choice, but he was willing to answer a few questions by email after I approached him about my Gonzo Giveaway. Sleep moved a few years ago from Seattle, where the very first Sleep TVs were doodles he created while he struggled in an artistic rut.
“I was living in Seattle and spending a large part of my free time just sleeping and watching TV,” Sleep wrote. “I was wishing I could be more productive.”
He started leaving the image behind on matchbooks in bars, but then one day inspiration struck.
I was walking in the city and noticed a specific sticker on the back of a street sign. It said “YOU CANT STOP COMFY.” I was intrigued because it didn’t seem like it was a band name, or a clothing brand, or an advertisement of any kind. I didn’t know what it was for but I was excited about the idea of a sticker that had no apparent purpose. It clicked that stickers would be a perfect medium for my Sleep TV image, so I scanned one of my drawings and found a print shop that could make some stickers for me.
Soon after he began posting stickers around Seattle, he discovered a photo of the Sleep TV published by a stranger on Flickr and he took it as a sign of success. “That’s when I realized the power of images on the street and I was hooked.”
He started networking with other street artists, who shared tips and techniques with him. “A lot of these artists were screen printing their own stickers and posters.”
An introductory screen printing course took his art to the “next level.”
“Being able to print my own stickers meant I could experiment with different designs, sizes, materials, and could do so much quicker and cheaper than having them printed for me,” Sleep said. “My kitchen was overtaken with supplies, and prints drying on every available surface.”
Sleep shared photos of his garage art studio, packed to the brim with paints, artistic inspiration, and an extensive screen printing setup. Those simple doodles have exploded into an all-consuming project and his art appears all over the world thanks to his international connections with street art creators and fans.
“I just want people to know that my mission is to continue spreading the Sleep image to as many places around the globe as I can. I always love it when people let me know when they spot them.”
‘The repetition is the art’
Though the Sleep TVs are nearly identical each time, each one takes on a dramatically new meaning as it conforms to the urban landscape. “The repetition is the art in my opinion.”
Like many other street artists, Sleep is consciously hijacking Madison Avenue’s advertising techniques.
“I would consider myself a conceptual artist rather than a painter or even a printmaker,” he said. “The concept is to inject the image into your surroundings so it becomes a part of your life, ideally in a positive way.”
Much like that “COMFY” sticker he spotted years ago, Sleep wants to disrupt your interactions with public spaces. “My goal is simply to interrupt the traditional marketing messages that you’re used to seeing and encourage you to think in a new way or maybe just make you smile.”
With a near infinite number of surfaces available for use, Sleep suggested that graffiti can reach the public in ways traditional art cannot.
“You don’t need a gallery, you don’t need approval, there’s no submission fee, and your audience is huge!”
The Street Is An Art Gallery: Behind The Scenes With Sleep Is Famous by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://kitoconnell.com/2017/11/15/sleep-is-famous/