If you follow me on Instagram (@ashlie_nonsense) or on Facebook, then you’ve been inundated with me posting about signs lately. Signs, signs, everywhere the signs. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, and finally had the nerve to do it. It seems to be resonating with some people, but I have been asked a few times what the deal is and why I’m doing it. I was resisting writing any kind of artist statement or anything, since I don’t consider myself to be an artist, but it seems like there’s room for some explanation.
So, why am I running around on my lunch breaks taking pictures of signs? Let me show you this picture.
That’s a sign billboard just down the street from my work. See that old handpainted sign behind it? I don’t think many people do. I love it though. I love that local history is hiding right in plain view. It might sound cheesy, but I think sometimes we need to stop and recognize the history and art that’s all around us. It might just be an old sign for a variety store or customer parking, but there was a time when more care was put into things like that. Now it’s so easy to get a banner printed or get one of those large black signs with the flat neon letters. There was a time when signs were made carefully and by hand and were lovingly displayed. There are storefronts in London that still proudly show these signs – relics of a past where things weren’t all the same and commercialized.
We get so used to seeing all the same corporate logos around us, I think that sometimes we don’t even realize those mom and pop businesses hiding behind them. That’s what I’m trying to do here. Not only to capture signs that I think are beautiful and full of character, but also businesses that stand on their own locally without major corporate backing. There’s something so comforting about seeing an old, worn sign and being able to remember seeing it when you were a kid.
People seem to be having a couple of different reactions to my sign posts so far – either they are in agreement with me “Oh I love that sign too!” or they realize that they walk by that very same sign every day without even realizing how cool and quirky it is. I hope that by highlighting some of these signs people start to realize and appreciate these businesses.
I love the way I look at things now. I drive around and instead of being blinded by a sea of boring and typical signs I’m looking around for those vintage jewels. It’s making me go out and walk on my lunch to hunt down more signs. It’s making me drive through areas in town that I don’t often go and discover new favourite spots. It’s making me want to travel and take road trips to other places and see what kind of signs I can find there. It’s just fun – it’s like Pokemon Go, but with signs, which is somehow even nerdier.
I started the hashtag #isawthesignlondon to keep track of them all on Instagram – if you see a sign, please feel free to post it and use the hashtag or tag me in it! I love seeing the signs that other people find, and I’m still stubborn enough to go and get the ones on my list even if someone else gets them posted first. I set up the hashtag that way so I could easily adapt it to any city I find a sign in – so far I’ve got some for #isawthesigngrandbend and #isawthesignstrathroy and I can’t wait to scratch some more off my list!
What am I going to do with all this? I don’t know yet. I’ve started a new Instagram account just for sign stuff, but I haven’t posted any pictures on it yet (it’s @isawthesigns__) if you want to follow me there too. People have said I should have an online gallery or a book or something, but I’m not sure. I’m not a good photographer, but I figure I’m out there trying to document more than to create art. I’m appreciating other people’s art! I’m also doing no research on any of these signs – I keep saying I’m pretentious enough to start this project but not pretentious enough to actually research them. Maybe that’s a phase two for another day. I would love to hear your suggestions though!
And I’m so sorry if I’m flooding your feeds with my signs, but I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon! I’ve got a huge backlog of photos right now and I can’t wait to share them with you all!