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If you’ve ever been fascinated by one of those alien robot figures embedded in a crosswalk, fastened to the side of a building, or hanging on a street sign, this gallery show is for you.
Known as a “stikman,” the humanoid figure has proliferated in various shapes and forms across North America since the 1990s, showing up everywhere from Philadelphia to Toronto to Denver.
It’s the work of a Philly-based artist who has managed to stay anonymous despite his national reach, conducting all press communication through liaisons.
Starting Saturday evening, you won’t have to look very hard to appreciate the unpredictably placed work: WP Gallery in Rittenhouse is hosting a 30th anniversary exhibition featuring the most “stikmen” you’re likely to ever see in one go.
“It’s kind of a little mini retrospective of his work, because it shows the early stuff, it shows the street stuff, and it shows right up to the right now what he’s doing,” gallery owner Evan Slepian told Billy Penn. “There’s a little bit of everything out there for someone to see, that clues people into not only his street art, but his art making.”
Though similar, the artist has drawn a contrast between the two.
“Street art works are like the live performance of a musician. Gallery works are like an album of recorded songs,” he told Philly art blog Streets Dept in 2020.
Several years ago, Slepian teamed with the stikman artist to produce a series of mounted, laser-cut steel multiples for purchase. At first, the artist wasn’t interested in a gallery exhibition, Slepian said, but changed his mind earlier this year.
The exhibit shows off stikman styles old and new.
They’re all spinoffs of the first basswood figure the artist installed in New York City in 1992, which was modeled after a mold he found at a flea market. They appear in a variety of mediums, from wire with random objects to spray paint on canvas.
“For the year 2022, I created a series of 30 figures that were wrapped and [encrusted] in objects collected over the last 30 years,” the artist said in a press release.
Sixteen of those figures are on display in the gallery. The mini-sculptures are wrapped in and adorned with things like old chains, yellow plexiglass, fabric, beads, a mini-globe, and more. (The artist, Slepian said, is a “massive collector of things.”)
These intricate designs cast interesting shadows, which are also featured in the exhibition as prints. “Playing with the shadows” is a new concept for the artist, Slepian said.
The show also features large stikman figures reconstructed from previous public installations, some plywood pieces dangling from the ceiling, the artist’s play on da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” and a set of 30 postcards featuring photographs of stikman in urban settings.
Visitors’ eyes may also be drawn to the two huge colorful canvases spraypainted with too many stikman figures to count — one of which has around 60 different colors, per Slepian.
Though best known for his unsigned, guerilla-style artwork floating around cities, the artist behind stikman has done formal exhibitions before, including a 2015 show in the former Fishtown gallery LMNL.
The opening reception will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the exhibition will remain through Jan. 25. WP Gallery is located at 1611 Walnut St., mezzanine level.