Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

After a few years of downtown trips, West Chester students may think they have the borough all mapped out. For the observant pedestrian, however, the streets of the borough can transform into a constantly changing, city-wide canvas, populated by works from the anonymous denizens of West Chester’s street-art community. Perhaps none of these artists can claim as large of a following as Cassius King, the prolific sticker artist behind more than 100 works seen around campus and throughout the borough in recent years. King has amassed nearly 3,300 followers on Instagram since he began posting in December 2018 and continues to gain popularity among students and town residents alike. The self-proclaimed “sticker vandal” has had his signs featured in West Chester restaurants and even held an exhibition of his work at Love Again Local on Oct. 4. King’s installations, which can be seen on storefronts, street signs, walls, sidewalks and every surface you could feasibly put a sticker on, often use the town’s face in creative ways, sending a political message or making a visual joke. While the guerrilla artist goes to great lengths to preserve his anonymity, he took the time to answer a few questions The Quad had about his style, his process and the “cat-and-mouse game” he plays with West Chester’s Finest.

BL: What about the city of West Chester has helped your style develop into what it is today?

CK: This town is my home. The streets, buildings, parking garages and people are my sources of inspiration. Since WC is such a walkable town (and I am on foot a lot of the time), just strolling through the borough can bring a flood of ideas for street pieces. Sometimes I may have a pre-existing idea or a piece that I am  looking for a surface to put it on, whereas other times, a particular space or specific feature of a wall, street-sign, sidewalk etc. will present itself to me with a very specific idea behind it. The presence of the university is great and brings a youthful energy to town (as well as tons of street art fans!). Of course, the overwhelmingly positive response from both local residents and university students feeds my drive to keep exploring.

BL: How did you arrive at the mouse/rat motif that exists in many of your works?

CK: The various mouse pieces around town are directly inspired by master street artists Blek le Rat and Banksy. I fancy mice over rats though, and I like using that classic-looking Warner Brothers mouse hole image. The mouse motif has been an unexpected way I’ve gotten friendly with some of the business owners in the borough. That is, many of the local businesses have reached out to request that I put up a piece on their building.

BL: You use a lot of stickers and reflective material in your works; what are you drawn to about those particular materials? How did you arrive at your visual style?

CK: I arrived at my medium really as a matter of practicality. I knew that I didn’t want to work with paint, markers or anything that would be permanent or destructive. So, I decided on vinyl stickers and contact paper as sensible materials that would be versatile and easy to work with but would still stand up to the elements.

BL: Do you find that altering signs or prominent, pre-existing features of a town have an effect that can’t be achieved by art on a wall or building face?

CK: Yes, because it violates the normative expectation of how we use space and where we are used to seeing art, which can stimulate the transgressive spirit in all of us — and that’s fun.

BL: Do you view the mix of political commentary and more lighthearted pieces like your Tom Waits and Al Green installations as disconnected, or do you see them both as connected by your style as an artist?

CK: No, I don’t see these installations as disconnected — because the ideas are all just expressions, even though the underlying themes across the pieces vary. It’s like writing a song: it all has to do with the mood you’re in. Sometimes you want to make a point, and sometimes you want to make a joke.

BL: On a practical level, what’s the process like for putting up a piece?

CK: I’ve found that a key to effectively putting up a piece is planning, assessing and minimizing risk, taking the actual and proverbial temperature of the moment — and always knowing what you’re going to say or do if you have to interact with authorities. The process also varies depending on the size of the piece and where and what time of day I am installing it. At night, there’s always the “cover of darkness” aspect that has worked to my advantage, but there’s also the risk of looking totally shady if I do actually get detected, which isn’t a good look — especially if it happens really late at night.

However, I’ve installed many of the pieces during broad daylight, which has its own advantages and drawbacks too. As you might imagine, for a daytime installation, I have to be much more “heads up” and conscious of my surroundings considering that there are more observers afoot. Yet at the same time, it never ceases to amaze me how other people walking down a street remain relatively oblivious to what I am up to. It’s not too difficult to not be noticed if that’s what the objective is. I do have some spy craft up my sleeve as to how I deploy my powers of invisibility, but I’ll keep those trade secrets close to the vest… *wink*

BL: Has your art/methodology changed since your brush with the law in June? How do you navigate the legality of street art? What’s your relationship like with the police/public works people who remove your pieces?

CK: My brush with the law has in fact changed my methodology in a positive way. I never thought I’d say this, but I am actually grateful for the discussions I had with all of the law enforcement officials I spoke with back in the spring. They expressed a lot of support for my work and gave me some tips/pointers on how to avoid getting arrested for it. In fact, a few of them follow me on Instagram and have bought some of my shirts and framed prints. I was never expecting that.

I am actually grateful for the discussions I had with all of the law enforcement officials I spoke with

The West Goshen Township Manager and his public works employees, however, well, that’s a different story. My relationship with some of the non-law enforcement folks of my township and in the borough has not been positive, but rather more contentious at times. Let’s just say that not everyone shares the same sense of humor. “In life, to some people, you’re a peach. To others — you’re the pit.” I don’t know who said this, but it applies here. Of course, the opposition I’ve received from those few local officials has not detracted me.

BL: How do you think social media has changed the way street art spreads through a community? Do you see the value or the effect of a piece as being different when viewed through an online image/video, rather than viewing the piece in person?

CK: Social media has been central to the rise in popularity of street art. Not only does social media allow for the work to be transmitted globally, but I’ve found that it also helps to accentuate the spirit of the local. People have a sense of ownership over their hometowns, and social media allows for the relationship between local residents and local art to be more symbiotic.

Brendan Lordan is a third-year student majoring in English writings and minoring in journalism.

Author profile
One thought on “An interview with West Chester artist Cassius King”
  1. I love your genius! I had four years of art in high school and never did anything after that. I regret that now
    Press on, keep on, no matter what!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *