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Poster Boy: Street Alchemy 2.0 at Real Art Ways on Oct. 20

ArtistsTrinity CollegeReal Art WaysArtWashington Monument

Poster Boy, the adopted name of a group of underground Brooklyn, N.Y. artists who repurpose advertisements into satirical street-art collages, is a misnomer on a couple of levels.

First, the obvious: Poster Boy is a collective, not an individual, with three leaders, a few others on the immediate fringe, and hundreds of individuals who participate independently, according to a spokesman for the group who asked to remain anonymous.

“Collectivism is the essence of Poster Boy,” he said, taking a break from installing several pieces at Real Art Ways in Hartford. “At some point, we may again have to think in groups, locally and collectively about things, like where to get food, water, electricity. We’ll have to break down our little bubble.”

The second misleading thing about Poster Boy, whose Street Alchemy exhibit was cancelled by Trinity College in September but will now hang at RAW until the end of January, is the word “poster,” which doesn’t capture the scale of the work. True, Poster Boy manipulates subway posters. But they also work with hulking, 50’ by 20’ weather-proof vinyl billboards, the kind you speed past on the interstate. It’s difficult to convey the size of these things without seeing them up close.

“It’s a recruitment poster for the National Guard that was up a few months ago,” the artist said, pointing to an unfinished work already affixed to the wall. Against a dark cityscape background, the words “Answer the Call” and a phone number in white, man-size lettering takes up one side. An added image of a grimacing Captain America, tied to the Washington Monument with a massive gouge to the chest area of his costume, fills the other side.

“I don’t know how old this billboard is or how we got it here,” he said. “I wasn’t personally a part of it. It’s not done. When it is, it will be a subversion of the original message to not take the call... It will be anti taking the call. There’s a lot of symbolism in there. But even if you don’t pick up on the hints you can tell it’s something to do with the war, or wars, that we are a part of, even the internal conflict that are representative of the conflicts going on all over the country.”

The Poster Boy collective acknowledges that what they do could be considered vandalism. “But we sort of look at the billboards, outdoor advertisements in general as vandalism anyway,” the artist said. “These messages are afforded by whomever put it up. They probably don’t live in the neighborhoods, but they pay for the space and the fact that they can afford that space they get to put their message out there, but everything else, such as street art and graffiti, is considered illegal, which seems a little hypocritical to me.”

“Somebody has to complain,” he explained, when I wondered aloud who would blow the whistle. “First of all, it’s usually just the police department that would try to come after whomever is vandalising property, but it would have to come from somewhere, unless the person is caught in the act. I don’t know a lot of people that really love outdoor billboards and advertising except for the advertisers themselves. It’s a source of revenue. But like a lot of things in the past and in the present, there are a lot of things that are sources of revenue but that aren’t necessarily right.”

As we talked, another piece, a finished billboard collage that originally hung at Trinity College, lay on the floor. The artist said it was once a State Farm insurance advertisement.

“I’m not doing anything else with it,” he said. “I’ll just put it up as it is. But it was when this one was put up that whomever decided it was not a good idea to have a Poster Boy show at Trinity College.”

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