by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
You may ask “where’s the connection to music in this column?” The answer is that the “posse” is ensconced in the Omaha music scene. If you go to a lot of shows, you’ve seen the man behind the stickers before. And that’s all the clues I’m going to give you. Here’s a more typical example of the infamous Gary Coleman posse sticker “in the wild.”
Column 276: Gary Coleman’s Posse
Omaha’s outlaw street artist strikes again…
There’s a terrific movie that opened last weekend at Film Streams called Exit Through the Gift Shop. The documentary explores the guerrilla street artists of the past decade — guys like Shepard Fairey, who now is famous for the iconic Obama campaign poster, and the film’s director, the elusive, mysterious artist known as Banksy, whose satirical pieces of stenciled street art on topics such as politics, culture and ethics have adorned walls throughout London and beyond.
I saw the movie last Friday and left the theater excited about Bansky and Fairey and street art, and wondered why something like that doesn’t happen around here. And then I remembered that Omaha had its own version of Fairey’s “Obey Giant” art sticker campaign — the ubiquitous Gary Coleman Has a Posse.
For a time in the early part of the 2000s, you couldn’t go anywhere around Omaha without finding a sticker or 8 x 10 print of Gary Coleman’s cherubic face plastered to the back of a street sign, light pole, stop light, park bench or any other public spot. The stickers were everywhere, but the large Colemans — sometimes wheat pasted in 2 x 2 arrays — were less common. One of those big 8 x 10 Colemans survived for years on a giant electrical box on Underwood St., weather and time unable to pry it off the green paint.
There had been rumors as to who the mastermind was behind Gary Coleman Has a Posse, whispers that it was someone with ties to the Omaha music scene. Motivated by the film, I began sniffing around and asking questions until I hit paydirt Sunday night. Via cell phone, I finally made contact with the culprit, whose identity remains a secret, at least for now.
He told me that he started the Gary Coleman Posse back in 2001. “I always followed street art and was a fan of Banksy,” he said over the phone. “I got the idea from Shepard, the guy behind Obey Giant, who encouraged people to start their own posses. I thought about who I wanted to pick as an icon. I grew up watching Gary Coleman on Diff’rent Strokes, and knew people would immediately recognize the face.”
The first 3 x 5 stickers were portraits of Coleman in a striped sweater; later versions simply focused on his round, pumpkin-like face. “I bought sheets of sticker paper from Office Depot and cut them out myself and started posting them,” he said, adding that there was no rhyme or reason as to how spots were chosen, they just had to be places with lots of foot traffic. “I never actually put them on anyone’s building or ruined anything, and the first stickers would come off with the rain, so I wasn’t too worried about long-term damage.”
Eventually, he switched to more durable vinyl stickers. “I probably placed a few thousand easily,” he said. “I always kept them with me. I didn’t go out dressed up all in black and sneak around the neighborhood. I did it in daylight, right in front of people.”
Gary Coleman Has a Posse sightings began to spread to Lincoln, Kansas City, Oklahoma, Texas and beyond, thanks to garycolemanhasaposse.com, where fans from anywhere could request stickers. Next came the large-format wheat-paste posters, which the artist said were surprisingly durable. “That wheat paste is like Krazy Glue.”
The campaign began winding down in 2006 after another street artist — Yuppie Takeover — was busted for slapping his posters on private property. It made Gary Coleman’s Posse think twice. “I never got caught,” he said, “but I kind of grew out of it.”
And that, it seemed, was the end of the Gary Coleman Posse. But then last month Coleman unexpectedly died, after taking an “accidental” blow to the head during a fall. In their mourning for the Diff’rent Strokes star, people fondly remembered that Gary Coleman had a posse, and they wanted it back. And that’s just what they’re going to get.
“I’ve made a couple new designs,” the outlaw said moments before hanging up. “I just got back from placing a new sticker in Benson. Tonight was my starting point. I want to keep his memory alive.”
And with that, the only question left to ask is “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?“
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Tonight at O’Leaver’s, Portland band System & Station takes the stage with our very own Well-Aimed Arrows and a new band featuring John Klemmensen (Landing on the Moon) on drums, Matt Hall (The Party) on bass, and Bret Vovk (Underwater Dream Machine) on guitar and vocals. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll let the audience name their band… $5, 9:30 p.m.
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Tomorrow: An interview with Deerhoof.
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.