In Chicago, it’s hard to walk down a sidewalk without noticing one of the city’s most prominent art forms—sticker art. Whether you’re strutting past a street lamp or parking meter, odds are you’ve probably noticed at least one of the many sticker artists the city has to offer.
One of those artists is Glass Cuisine. Known for his Jerry Garcia-inspired designs, Glass Cuisine has built quite the audience for himself, leading to collaborations with local street art gallery, Galerie F, Chicago clothing company Threadless and close friendships with world-renown street artists.
I had the chance to talk with Glass Cuisine about his collaborations with fellow artists, being a Deadhead and sticking out in the street art world.
Just to get started, could you tell me a little bit about how you got the name Glass Cuisine?
Yeah. A couple buddies that I grew up with gave me the name. We were into things like glass making and I was always cooking food, so they just gave me the name Glass Cuisine. Back in the day, everybody kind of had to have a surname like graffiti artists because we were all working with glass pipes and people were worried about the legality. So, we all had surnames we would do business under, and that one kind of just stuck with me.
Do you have a formal background in art or was this something you just picked up along the way?
Actually I don’t have a ton of formal art training. I did study graphic design when I was really young, and I originally went to college for it. But, I quickly changed my focus and within six months I was going to culinary school, and cooking back here in Chicago. But cooking has been a big inspiration for me my entire life. The art and design thing, I pretty much abandoned that until maybe 12 years later when I came back to it as a hobby when I started getting too burnt out on too many late nights working in restaurants. That’s when I started running an international sticker organization called the Sticker Vault, which eventually led to me starting the Jerry thing.
Tell me about the Sticker Vault. That must be a pretty amazing collection you have.
The Sticker Vault was just an organization I started where I could work with other big sticker artists. A perfect example of this is someone like T-Money or Arrex Skulls out in Portland—some of these big-name adhesive freaks that I have a ton of respect for. I reached out to a few of them and eventually I just had this thing for about two years where I’d do submissions for different artists to shows all over the world. It was really just a way for me to show my love for sticker artists and sticker culture. When I realized how many nerdy people were out there like me who got wrapped up in these sticker designs, it just took hold. I have literally two giant filing cabinets full over 700+ artists on file. There are some sticker people here in Chicago who just come over to my place and spend hours going through other people’s stickers and freaking out. It’s just like anything else. If you’re really into it, you think it’s super cool. But if you’re not, you think we’re really weird individuals.
Your design is mostly centered around Jerry Garcia—whether it’s a sticker or a wheat paste. Why did you choose him as your signature design?
The Jerry design started because of a couple of different things. One was that when I was doing the Sticker Vault, I was also working with some friends doing some glass trade shows. So, we decided to create hype with a sticker. That was sort of like a tribute to the Shepard Fairey Obey stuff, who is someone I have a lot of respect for because of what he’s done. Plus, I thought it’d just be pretty cool to do an homage to Jerry. So I started doing stuff like “Jerry Has a Posse” and “7/10” and “4/20” stuff within the frame. It really started as a way to promote this glass company and to get people interested in the sticker vault.
You probably wouldn’t use Jerry in your designs if you weren’t a big Grateful Dead fan. Would you consider yourself a Deadhead?
I guess you could say I’m a Deadhead. I was babysat and raised by a hippie and got into it way younger than most kids probably did. By the second and third grade, I had Dead mix tapes and even got to see them in ’95 before Jerry passed. So, I’m definitely a big fan. I mean just look at what that band did—they’re cultural icons. Almost every creative person on the planet—in some way, shape or form—has probably looked at what they did and has been inspired. And if you haven’t been—I think if you really looked at it—you would be, because I think we’d all love to create our own culture or following and those guys probably created one of the biggest followings of all time.
Some of your biggest collaborators would have to be Penny Pinch and T-Money. How did you first get involved with those guys?
I knew who T-Money was through Flickr. Ironically, I didn’t really get to know T-Money until later through Penny Pinch. I met Penny Pinch and we just hit it off and started hanging out. So, early introductions in Chicago came from Penny Pinch introducing me to a lot of people and people I met through the Sticker Vault.
Both of those artists are pretty well-known for rummaging around for their art supplies. How are you able to print your designs and what is the distribution like in order to get your work out there?
You definitely have to get smart about things early on. If you love to go to the art store every time to buy brand new canvases and brushes, that’s great if you can do it, but I can’t. I love to DIY and repurpose things in a new way. I’m just in the same vain as Penny and T-Money. I think that’s why the three of us get along so well. I’ll walk past a piece of wood on the street and if I think there’s something I could do with that, I’ll throw it in the back of my car. I do those pop-drops all the time. I have an affinity for TVs and electronics, and if I find one, I just have to pull it out of the garbage and paint it. I don’t know what it is.
There seems to be more of a commercial aspect to street art in recent years. Do you think this somehow takes away from the more rebellious aspect of street art?
To be honest, everyone’s always going to play two sides and devil’s advocate to everything. The reality is that if you look at it, there are positives and negatives to all of it. There are a lot of people in this city that have added a great abundance of culture to the city. If you look at certain neighborhoods or beat up buildings, I think that whether you love what’s happening or you hate it, you can’t disagree that there’s intrinsic beauty being added to these parts of the city that didn’t have them before. And there are reasons for the people that love this stuff and follow all these artists on Instagram. I was down there looking at murals in Pilsen earlier today. I still love to go see that stuff, no matter how many times I’ve seen it because it’s part of the history and the framework of the city.
For the most part, I think places like Galerie f and Truborn do a really good job of working with the people that put themselves forward in the professional and marketable sense. Sometimes hustle pays the bills more than anything else. And let’s be honest, very few of us are paying the bills off of this. It’s all about your passion and the pain, sweat and tears. There aren’t paychecks coming out of this. If there are, those paychecks are going right back into reinvesting in supplies and purchasing things to continue our creative processes. Other than a handful of design jobs in the six–seven years I’ve been doing this, I have not made much money. It’s all gone right back into supplies.
If you walk around neighborhoods like Wicker Park or Logan Square, you see a ton of artists’ stickers, but on those same poles you’ll probably see five or six stickers for a random DJ gig or a local store. What are your thoughts on using this art form as publicity as opposed to just for the love of designing?
Well, it’s always been there. If you break it down, a lot of street art—especially wheat pasting—is all just a rip-off of punk rock propaganda and marketing shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of my really dingy and collage-based stuff from back in the day is because I played in punk bands and ska bands back then. The whole idea behind that was DIY, photo copy flyers and copy and pasting your mom’s crappy People magazine or something creepy together to make a flyer. So, I like it when it’s done right, but it’s like anything else.
Sticker art is a pretty temporary way to get your artwork out in the public. Why do you enjoy putting up these designs that might have a such limited shelf life?
The methodology that I have when I put stuff out—whether it’s a sticker or wheat paste or free art drop—is that when I put stuff out there, it’s out of my hands at that point. I don’t worry about it after, because whatever’s gonna happen will happen. If someone’s gonna diss it, peel it off or collect it, I have no control over that. So, if I try to worry about that, it’s kind of dumb. Plus, it’s kind of like setting your little babies free out into the world. It’s fun to see if these things will last. I literally have things I’ve come across five years later and then there are things that haven’t even lasted two hours.
I often see the letters ‘BSU,’ also referred to as the Brick Scrubbers Union, on a lot of the designs you and Penny Pinch collaborate on, as well as your Instagram feeds. Is this just a fun crew name you came up with, or is there a deeper meaning to ‘BSU?’
Brick Scrubbers Union was something that was started by Brooks Golden. He was an artist from here in Chicago that was pretty influential during his time. He was a graffiti writer, a street artist and a conventional artist and he was somebody, that when I met Penny Pinch, he was pasting with a lot. I started going out with them and the three of us just really hit it off. So, I was lucky enough to spend about the last two years with him before he passed away. We spent a lot of time together, going out and getting our art up around the city. A lot of my first wheat paste commissions were always with those two guys for the first year. Really, I can’t even remember going out without them.
Brooks, being someone who had gotten in trouble and kind of stepped away from traditional graffiti as he got older, always made comments like, “Why aren’t there any real formal street art crews?” He would always have these conversations and even came up with BSU in my truck while we were driving around the city one day, but it never really came to fruition. So, after he passed away, it was something that really stuck with Penny and I. What a lot of people who aren’t really in the know and see the BSU tag up on walls think is that it’s just me and Penny showing love for each other. But really, we’re memorializing somebody that meant a lot to us and to a lot of people in the city. If you break down the history of Milwaukee and Chicago’s street art scene, Brooks is somebody that is extremely influential. He’s somebody that I had the pleasure of getting really close to in that short amount of time, and I’ll value his friendship ‘til the end of time. So, that’s what BSU is all about. It’s about remembering a friend and remembering those times. Everything we do when you see “Be Golden” or “Forever Golden” or “BSU,” it’s about a guy we had the utmost respect for.
As we talked about, there are tons of different artists out there. What do you think makes a good sticker design that’s able to stick out in the crowd?
The thing that sticks out to me always comes down to branding and marketability. For most people in these cities like New York or Chicago, they’re walking by and have about two–three seconds to make that identification of a design. So, part of that is how quickly can you understand the readability of a particular design. Obviously, part of this is that you want to make cool stuff that you like, but also a big part of that is marketing. Yeah it’s a character, yeah it’s art and yeah you’re having fun, but with stickers, there is a regime aspect to it. If you change your design too much or do something different, you do lose that name or recognition. So, it’s just like any other business.
A perfect example of this is a good friend of mine named Arrex Skulls. He’s become one of the biggest street artists in North America just from one single photograph of a skull that he digitized and made a sticker of. From there, that single design has turned into maybe thousands of incarnations that are now found all over the world in different major cities. It’s readable, recognizable and memorable even from a ways away. So, a lot of it comes down to what your style is and if you have a style. If you don’t it’s ok. But, if you want to be remembered, you have to market yourself just like any other business.
For you, street art is more of a hobby than a career at this point. Do you think you’d ever be able to make this a full-time job or does that take away the fun and passion of street art?
Everybody wants some art for the most part, but not a lot of people are willing to pay for it, unfortunately. The passion is a big part about what we do. If you’re in street art for the money or fame or notoriety, you’re in it for all the wrong reasons. The thing that I love the most about street art is the community. The people, the experiences and the situations I’ve been put in—I love it. That’s one of the things I love the most, but there’s also a staunch addiction to getting up and putting stickers up. I have a hard time sometimes if I walk up to a pole and have a sticker in my hand, to just walk past without pasting one up.